Client-centered therapy or person-centered therapy is a non-directive kind of talk therapy developed by Carl Rogers. Coming from a humanistic perspective, Rogers believed that people are innately good. He also strongly believed that people have an actualizing tendency or the ability to work towards achieving the best they can out of themselves.
And based on these two fundamental belief systems, he set out to discover a kind of therapeutic technique that would be non-directive and yet effective. He wanted a therapist to not advise their client because that would make the latter dependent. Rather he focused on the therapist being able to create a safe enriching environment in which the clients would grow on their own. Therapists would not advise or suggest anything to the client or pass any judgements. Instead they would make the client feel like a partner in the process.
Notice how Rogers uses the term ‘client’ or ‘person’ instead of patient. It’s because ‘patient’ implies that the individual is sick and needs all the help he/she can get from the therapist. Whereas the terms ‘client’ or ‘person’ indicate how the individual is self-directive when it comes to his/her recovery.
But how does a therapist create a safe enriching environment for the client? By using the following three fundamentals:
The therapists must share their feelings politely but with utmost honesty. They should not put any masks. How they feel must be realised through their words. It is only then that the client would take a lesson from this and start being honest about his/her feelings, even if they make him/her feel vulnerable.
Unconditional Positive Regard
Each time your parents rewarded you only when you got a 10/10 in a test, their behaviour was a display of conditional positive regard. In other words, “If you do this, you will get this.” Our entire lives have been based on such measures, resulting in us often acting in ways that will seek us rewards from others, even if we don’t want to act in these ways. You know it but you still do it.
Such behaviour being repeated over and over again results in our true selves remaining hidden, only so that we can please others.
It’s the job of the therapist, thus, to create an environment where we can finally be our real selves and still be loved no matter what.
The therapist needs to reflective, mirroring the client’s thoughts and emotions. It’s only then that they will be able to understand what it is that they are actually feeling.
And for this to be possible, the therapist needs to be empathetic, and not sympathetic or identifying. There’s a difference between the three.
Imagine your friend fell down a hole. Sympathy would be looking down upon him from the top and saying that things will be okay; sympathy drives away actual connection and is based on a convenient, most often, too big a distance between the two parties. Identification would be going down into the hole and feeling as sad and hurt as your friend is and letting these emotions limit your capacity to help her. And Empathy would be going down into the hole and sitting with your friend, letting her know that you respect her feelings and can understand what she must be going through, without losing your ability to actually help her. Empathy is not fitting into both the shoes of another person but about keeping one foot in your shoe and the other in theirs.
Based on these three fundamentals, a client-centered therapist creates an environment in which a client can take charge of matters and develop not only a healthier view of the world but also a less distorted view of themselves.