What Is Person (Client) Centered Therapy?

Published on: 12 Nov 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Updated 3/09/2023

For some people, an ideal therapeutic approach doesn’t necessarily mean consulting a professional, answering questions that’ll help them determine what’s wrong, and listening to another person advise them on how to work through their struggles. The therapeutic process can also involve a more humanistic approach, where your therapist merely guides your journey of self-discovery and supports you in finding the answers you’ve been seeking. After all, you’re the expert on your own life.

This type of psychotherapy is known as client-centered therapy. Client centered therapy, also known as person centered therapy, focuses on maximizing the client’s ability to find their own solutions with the right amount of support from a therapist. If you are looking for an effective humanistic therapy method to help support your mental health, this type of person-centered approach is an excellent place to start. 

What Is Client Centered Therapy?

Client centered therapy, or person centered therapy, is a non-directive approach to talk therapy that requires the client to actively take the reins during each therapy session, while the therapist acts mainly as a guide or a source of support for the client.

“Person centered therapy allows the client to steer the ship.  There’s no agenda, no rush.”

Talkspace therapist Catherine Richardson, MA, LPC, EMDR

This person centered approach supports mental health by coming from a place of empathy during each counseling session. 

The concept of client centered therapy might seem like a stretch — after all, most kinds of humanistic counseling essentially focus on the client. What sets the person centered theory behind this therapy apart, however,  is that it centers the client in a more positive and inclusive manner, providing deeper insight into the difficult situation they’re facing while also maximizing their ability to resolve it on their own. This type of humanistic therapy or talk therapy supports a therapeutic process that encourages positive change within the client.

In the 1930s, American psychologist Carl Rogers developed client centered therapy to serve as a contrast to the practice of psychoanalysis, which was widespread at the time. Rogers believed that no other person’s ideas could be as valid as one’s individual experience, and that exploring these experiences in a supportive, non-judgemental environment is necessary in order to achieve a positive therapy experience.

Rogers’ theories on humanistic psychology gave rise to the client centered approach to psychotherapy, known as Rogerian therapy. Rogers used the term “client” rather than “patient” to promote equality in the therapist-client relationship. Traditionally, there was a power imbalance in the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the patient, but client centered therapy emphasizes that the client’s experience is just as valid as a professional’s insight, and therefore, in Rogerian therapy, the two parties in the therapeutic relationship should be viewed as equals.

“In the client centered therapeutic relationship, it’s important to really make sure the client recognizes that they have power within the relationship too. It’s about constantly reassuring them that they can do this. They are the experts of their lives and therapists only encompass less than a fraction of their lives in any given time period.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

How Does Client Centered Therapy Work?

Client centered therapy requires the therapist to focus on the client’s needs. Rather than giving an in-depth analysis of the client’s difficulties or blaming the client’s present thoughts and behaviors on past experiences, the person-centered therapist listens to the client and provides a conducive environment for them to make decisions independently. It also means that the person-centered  therapist avoids judging the client for any reason, and accepts them fully. This lack of judgment is a quality known in this field as “unconditional positive regard.”

The practice of client centered therapy requires the person-centered counseling therapist to understand how the world works from the client’s point of view. Therefore, they may ask questions for clarification when in doubt about something their client shared.

According to the client centered theory, a negative and indirect approach makes a client more conscious of those parts of themselves that they were previously in denial about. When the therapist responds to the client’s feelings and brings a level of empathy to each therapy session, it brings those parts into focus, but when there’s little or no intrusion, the client is free to make decisions independently without making the therapist the center of their thoughts and feelings.

Essentially, client centered therapy doesn’t particularly aim to solve specific problems or relieve symptoms, but to help the client get rid of the idea or feeling that they are being influenced by external factors beyond their control. The goals of this practice include increasing self-awareness, improving the client’s ability to use self-direction to make desired changes, increasing clarity, improving self-esteem, and boosting the client’s self-reliance.

Person centered therapists who practice Carl Rogers’ person centered theory should exhibit three essential qualities: genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathic understanding.


Open communication between the client-centered approach therapist and client should be established, where the client centered therapist feels comfortable sharing their feelings with the client. This will similarly encourage the client to share their own feelings and engage in honest conversations.

“Modeling open and honest communication is the first thing a client should see within the therapeutic relationship in the client centered approach. It shows what is possible and that the therapist is willing to show vulnerability to the client, just as the client will do for the therapist. It’s a reciprocal relationship.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Unconditional positive regard

Carl Rogers believed that offering people conditional support often makes them develop further problems, and therefore, client centered or person centered therapists should create a climate of unconditional positive regard, where the client is free to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment.

Empathetic understanding

Empathy is a key quality in client centered therapy. It fosters a positive relationship between the counseling therapist and client and represents a mirror that reflects the client’s thoughts and emotions so as to help them gain more insight INTO the situation they’re struggling with and into themselves.

The Importance of Self-Concept

Another key feature of Carl Rogers’ person centered approach is the notion of self, also known as the self-concept. Rogers defined this concept as “the organized, consistent set of perceptions and beliefs one has about themselves.”

The self-concept is important to your total life experience and influences the way you view yourself and the world around you. For instance, if you consider yourself to be smart, you may act in an assertive manner and see your actions as something done by a person who’s smart.

However, the self-concept doesn’t always match your reality, and you may see yourself a lot differently from the way other people see you. For instance, you might see yourself as uninteresting, while other people find you to be an exciting person to be around. This opinion of yourself may gradually start to reflect in your behavior, and make you develop a low self-esteem.

With person centered therapy, you can receive genuine support that will help you obtain a more positive view of yourself.

What Are the Methods Involved in Client Centered Therapy?

In addition to practicing unconditional positive regard, genuineness, and empathic understanding, a client centered therapist can help the client get positive results from therapy sessions by employing the following techniques:

  • Boundaries Setting clear boundaries to maintain a healthy and appropriate relationship, such as ruling out certain topics of conversation and making it clear how long each session will last.
  • Personal experiences Keeping in mind that the client is the expert when it comes to personal experiences. It’s more helpful to let the client explain what they feel the problem may be, rather than telling them what the problem is and how they can resolve it.
  • Active listening Listening actively to the client and helping them work through their thoughts. This can help in making the client’s point of view a lot clearer, even to themselves.
  • Calm Sometimes, a client may express negative thoughts about themselves, the people around them, or about their therapist. Therapists are trained to stay calm while helping their clients work through their emotions. However, personal abuse should not be tolerated by therapists.
  • Positive tone Maintaining a positive tone of voice encourages the client to communicate openly. Knowing when to slow down the pace of the conversation or take short pauses can be helpful.
  • Additional help ​​ It’s also important to realize when the client requires more help than person centered therapy can offer. In such cases, the therapist may recommend further professional help for the client.

How Effective is Client Centered Therapy?

Client centered therapy sessions are conducted in a safe and conducive environment. They focus particularly on the present, rather than dwelling solely on the past. This is an effective tool for managing difficult situations, especially traumatic events.

The non-directive nature of client centered therapy encourages clients to be less dependent on the therapist for answers. Instead, they become more self-aware and learn to understand themselves better. They’re not seen as patients who are sick and in need of a cure, but as clients responsible for finding solutions and making changes in and for themselves.

The practice of client centered therapy has not been without criticism over the years, however. Skeptics of Carl Rogers’ theory have claimed that the principles of this type of therapy are vague, and have questioned its aversion to diagnosis. The idea of the client’s self-evaluation in person centered therapy has also been questioned by critics, who claim that it may not bring favorable outcomes.

Although client centered therapists don’t diagnose their clients with specific conditions, it’s important to note that this approach can still be helpful. Its effectiveness can be seen from its use in outpatient programs for issues such as substance use and eating disorders. Client centered therapy can also be a useful tool for crisis intervention, as it creates a safe and accepting space for clients to get support while dealing with the stress they’re going through.

Who Can Benefit From Client Centered Therapy?

Client centered therapy can be beneficial to clients who are dealing with a wide range of issues, such as relationship problems, phobias, panic attacks, substance abuse, personality disorders, low self-esteem linked to depression, stress management, eating disorders, and trauma recovery, among others.

“When I work with clients experiencing deep sadness in their struggles with depression, I like to integrate Person Centered Therapy into our work together, along with other supportive theories, because it can help clients process their feelings in a deeply healing and self-compassionate way; processing and integrating our emotions and experiences is key to moving forward towards our life’s goals.”

Talkspace therapist Kate Rosenblatt MA, LPC, LMHC

The Rogerian approach can also be beneficial to individuals who are averse to therapy as a result of their fear of judgment or criticism thanks to the atmosphere of unconditional positive regard fostered by client centered therapists. Individuals looking to improve their self-awareness and problem-solving abilities can also benefit from person centered therapy with a trained counselor.

If you have decided to opt for client centered therapy, it’s important to remember that the purpose of therapy isn’t always restricted to completely overcoming a difficult time in your life. It could also be a means of learning to accept yourself as you really are and letting go of guilt over past mistakes.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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