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Person-Centered Therapy from a Christian Perspective

The following represents Arthur's opinions only and not necessarily those of Christie.

Psychoanalytic Therapy
Adlerian Therapy
Existential Therapy
Person-Centered Therapy
Gestalt Therapy
Reality Therapy
Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Feminist Therapy
Family Systems Therapy

Person – Centered Therapy

            Carl Rogers developed Person–Centered Therapy based on the concepts of humanistic psychology with the basic tenet that clients are the ultimate agents of self-change for their lives.  This theory emphasizes the importance of the therapeutic relationship as one built on unconditional positive regard and accurate empathy.  Rogers believed people are innately trustworthy and have great potential to understand themselves and resolve their own problems without intervention by the therapist.  This approach is in direct contrast to Freud where clients require significant time to freely associate their experiences for counselor interpretation.  Like the existential approach, person-centered theory holds the same basic assumption that individuals are able to find meaning within themselves, inwardly capable of knowing best what they need to do to resolve issues.  In Rogerian therapy, the client moves towards the goals of realization, fulfillment, autonomy, self-determination, and perfection.  This process occurs within a critical and intense client-therapist relationship built upon empathetic understanding and unconditional positive regard.

            Therapy with clients using the person-centered model strives to develop a greater degree of independence and integration for individuals in their surroundings and the people in their lives.  Clients prepare to be open to the experience of counseling, to trust in themselves, to evaluate themselves internally, and pursue a willingness towards continued growth.  Fear of any of these areas requires addressing prior to moving forward with current issues, as these will impede client growth.  Clients will experience therapy differently depending on perceptions of both the past and the possibilities of future events.  Exploring a wider range of beliefs and feelings aids clients during this process, helping clients to better appreciate who they are and what they are capable of accomplishing. 

            Person-centered theory does not require that the client be diagnosed in order to seek and realize improvement.  Furthermore, therapists avoid being directive, taking the role that the client is responsible for his direction instead.  While the counselor-client relationship is critical and very active, the ultimate role of the Rogerian therapist is (according to the theory), passive in nature as it merely serves to help clients to find their own path and develop their own sense of self-worth.  This results in the client feeling enabled and empowered to continued improvements without the need of the counselor. 

            Some important concepts in the Person-centered approach are genuineness, congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathetic understanding.  The need for genuineness is met when the therapist provides an example to the client of what it is to be real and authentic.  The sense of congruence that develops is important for the client who is often plagued with a lack of genuineness causing anxiety.    This genuineness and congruence develop through unconditional positive regard that the counselor provides to the client.  This acceptance may be the first and only time the client does not feel judged with the environment of the sessions providing the client with the safety to explore their feelings and concerns.  And finally, Rogers identified accurate empathetic understanding as another critical task of therapists.  The counselor seeks to understand in the moment how the client feels about their situations and genuinely expresses this to the client to encourage her to get closer to herself, recognizing and resolving the incongruity that exists.  The therapist experiences the client’s situation as if it was their own, seeing the world through the client’s eyes, and doing so without becoming overly enmeshed in the feelings and emotions of the situation.

            Person-centered therapy is applicable to individuals, groups, and families when dealing with relationship issues, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.  Further, this approach is especially useful as a crisis intervention when focusing on the here and now and identifying specific beliefs that may limit the integration of information.  It has many uses in traumatic incident reduction due to its ability to create an environment that is extremely safe for the client.

            Limitations of this theory include the lack of scientific study on the effects of this method when compared with a control group who came to these realizations and developments on their own.  Another concern is the inability of therapists to be appropriately challenging of clients while being overly empathetic.  A final concern with this approach is the difficulty therapists have with allowing clients to come to their own decisions without the directive from the counselor.  These criteria, specific to the uniqueness of each counselor lead to the criticism that this approach may not be as effective as it is explained.

Personal Evaluation

            I believe that the most powerful way for one to learn is through discovery, or illumination.  Lessons learned through self-experience are much more effective than a third party attempting to teach the same lesson.  How much more rich is the experience for a child to discover something wondrous about the world, rather than it merely being told to them in front of a TV.  Because I believe in the principle of discovery, I appreciate the philosophical position Rogerian therapy takes on the non-directive role of a counselor.   Rogerian principles assert that clients find the solutions on their own in the context of a safe and accepting environment by the counselor.   In all truth, I agree entirely with this premise.  Where I diverge is the manner in which this assertion is carried out.  While I strongly believe that without illumination, client growth will be minimal, I reject the idea that unconditional positive regard is a necessary mechanism for this to take place. 

Fundamentally, Person-Centered therapy assumes that people are basically good.  Without even needing the Bible, simple observation to me shows otherwise.  People have the capacity and willingness to commit harmful and selfish acts.  Because all people know right from wrong, yet do not always do or even desire to do the right thing, they therefore live with varying levels of guilt.  It is natural for individuals to seek to justify their harmful actions in order to relieve guilt.  Unconditional positive regard from an authority figure (the counselor) has great potential to reinforce destructive behavior by further enabling it.   For example, consider a man who is cheating on his wife and is seriously considering leaving his wife and family to run off with his mistress because he feels he genuinely loves her.  Should such a man receive unlimited reassurance and empathy from the counselor?  A man in this position may be incapable of seeing the world from his wife’s point of view, let alone his children’s.  Yet if the only point of view that matters is the client’s, and if that point of view is reinforced and encouraged, the result of therapy could be devastating. 

Because of its emphasis on unconditional positive regard and its basic assumption that humans are fundamentally good, Rogerian therapy is weak in its ability in dealing with genuinely destructive behaviors the client may be engaged in.  However, in areas of trauma where the client has been victimized by extremely disturbing events, unconditional positive regard can be a valuable tool in the counselor’s arsenal because of its ability to create a place of great safety for the client.  I reserve Rogerian-style therapy as valuable for traumas, while dismissing it for most other types of counseling.