Everything You Need to Know About Person Centered Therapy

Published on: 14 Oct 2020

If you’re new to therapy or the mere thought of seeing a therapist seems intimidating, you may picture an environment that feels more clinical than warm and fuzzy. This can be one of many reasons why people don’t seek out therapy even when it could be beneficial. In fact, as of 2017, less than half of American adults with mental health disorders sought treatment.

Luckily, there’s a form of therapy that greatly appeals to those looking for an authentic, welcoming, and even friendly experience. If you’re searching for a type of therapy that feels more like grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend than sitting down for treatment, you may want to consider person centered therapy.

What Is Person Centered Therapy?

In the 1940s, psychologist Carl Rogers developed an innovative approach to therapy, one that’s still used today. It was the converse of the analytical, scientific form of psychotherapy that was available at the time. First calling it nondirective therapy, then client centered therapy, currently, the practice is commonly known as person centered therapy.

It’s a therapy methodology that focuses on a person centered approach — meaning, the client dictates the pace and feel of the sessions. It’s an environment that’s conversational, open, and where empathy is the top priority.

Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC, a Talkspace therapist and professional consultant, describes person centered therapy as “an opportunity for the client to share their narrative and an opportunity for the therapist to understand the world from the client’s point of view, free of judgement, restriction, or critique.”

The end game is not a hard-and-fast diagnosis. Neither is it a scientific deconstruction of a client’s feelings or an evaluation of what they are saying. You are seen as a person, not a mental health disorder.

Simply put, you won’t feel as if you’re being “studied” during a person centered therapy session. The goal is for you to feel increased independence, which can build your confidence as you face challenging situations.

When Is Person Centered Therapy Used?

Person centered therapy can be utilized in one-on-one sessions and groups. It’s geared toward a number of mental health conditions that could benefit from a boost of confidence and self-assurance, like depression and anxiety. It’s generally good for those dealing with stress or intense grief as well.

How Does It Work?

Although it’s an uninhibited environment, there are some general guidelines. The core conditions for person centered therapy, according to Rogers, include the following:

  • Empathy: Compassion is the name of the game in person centered therapy. Rogers believed that a therapist should be sensitive and seek to understand a client’s feelings.
  • Congruence in Counseling: Congruence is a word that Rogers used for the genuineness and authenticity therapists should seek when carrying out this type of counseling. Therapists should show their personalities during sessions.
  • Unconditional Positive Regard: It should be an openhearted, nothing-is-off-the-table atmosphere where clients feel they can share with total freedom and without fear of judgement.

What to Expect from Person Centered Therapy

You can expect a free-form feel during your person centered sessions, where you take the lead on what you want to discuss and work on. You’ll be able to bring up recent issues or ones you’ve dealt with for a while that you’d like to address. As the client, you’ll set goals for yourself as your therapist gently and subtly guides you along the way.

Rice speaks to this form of person centered counseling, saying, “The client leads the course of therapy. Just by sharing their narrative in a safe setting, designed by their therapist, they are able to creatively put back together their puzzle pieces in a different way, a way that’s more in alignment with their values.”

What to Look for in a Person Centered Therapist

Choosing a person centered therapist is a lot like forming a new friendship — the key is to “click” with your therapist in a way that feels natural and will inspire the most change.

“There are amazing fits and there are really poor fits, so we just need to be mindful of both ends to ensure that this ideal environment can be created amidst the two parties,” Rice says. “Empathetic, reliable, and inquisitive are words that come to mind.”

What Is Rogerian Theory in Psychotherapy?

When it comes down to it, the Rogerian approach to psychotherapy is at the heart of person centered therapy. As a humanist, Rogers believed that people are inherently good and should be able to take the lead in their own therapy sessions. After all, who knows yourself and your mental health hurdles more than you? It gives the client an autonomous part to play in their own therapy.

Six elements of person centered therapy

To take Rogerian Theory a step further, he also proposed six factors that come together to create an ideal person centered therapy session:

  1. Psychological Connection: A connective, authentic relationship is crucial throughout person centered therapy.
  2. Vulnerability: This is when you put any pride aside and share your thoughts and feelings exactly as they are, something that can bring about real change.
  3. Congruence: Returning to this word again, genuineness on the part of the therapist is essential.
  4. Unconditional Positive Regard: Your therapy sessions are a safe place where you can share anything.
  5. Empathy: Your therapist will show genuine concern for you.
  6. Client Perception: You as the client will be able to sense a warmth and authenticity in your therapist.

The Bottom Line

Studies have shown that person centered therapy is indeed effective. If you’re someone who doesn’t mind laying everything out on the table and is looking for therapy served with a heaping helping of kindness, person centered therapy could be a good fit for you.

As Rice puts it, “In the recognition that they [the client] can be transparent, raw, and authentic, they can find higher levels of self-confidence, more momentum, and more intimate ties with those around them in a wide array of different settings. We are helping them find the best version of themselves through the understanding they give us.”

If you’re thinking about trying person centered therapy, consider convenient, effective Talkspace online therapy to help you with whatever you’re struggling with.

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