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Section 3: The person-centred approach

The person-centred approach

Kamal Naran

Community art counsellor

Carl Rogers developed a ‘theory’ called ‘client-centred’ that later became known as ‘person-centred’. This theory describes how the focus and concentration of the counsellor is on the person, or the client as a person. For Rogers, the approach was a way of life, an attitude and belief about all people and not just clients. However, in this course we will only concentrate on clients. According to Rogers, the counsellor in the person-centred approach tries to understand how the client sees himself/herself.

Rogers believed that therapists should lay aside their preoccupation to make evaluations, diagnoses and prognoses, and give up their temptation to guide the individual. He believed people could be helped by providing a deep understanding and acceptance of their conscious attitudes as they explore their worries and concerns that may be unconscious. 

Rogers believed that if we approach someone in a certain way, we could enable them to grow and develop and work through any problems they may have.

This way of Rogers entails three qualities: 

  1. The first quality is empathy. Many people believe that this is the single quality that is most important in all forms of therapeutic listening. It means getting inside the world of the person who comes for therapy so that that person feels accepted and understood. Two things are important about this: 
  2. The empathy has to be accurate, and
  3. The empathy should be made known to the client. 

Both of these are learnable skills (which we will focus on later), and they do make a huge difference to the relationship between client and counsellor or therapist. 

  1. The second quality is genuineness. If empathy is about listening to the client, genuineness is about listening to yourself; really tuning in to yourself and being aware of all that is going on inside yourself. It means being open to your own experience, not shutting off any of it. And again, it means letting this out in such a way that the client can get the benefit of it. Genuineness is harder than empathy because it implies a lot of self-knowledge. Roger believed that only a fully functioning person can be totally genuine. 
  2. The third quality is unconditional positive regard. It means non-possessive warmth so that the client can feel received in a human way, which is non-threatening. In such an atmosphere trust can develop, and the person can feel safe to open up to their own experiences and their own feelings. 

Did you notice that these three qualities are really what we would hope for from any human being? There is a lot in this approach about learning how to be a human being, and it assumes that everyone is capable of being fully human. 

Rogers’ three core conditions help us to think about how we regard people. When we observe someone, what do we observe and think? What does the word ‘person’ mean? This becomes even more relevant when the person we are observing is experiencing some kind of difficulty or problem. Do we concentrate on the issue at hand and our need to alleviate the pain the person is experiencing? If so, then we are not thinking primarily about the person, but about the difficulty (pain or problem) he/she is experiencing. 

The question is: Who is the person behind or in this difficult situation? 

How do we think about people and what do we take into consideration when thinking about them? 

For example, if a person came to you suffering from Aids, you can’t just think of what the problem is and rely only on general knowledge about the disease (or problem) to help that person. You have a person with you who thinks, feels and behaves differently to others, even if they have the same or similar condition. What we need to know is how this person thinks, perceives, feels and deals with their problem, as well as how he/she experiences being a human being with this problem.

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