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Client-Centered Therapy


Updated April 03, 2012

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Developed by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1940s, client-centered therapy focuses on the individual's ability to direct his own growth and change. The therapist's job is to provide a safe, empathetic environment in which the client has the room to realize his own potential and take steps to maximize that potential. Rogers was one of the first psychologists to use the term "client" rather than "patient," as he felt the latter term set up a relationship of inequality. In client-centered therapy, the therapist and client are equal partners.

Therapist Traits

According to the tenets of client-centered therapy, the therapist must demonstrate three core traits:

  • Congruence: The therapist is open and honest, always stating exactly what he means. This congruence is evident in a genuine regard for the client rather than a stiff professional manner.

  • Empathy: The therapist shows a genuine understanding and concern for the client's thoughts and feelings, and accepts them without judgment.

  • Unconditional Positive Regard: The therapist recognizes the innate value of the client as a human being and fully accepts her, regardless of thoughts or behaviors. Although the therapist may disagree with certain actions, she recognizes that those actions are not indicative of the client's innate personality.

Therapy Practices

Client-centered therapists utilize a wide variety of techniques and practices, shaping each session to the needs of the client. However, all client-centered therapy follows a few basic tenets:

  • Psychological Contact: The therapist-client relationship must be established early and maintained throughout the therapy process. Both parties must be fully "there."

  • Therapist Genuineness: Client-centered therapists recognize that clients are inherently vulnerable and self-protective, or there would be no need for therapy. But the therapist must strive to remain genuine, open and honest at all times. This protects the therapist-client relationship and provides a model of genuine behavior for the client to follow.

  • Client Acceptance: It is necessary during the course of therapy to set appropriate limits on behavior. For example, sessions are usually limited to one hour, breaking windows or furniture is not permitted, and acting on feelings of "love" for the therapist is prohibited. Within the bounds of safety and ethics, however, all feelings and actions are fully accepted.

  • Non-Directive Approach: The goal of therapy is the client's recognition of his own self-worth and potential, as well as steps he can take to maximize that potential. The therapist's job is to facilitate this process rather than assigning tasks or running the show.

Also Known As: Rogerian therapy, person-centered therapy
Although Tony sometimes talked about stealing cars, his therapist recognized that Tony's behaviors did not reflect his basic personality. Through client-centered therapy, Tony was able to recognize his own desire for wealth and power, and take socially appropriate steps to achieve his goals.
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