Rogerian (or Person Centered) therapy summary


Quick summary: The basis idea of Person Centered (or Client Centered or Rogerian = they are the same theory… just different names) is that humans have an innate drive to grow towards their potential and they will act with the best interests of themselves and the community in mind if placed in a nurturing and accepting environment. Rogers maintains that if a therapist offers a setting in which he/she is genuine, empathetic and can offer unconditional positive regard to the client, then the client will naturally grow into an effective, affectionate, empathetic, accepting, self-aware, secure and happy person.

Client centered or Person centered – it is also called client centered as the direction of the therapy is guided by the client and not by the therapist. This is a non-directive approach. The therapist maintains that the client is the expert on himself or herself… the therapist offers a supportive environment for the client to grow to their fullest potential.

History – this theory was invented by Carl Rogers in the early 1900’s. Carl believed that humans were motivated to be good and to reach their full potential. He saw that sometimes people’s negative self-views impacted their potential. Carl maintained that with the right kind of supportive environment, people will naturally grow and resolve. This theory was in response and in contrast to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory which suggests that humans are motivated by mostly primitive drives.

The human potential movement was a positive influence on the theory which basically stated that human’s are good, they have an innate drive to reach their full potential, and they are driven to be good to themselves and to others.

Therapist Attributes are the key to this intervention – this theory does not place too much importance on techniques… instead the theory suggests that the character traits of the therapist in the therapy room are the most important variable related to outcome. When a therapist is Authentic, Genuine, Empathetic, and unconditionally accepting (offers unconditional positive regard) the clients will reach self-actualization.

Client directed – the therapist will not suggest topics or try to change anything about the client. Again, the belief is that needed change naturally arrives when a person is accepted by a genuinely authentic, accepting and empathetic person.

Not problem or solution focused – the theory does not try and fix anything directly.

Therapeutic Relationship – Rogers maintains that within a safe, accepting, and trusting therapeutic relationship, clients can reach Self-actualization.

Humanistic – Humans are innately good… this is a humanistic theory… we are innately motivated to be good to ourselves and to others.

Self-actualization – the goal of this type of therapy is self-actualization – meeting your fullest potential. This full potential is something within every person. The full potential of a person will grow in a supportive and nurturing environment.

Therapist attributes

  • Congruence – the emotions and beliefs that a therapist portrays should be congruent with the therapists’ true emotions and beliefs. This means that a therapist must do his or her own work to truly be unconditionally accepting and empathetic.


  • Unconditional positive regard – The therapist creates a place of acceptance where any thought, belief emotion, narrative, behavior etc that the client has can be expressed without the threat of negative judgment from the therapist. The therapist holds the humanistic perspective that the client is always innately good.


  • Authenticity – the therapist is a real person who does not present to be an omnipotent expert of the client. In order to do this type of theory a therapist will likely have to engage in a fair share of self-actualization. The non- judgmental and empathetic presentation must be sincere – authentic. This does not mean that the therapist shares all their personal beliefs, traumas, or emotions with the client (as this would be taking the focus away from the client).


  • Empathy – the therapist puts themselves in the client’s shoes to fully understand and hold compassion for the emotional experience of the client. To be empathetic it is important for a therapist to have a good understanding of their own emotional experience so that they do not confuse their emotions with the client’s emotions.


  • Genuine – the empathy and unconditional positive regard must come from a place of authenticity.


Techniquesthis is not a technique-based intervention, but some themes are prevalent.

  • Reflection – this is where the therapist summarizes what the client said and verbalizes this summary back to the client to display listening and understanding. Sometimes a therapist will pay special attention to reflecting the emotional content of a client’s narrative.


  • Active listening – the therapist is actively engaged in hearing the client as opposed to seeking out information for some other purpose such as a problem or a symptom. The goal is to listen and to empathize.


  • Undirected uncensored experience leads to personal growth – The therapist does not lead the client towards certain topics. The clients will take the therapy where is should go.


Goals of therapy – growth of the person and not removal of a problem

Openness, self-awareness, acceptance, insight, self-esteem, and felt security with self and with others.

Whom it does not always work for – this theory can really upset the Ego of a person (we all have egos = our self-concept – the voice that tells you how things should be and how you should do things). Egos demand that we do things… fix things… Egos do not believe that things get better without intentional action. As such this theory does not always work for people who are having a difficult time controlling the ‘just fix it already’ demands of their ego. It is hard for many people to believe that humans can reach resolutions by simply working on their more fundamental attributes (such as self-awareness). This indeed can be a difficult theory for some people to accept, as it requires trust in your innate ability and patients for that ability to develop. If Rogerian therapy was a weight loss program it would be the opposite of a diet pill.

Research – research has substantiated Rogers’ claim… a positive therapeutic relationship is the number one predictor of successful therapeutic outcomes despite what theory is being used. The research also shows that technique and theory are almost irrelevant to therapeutic outcomes (I would guess that as long as a therapist can use a theory authentically then the theory can be helpful) – there is a tremendous amount of attention on ‘empirically based practice’ right now… this is kind off a distraction as they are studying the efficacy of theories (which have little effect on outcomes) and they are basically finding that all main stream theories are valid. The validity of psychotherapy interventions have been well substantiated for decades… psychotherapy is and has always been successful. On the surface it seems like the ‘empirically based practice’ movement in a ploy with the covert intention of implying that some theories are ‘dangerous’ and other theories are ‘one size fixes all’… though it would be perhaps profitable to many to come up with a perfect technique, the truth is that no technique is that helpful if delivered by a person lacking therapeutic attributes such as the ones Carl suggested. In closing Rogers was mostly right, if your therapist is authentic, empathetic, and accepting she/he will likely help you.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.