Person Centered Therapy
A distinct opposition of tone from the deterministic views of Freud, Person-Centered Therapy changes the focus and resources of therapy, looking toward the client as the source of change, rather than the therapist. While requiring a lot from the counselor as a person, this theory places a great deal of emphasis on concepts such as freedom, choice, autonomy, responsibility, and finding purpose for oneself.
The Historical Context
Discussed extensively in the 1940’s and on, this theory surprises by being sort of the opposite of the general mores and mood of the public. With the disappointment and melancholy after the war, the American public hunkered down in conservatism, commercialism, and xenophobic tendencies. Veterans from the war took their GI Bill money, went to college, and moved to the suburbs. There was a new emphasis on education, and the American teenager came into being. Kids were taught to obey their parents, to respect their teachers, and understand their place in the world (often through violence). Where women had been keeping up the home front in factories during the war, they were forced back into the house when the men came back. The father was the head of the household as the income earner, and the authoritarian nuclear family came into being. Freud’s psychotherapy seems to fit into this model: the client and therapist have their place, with the therapist being the leader of treatment, curing the client in due time. But in opposition to these fundamental systems came Humanistic psychology, which took a more hopeful stance about human ability to heal themselves, taking power away from the therapist, in essence.
The Major Contributors
- Carl Rogers (1902-1987)—Identified as “the single most important psychotherapist of the past quarter century” (Corey), he greatly expanded and adapted humanistic psychology, making an impact in counseling, education, and applying his techniques toward world peace.
- Not a technique driven approach, but rather “a working hypothesis, a stimulus to further inquiry about the therapy process” (Brodley)
- Congruence (genuineness, realness) between the therapist and client (Corey).
- Unconditional Positive Regard (acceptance and caring) on the part of the therapist in which the therapists expresses caring and acceptance of the person, though not necessarily their behavior.
- Accurate Empathic Understanding (an ability to deeply grasp the subjective world of another person)
- Actualizing tendency: “the process of striving toward realization, fulfillment, autonomy, self-determination and perfection” (Corey).
- The client is the expert on their own condition, though they may not have all the insight. They also have the capacity to change themselves.
- “Briefly, as persons are accepted and prized, they tend to develop a more caring attitude toward themselves. As persons are empathetically heard, it becomes possible for them to listen more accurately to the flow of inner experiencings. But as a person understands and prizes self, the self becomes more congruent with the experiencings. The person thus becomes more real, more genuine. These tendencies, the reciprocal of the therapist’s attitudes, enable the person to be a more effective growth-enhancer for himself or herself. There is a greater freedom to be the true, whole person” (Rogers).
Presented at the First Annual Meeting of the Association for the Development of the Person-Centered Approach which met in Chicago, Illinois at International House on the University of Chicago Campus September 3 – 7, 1986, the following are additional assumptions, beliefs and hypotheses that are central to the person-centered approach:
- Belief that human nature is basically constructive.
o Belief that human nature is basically social.
o Belief that self-regard is a basic human need and that self-regard, autonomy and individual sensitivity are to be protected in helping relationships.
o Belief that persons are basically motivated to perceive realistically and to pursue the truth of situations.
o Belief that perceptions are a major determinant of personal experience and behavior and, thus, to understand a person one must attempt to understand them empathically.
o Belief that the individual person is the basic unit and that the individual should be addressed, (not groups, families, organizations, etc.), in situations intended to foster growth.
o Belief in the concept of the whole person.
o Belief that persons are realizing and protecting themselves as best they can at any given time and under the internal and external circumstances that exist at that time.
o Belief in abdication of the pursuit of control or authority over other persons and, instead, a commitment to strive to share power and control.
o A commitment to openmindedness and humility in respect to theory and practice. (Brodley)
Evaluation of the Theory from My Religious Perspective
I really appreciate the optimistic view of humanity enacted in Person-Centered Therapy. Because Paganism is so broad, its practitioners so different from each other, it is natural for us to consider each practitioner to be an expert on their own experience. This is especially true with regard to pathworking and magick, which is so subjective, even amongst members of the same tradition, that it would be impossible to tell someone the “right” way of experiencing the Gods. Paganism values independence, experience and personal gnosis, which this therapy works to get out of its clients. If any method were to be used as a Pagan pastoral counseling technique, it would be this one. The difficult part would be to get the therapist/Priestess/Priest to take their ego out of the equation. While in Wicca we value authority to recognize those who have traveled the path before us, we don’t expect that Elders know all the answers for us individually. Yet how powerful to be able to draw the answers out of the querant, rather than trying to know everything oneself!
Brodley, B. “Client-Centered Therapy – What Is It? What Is It Not?” http://world.std.com/~mbr2/whatscct.html. 1986
Corey, G; Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. 8th edition. Thompson Books. 2009.
Rogers, C. Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980, p.115-117