What Is Person-Centered Therapy

Carl Rogers was a humanistic psychologist and one of the key figures in person-centered therapy. Rogers agreed with the main assumptions of Abraham Maslow, who was responsible for the development of the five-tier model of human needs. The five needs are physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and finally self-actualization. This model is often described as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Maslow suggested that people have a tendency to self-actualise. “Self-actualized people…live more in the real world of nature than in the man-made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world” (Maslow, 2011). Rogers agreed with Maslow in saying that: “the organism has one basic tendency and striving — to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism”. Rogers developed Maslow’s idea of self-actualization by suggesting that for it to occur a person’s “ideal self” must be congruent with their actual behaviour or self-image. Rogers would describe a human that is self-actualising to be a fully functioning person.

Rogers also added that for a person to grow they needed an environment consisting of three core conditions; empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard.

Rogers steered away from a more directive approach to therapy and maintained the point of view that humans behave as they do because of their situation. “As no one else can know how we perceive, we are the best experts on ourselves” (Rogers, 1995).

This nondirective approach is one of the distinctive features of person-centred therapy. The fact that the “goals” are set by the client and the focus is kept on the client’s phenomenology whilst building relational depth (Mearns and Cooper, 2005).

This distinctive feature is not like other therapies such as Solution Focused (Brief) Therapy, because SFBT seeks to provide therapeutic change through a series of direct questions which directly contradicts the person-centred approach of allowing the client to direct themselves (de Shazer and Dolan, 2012).

David Mearns and Brian Thorne used Rogers theory of the self to further develop the concept of configurations of self. This concept describes how we develop many different configurations of self that come to light in certain circumstances, these configurations result in feelings and thoughts that may surprise us. “A configuration of self is a hypothetical construct denoting a coherent pattern of feelings thoughts and preferred behavioural responses symbolised or pre-symbolised by the person as reflective of a dimension of existence within the self” (Mearns et al., 2013).


The person-centred approach regards the individual as the authority of their own experiences. In contrast, other therapies such as existentialism view the client as having continual change and transformation through their human existence. Furthermore, Rogers person-centred view believes that incongruent circumstances would naturally lead the client to a path of self-actualization. Whereas existential therapy invites the client to reflect on life and become more aware of different options that are available to create a meaningful life.

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