Note: I use the terms “counselling” and “therapy” interchangeably throughout this website.
One of my favourite counselling modalities is drawn from the philosophy of person-centered therapy. It’s a non-directive approach to talk therapy, which means that the therapist believes the client has all the answers within them. The client simply needs a safe non-judgemental space to explore what is alive inside them.
Person-centered therapy is a form of psychotherapy developed by psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1940s. Rather than having an “expert” treating a “patient,” the therapist and client are seen as equal partners.
Person-centered therapy assumes that people are essentially trustworthy and have a vast potential for understanding themselves and resolving their own problems. It emphasizes the client’s capacity for self-awareness and self-healing. The therapist fosters a climate that promotes growth.
The philosophy of this approach is that people are essentially good, and they know what’s right for them. The essential ingredients of successful person-centered therapy are love and empathy.
What to look for in a person-centered therapist
- Congruence — being genuine and real. The therapist is willing to transparently relate to clients without hiding behind a professional facade
- Unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and caring. This means that the therapist offers acceptance of the client’s feelings and actions, is willing to accept the client as they are, and maintains a positive attitude toward them. The therapist also listens attentively without interrupting, judging, or giving advice.
- Empathetic understanding (see below)
The goals of person-centered therapy
With person-centered therapy, the client achieves a greater degree of independence and integration. The therapist provides a climate conducive to helping the individual become a fully functional person.
Clients are encouraged to live in the present rather than in the past or future, and to rely on their own inner experience of each moment to guide their behavior, carry out the responsibilities of their life, and contribute to the world to the best of their ability.
Through a therapeutic attitude of genuine caring, respect, acceptance, support and understanding, the client is able to loosen their defenses and rigid perceptions and move to a higher level of personal functioning.
As the client begins to understand and accept, they become less defensive and more open to their experience. They also become less concerned about meeting the expectations of others and begin to behave in ways that are truer to themselves, increasingly trusting themselves to manage their own lives. Being accepted = accepting themselves.
The therapist’s attitude and way of being with the client constitutes the heart of the change process. The process of being with clients and entering their world perceptions and feelings is often sufficient for bringing about change.
Person-centered therapy assumes that the client has the resourcefulness for positive movement without the counsellor assuming an active, directive role.
This approach emphasizes staying with the client in the moment, rather than getting ahead of them with interpretations. The therapist’s attitude is more important than knowledge, theory, or techniques. The intent is to promote growth, development, maturity, and improved functioning in daily life.
How empathy helps you heal
Empathy is understanding the feelings of another person. A skilled therapist can understand the client and support them by paying attention and valuing their experience. They can help the client see their earlier experiences in new ways, modify their perception of themselves, and increase confidence in making choices and pursuing a course of action.
Research has consistently demonstrated that a therapist’s empathy and radical curiosity are the most potent predictors of a client’s progress in therapy.
A person-centered therapist can see through the client’s eyes, “be in their shoes,” and at the same time retain their own identity. The therapist can sense the client’s subjective experience “as if” they were the client, but never assume they understand based on their own frame of reference.
How to know if your therapist is person-centered
Here’s how to know whether your therapist is person-centered: You should be able to share your internal experiences without your therapist making any judgments, or giving you direct guidance or advice. The relationship you create together is an important part of person-centered therapy.
If you don’t feel understood or supported, it might be important to address these concerns, and if that doesn’t work, consider finding someone else instead.
10 traits of a person-centered therapist:
- Sets clear boundaries
- Has the attitude that the client knows best
- Acts as a sounding board
- Isn’t judgemental
- Doesn’t make decisions for you
- Concentrates on what you are really saying
- Is genuine and doesn’t hide behind a professional facade
- Accepts negative emotions
- Their attitude towards you is more important than their theories
- They know their limitations in supporting a client
My promise to you
As a person-centered therapist, I will meet you with flexibility, adapting my approach to your unique circumstances. I will help you become who you authentically are, and will greet you with acceptance, knowing that diversity is what makes human beings beautiful.
I see vulnerability as the window to connection and will hold your vulnerability with care and compassion. I take confidentiality seriously and have processes in place to guarantee your privacy.
Your next step: Schedule a free session with me to see how it goes. I look forward to meeting you!