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Client-Centered Therapy


An approach to counseling and psychotherapy that places much of the responsibility for the treatment process on the patient, with the therapist taking a non-directive role.

Developed in the 1930s by the American psychologist Carl Rogers, client-centered therapy—also known as non-directive or Rogerian therapy—departed from the typically formal, detached role of the therapist common to psychoanalysis and other forms of treatment. Rogers believed that therapy should take place in the supportive environment created by a close personal relationship between client and therapist. Rogers's introduction of the term "client" rather than "patient" expresses his rejection of the traditionally authoritarian relationship between therapist and client and his view of them as equals. The client determines the general direction of therapy, while the therapist seeks to increase the client's insightful self-understanding through informal clarifying questions.

Rogers believed that the most important factor in successful therapy was not the therapist's skill or training, but rather his or her attitude. Three interrelated attitudes on the part of the therapist are central to the success of client-centered therapy: congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy. Congruence refers to the therapist's openness and genuineness—the willingness to relate to clients without hiding behind a professional facade. Therapists who function in this way have all their feelings available to them in therapy sessions and may share significant ones with their clients. However, congruence does not mean that therapists disclose their own personal problems to clients in therapy sessions or shift the focus of therapy to themselves in any other way.

Unconditional positive regard means that the therapist accepts the client totally for who he or she is without evaluating or censoring, and without disapproving of particular feelings, actions, or characteristics. The therapist communicates this attitude to the client by a willingness to listen without interrupting, judging, or giving advice. This creates a nonthreatening context in which the client feels free to explore and share painful, hostile, defensive, or abnormal feelings without worrying about personal rejection by the therapist.

The third necessary component of a therapist's attitude is empathy ("accurate empathetic understanding"). The therapist tries to appreciate the client's situation from the client's point of view, showing an emotional understanding of and sensitivity to the client's feelings throughout the therapy session. In other systems of therapy, empathy with the client would be considered a preliminary step enabling the therapeutic work to proceed, but in client-centered therapy, it actually constitutes a major portion of the therapeutic work itself. A primary way of conveying this empathy is by active listening that shows careful and perceptive attention to what the client is saying. In addition to standard techniques, such as eye contact, that are common to any good listener, client-centered therapists employ a special method called reflection, which consists of paraphrasing and/or summarizing what a client has just said. This technique shows that the therapist is listening carefully and accurately and gives clients an added opportunity to examine their own thoughts and feelings as they hear them repeated by another person. Generally, clients respond by elaborating further on the thoughts they have just expressed.

Two primary goals of client-centered therapy are increased self-esteem and greater openness to experience. Some of the related changes that it seeks to foster in clients include increased correspondence between the client's idealized and actual selves; better self-understanding; decreases in defensiveness, guilt, and insecurity;



Congruence: therapist's openness to the client

Unconditional positive regard: therapist accepts the client without judgement

Empathy: therapist tries to convey an appreciation and understanding of the client's point of view


Increase self-esteem

Expand openness to life experiences.

more positive and comfortable relationships with others; and an increased capacity to experience and express feelings at the moment they occur. Beginning in the 1960s, client-centered therapy became allied with the human potential movement. Rogers adopted terms such as "person-centered approach" and "way of being" and began to focus on personal growth and self-actualization. He also pioneered the use of encounter groups, adapting the sensitivity training (T-group) methods developed by Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) and other researchers at the National Training Laboratories in 1950s.

While client-centered therapy is considered one of the major therapeutic approaches, along with psychoanalytic and cognitive-behavioral therapy, Rogers's influence is felt in schools of therapy other than his own, and the concepts and methods he developed are drawn on in an eclectic fashion by many different types of counselors and therapists.

Further Reading

Rogers, Carl. Client-Centered Therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951.

———. On Becoming a Person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.

———. A Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Abacus to Courage