Person-centered therapy is just one of over more than 300 different types of psychotherapy treatments available to clients, illustrated by Holmes and Lindley (1989) as ranging from Active Analytical Psychotherapy to Zaraleya Psychoenergetic Technique. Over the years, these varying schools of thought have not always seen eye to eye with emphasis being placed on differences rather than any commonality leading to much heated debate and discussion over which technique is the most effective for both therapist and client.
Recently however, the wide spectrum of practices have attempted to distill their differences down to the core element that the relationship between the client and the therapist is key to any understanding of the practice of psychotherapy. Back in 1987, Smail (1987) summed up this relationship by illustrating that a therapeutic encounter between a client and therapist offered a rare opportunity to ‘pursue the truth about themselves and their lives…without the threat of blame and disapproval and without the risk of offending or hurting the person to whom they are revealing themselves’.
So amongst all the therapies available to the therapist and client, can Person Centered Therapy (PCT), be considered the best framework for both parties to work within? What is Person-centered Therapy – is it a technique? Where does its strengths lie and what are the perceived weaknesses within its approach leveled at it by its critics?
PCT – An overview
PCT was developed by Carl Rogers, an American Psychologist who chose to follow a humanistic approach in contrast to the Freudian route of Psychodynamics or Jung’s analytical psychology. Both he, and Abraham Maslow, another theorist who contributed greatly to Person-Centered counselling, emphasised the uniqueness and positive nature of humans along with being equally concerned with human values and a person’s subjective experience. This was a position quite different to Behaviourists who aligned themselves with the learning theories of behavioural psychology which has of late moved towards a more lenient stance encompassing personality and human interaction.
Rogers also believed that the success of PCT would depend on the counselor’s personality, his/her ability to genuinely value each individual client through beliefs which support the worth and dignity of all clients without prejudice or judgment, without transmitting the therapists own belief system which could negatively affect the client. As such Rogers does not lay down specific techniques, what he does do, is put forward a therapy which encourages the successful PCT practitioner to be able to offer three key core conditions: Congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy.
These three core conditions encourage the PCT therapist to ‘actively’ listen to the client (a skill requiring concentration and an ability to understand the feelings being expressed non-verbally). Being congruent allows the client/therapist to be evenly balanced in the relationship, it is not about the therapist being superior or being the ‘expert’, more about giving a safe platform from which the client can look for their own solutions assisted by the therapist to get to the heart of their problem more effectively.
‘Transparent’ is the word Rogers used to describe a genuine counselor to which the client could relate to as another real being, this therapist being able to bring the client’s issues/behaviours into the open and talk them over in a supportive manner. By ascribing to this way of working together, the client should hopefully be encouraged to open up, which in turn would allow for greater insight, healing and progress.
The second pillar of PCT – unconditional positive regard, underlines the tenement that each client is unique and should be valued and respected without any...