What Is Client Centered Therapy and What Makes It Different?

Published on: 12 Nov 2020

For some people, an ideal therapy experience doesn’t necessarily mean consulting a professional, answering questions that’ll help them determine what’s wrong, and show them how to work through it. Therapy can also involve a more humanistic approach, where your therapist merely guides your journey of self-discovery and finding the answers you’ve been seeking. After all, you’re the expert on your own life.

This type of psychotherapy, known as client centered therapy, focuses on maximizing your ability to find your own solutions with the right amount of support.

What Is Client Centered Therapy?

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

The concept of client centered therapy might seem like a stretch — after all, most kinds of therapy essentially focus on the client. However, what sets this type of therapy apart 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.

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 had been a power imbalance 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 the two parties should be viewed as equals.

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 therapist listens to the client and provides a conducive environment for them to make decisions independently. It also means that the therapist avoids judging the client for any reason, and accepts them fully. This lack of judgement is a quality known in this field as “unconditional positive regard.”

The practice of client centered therapy requires the 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, 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 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.

Therapists who practice Carl Rogers’ person centered therapy should exhibit three essential qualities: genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathetic understanding.


Open communication between the 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.

Unconditional positive regard

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

Empathetic understanding

Empathy is a key quality in client centered therapy. It fosters a positive relationship between the 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 therapy 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 empathetic 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.

The Rogerian approach can also be beneficial to individuals who are averse to therapy as a result of their fear of judgement 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.

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.

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