This essay examines the person-centred approach to counselling, which is founded on the teachings of Carl Rogers (1902-1987). It evaluates three out of the six conditions identified by Rogers as crucial for facilitating change. Furthermore, it provides a critical analysis of a recorded session from my counselling practice involving a student from my course.
The person-centred counselling is not a theory but an approach. According to Rogers, individuals facing conflicts and difficulties already possess the necessary resources to overcome them. The counselor’s role is to facilitate this process and guide clients in realizing their full potential. The following quote succinctly encapsulates this idea.
“The role of counseling is to provide clients with the chance to examine, uncover, and solidify methods of living in a more fulfilling and effective manner.” (BAC, 1994)
Rogers suggested six prerequisites for change, which he believed were essential and adequate. However, the focus has largely been on the three conditions commonly referred to as the ‘core conditions’. These conditions must be provided by the counsellor and are crucial for a fruitful counsellor/client relationship:
Empathy is the capacity to understand and share someone else’s feelings and emotions.
Unconditional positive regard refers to the act of accepting and caring for someone as a human being, without placing any conditions on their behavior.
The therapist demonstrates authenticity and congruence, being transparent and genuine without any pretense or deception.
I choose to label the person involved in the relationship as a client instead of a patient, highlighting their active participation.
“According to Merry (1999, pg 63), Rogers believed that the individuals seeking his assistance were not ill in the same way as hospital patients.”
Rogers considered empathy as the first essential condition. Empathy encompasses comprehending another individual’s viewpoint and also sharing their emotions and perceiving the world from their perspective. It involves immersing ourselves in the client’s situation to genuinely grasp what it is like to be in their position. This level of understanding is uncommon for many individuals and can have a therapeutic effect (Mearns and Thorne,1988). Empathy also entails acknowledging that the client may have diverse feelings and responses towards comparable experiences.
The second condition, also referred to as respect, warmth, or acceptance, is unconditional positive regard. The counselor fully accepts the client and believes that they are a unique and valuable human being who will not be judged. This environment allows the client to freely explore their conflicts or difficulties without fear of rejection or criticism (Mearns and Thorne, 1988). However, it does not imply that the counselor must agree with everything the client says or does; rather, it means that the counselor comprehends and accepts the client in a non-judgmental way (Merry, 1999).
“The counsellor who deeply values her client’s humanity remains unwavering in this perspective regardless of any specific client behaviors.” (Mearns, and Thorne, 1999, pg64).
Rogers emphasized the significance of unconditionally accepting clients in facilitating therapeutic change. It is crucial to note that he did not assert that this can be achieved in every situation. (course handout 2003)
The third and final core condition, according to Mearns and Thorne, is congruence or genuineness.
The term “congruence” is used to describe the situation when a counselor’s external reactions consistently match their internal emotions and sensations towards the client (Mearns, and Thorne, 1999, pg 75).
Congruence or genuineness is a challenging concept to define. However, it essentially pertains to the counselor’s authenticity and the alignment of their emotions with their words. To effectively connect with the client, this demands self-awareness and self-acceptance from the counselor.
The essence of person centered counseling is for the counselor to possess the necessary abilities and qualities that allow the client to see them as a companion. This relationship creates an environment where the client feels comfortable and open in sharing their thoughts and emotions. While I acknowledge the importance of core conditions in person centered counseling, I believe it takes considerable time to develop these skills. It became apparent early on in my practice session that I lacked these developed skills. The client came in with a high level of excitement, and after discussing our session’s designated time (contracting), I responded to her giddiness by saying:
“This week, the Holland practice tape from 2003 has brought you great joy.”
Upon reflection, I now realize that my initial statement was very directive and may have influenced the direction of the conversation for the rest of the session. This made the session more counselor-led rather than client-led. However, my client later revealed that she was not actually “happy” but rather feeling extremely apprehensive about a situation. Did I misinterpret her actions and body language as well? Determined not to let my lack of skills disrupt the flow of the session, I responded empathetically by asking, “Am I correct in understanding that things are very difficult for you right now?” In response, my client elaborated on why she was finding things difficult and asked for advice on what she should do. Throughout the session, I genuinely believed that we had explored ways for my client to minimize the difficulties by finding her own solution for better time management.
After listening to the tape recording, I realized that I actually gave several suggestions to my client. According to Rogers, this can make the client feel incapable of finding their own solutions and can reinforce negative conditions of worth (Merry 1999).
During a brief practice session, I gained insight into counselling from a person-centred perspective and realized the importance of establishing a contract between the counsellor and client. This contract outlines various aspects including session length, frequency, cost (which will be further discussed in my essay), and limits/confidentiality, ultimately setting the stage for effective counselling.
The counsellor also took great care in arranging the session room. Creating a welcoming atmosphere was crucial, which could involve pastel wall coverings and ensuring there were no obstacles such as mismatched furniture heights or distractions like phones or nearby noisy offices.
One criticism of person-centred counselling is that it may not be accessible to all individuals in our diverse and multicultural society. In a society where some individuals possess more power than others, the financial aspect of counselling, as it usually involves paying fees, may limit access. Furthermore, the limited availability of therapy through the National Health Service may further restrict access. Consequently, this form of therapy is primarily accessible to the privileged in society, while those who are disadvantaged and often struggling with severe issues are less likely to benefit from it. (Merry1999)
Rogers argues that change necessitates three crucial prerequisites: empathy (the capacity to understand another person’s viewpoints and emotions), unconditional positive regard (acceptance and care given to an individual irrespective of their actions), and genuineness or congruence (the therapist being authentic without holding back). By critically examining a recorded session, I have discovered the potential benefits of this approach for individuals, although it may take personal acceptance and possibly years to fully develop confidence. After extensively researching this subject, I have come to realize that the core conditions are not only valuable skills but also integral to one’s system of values. These conditions hold significant value for me as a human being.
“Being fully present with clients during therapy indicates that a counsellor is continuously learning from them” (Mearns and Thorne, 1999, pg 148)