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Person-Centered Therapy

Phi Atratus
  • Jan 04, 2022
  • 5 min read
man sees himself in the mirror

Person-centered therapy is a type of talk therapy that views the client as the main actor in their own life. This makes the therapist a warm yet vigilant companion rather than a guide, putting power back in the client’s hands.

Client-centered therapy, as it is also known, has its roots in the profoundly humanistic ideas of Carl Rogers (1942), who stated that authentic healing can be achieved through an accepting relationship with a therapist.

By now, it has proved effective long-term in various mental health-related issues. Let’s see how person-centered therapy works and whether it’s right for you.

How Do Person-Centered Therapy Techniques Work?

Even though this kind of therapy may sound a bit idyllic at first, it uses three main non-directive techniques that are efficient in both in-person and online therapy: genuineness and congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathetic understanding. Let’s explain what these mean.

Genuineness and congruence – sustaining positive change

These refer to the therapist’s characteristics that sustain positive change in their client. Congruence is a state of self-awareness and self-mastery required for the therapist and achieved through long personal therapy processes.

A congruent person-centered therapist will be in contact with their own emotions and will be genuine. They will show you authenticity and encourage you to do the same by communicating openly with you about your interaction, expectations, and sometimes even about their own experience.

Genuineness and congruence are two of the most important person-centered therapy techniques that a professional therapist uses. These will allow your therapist to recognize progress and blockages in your process, things that you’d find difficult to express, and tune in their reactions according to your needs.

Unconditional positive regard – supporting unconditionally 

This is an attitude that the therapist shows to the client in all circumstances. It means they will actively listen to you with no judgment or preconception on their part. In case those would interfere with your interaction, a good therapist will use their congruence and genuineness to observe and communicate it with you.

Your therapist will listen to you with a sense of appreciation and respect for your personal experience. For example, if you’ve cheated on your partner and feel remorse, you won’t be given advice on how not to do it again but rather invited to explore what made you do it, what causes the remorse, and what you choose for yourself to do further. Any answer for that will be welcomed.

Empathetic understanding – warm and welcoming

The client is not seen in relation to what may be considered “normal” or “expected,” but in relation to their own circumstances. That means the therapist will understand you as a unique person. For example, a person who suffered a loss can experience depression as part of their grief, but another person may experience depression even though their life seems to be perfect. In these two cases, the approach will be specific to the situation – deeper trauma may be involved in the second example, while in the first one, empathy and patience could gradually close the wound of loss.

Empathy plays a big role in person-centered therapy because it shows the therapist what your specific needs are, what coping mechanism you use, and what resources you have to get through your current struggle. Moreover, knowing what’s authentic for you, your therapist will know when you’ll have a harder time and change the rhythm of the process accordingly. 

Can Person-Centered Therapy Help Me?

Person-centered therapy is effective because it meets the client where they are. The therapist is able to do so because the alliance between them and their client is strong and genuine. The therapeutic relationship is the one supporting the desired change at the optimal pace.

In fact, a study conducted in 2014 revealed that the therapist’s sensitivity to their client’s experience in each session is what drives positive therapy outcomes. A good therapeutic relationship and high levels of empathy make the client feel safe in the session regardless of whether the therapist supported or challenged their perspective.

Empathy, too, has been found to be a “robust predictor for good therapy outcomes.” The cited study suggests that a high level of empathy sustains progress across multiple treatment formats and client problems. The biggest association between empathy-based therapy and positive results was found in prisoners and depressed or anxious participants.

This theory is supported by real-life observations. In therapy practice, clients experiencing generalized anxiety, grief, or mild depressive episodes affirm that they find person-centered therapy sessions soothing, motivating, and providing them stability. 

Let’s look at an example of how person-centered therapy can help.

Example case:

Joanna is a 22-year-old woman with a chronically depressed mother and an excessively critical father. She started online counseling worried about her lack of energy, fear of the future, and low self-esteem. 

In the first 2–3 months of therapy, she and her therapist built a collaborative relationship based on mutual trust and respect. The focus of her therapy process went from being about her present fears to her difficult family situation, and then certain ideas that she felt were pushed onto her yet did not represent her. 

After about 1 year of both in-person and online person-centered therapy, Joanna got less anxious about life, started dating, and was overall more optimistic. She gained a renewed sense of identity and became more connected to her reactions, emotions, and inner resources.

What was driving her change was mostly the feeling of being totally accepted and not judged for her ideas or feelings. She learned that she is not responsible for her parents' well-being by experiencing a healthy, equal relationship with her therapist. Empathy and unconditional acceptance helped her gain more faith in her own personal capabilities.

Modern person-centered therapy can treat a wide range of mental health issues and is optimal for anyone who seeks deeper connection interactions and a warm therapy tone. It may not be as effective, however, for people who prefer a business-oriented approach focused on objectivity. 

Is Online Person-Centered Therapy Effective?

Joanna had the option, both physically and financially, to choose between online therapy and in-person meetings. Not everyone can have both options, however, as in-person can present more barriers of entry in terms of affordability and accessibility. Luckily, client-centered therapy is suitable for online work for two main reasons:

  1. It doesn’t depend on materials or exercises. While more concrete forms of therapy may be difficult to adapt online, person-centered therapists can still be empathetic and present through a screen just as they are in their office. As it’s more about being than doing, online person-centered therapy is very much similar to offline sessions.
  2. It welcomes the client’s personal space and habits. If being in a psychotherapy office means adhering to certain rules, like not smoking, online person-centered therapy provides a safe space to bring on any of your habits. It is even encouraged to build empathy and trust with your therapist via the internet.

Online therapy, regardless of its theoretical framework, became both a necessity and a commodity during the pandemic. That happened thanks to its higher accessibility when compared to in-person sessions.

  • Online counseling is usually cheaper because it reduces renting costs for the therapist.
  • It can be done from anywhere, so you are not limited by the selection of therapists in your area.
  • Online therapy has a more flexible schedule. 

For classic person-centered therapy, in-person sessions are still the norm for their rich interactional content. Online counseling in this framework is also effective. You can use it as a good alternative when traveling or when physical meetings are not a viable option for you, but you still need someone to talk to.

So Should I Try Person-Centered Therapy?

Starting therapy, in general, can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. But it can also be the beginning of a very complex, transformative process. Person-centered therapy can work wonders for you if you are at your first therapy attempt or if you’re looking for a warmer, more emotional approach.

For some, client-centered therapy means finally feeling listened to and cared for after periods of pressure and loneliness. For others, it means finding a safe space to express their thoughts. Experiencing this human connection corresponds with lower levels of anxiety, higher levels of energy, and fewer depressive symptoms. 

Genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathetic understanding are the key factors for change in client-centered therapy. Being in contact with a congruent and stable therapist sets an appropriate rhythm and model for you to work on and grow.

If you are currently dealing with mental health difficulties on your own, reach out to a person-centered therapist on DoMental and enjoy the comfort and accessibility of weekly online person-centered therapy sessions in a flexible, modern way – straight from your own home. 

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