A Brief Recap
In the last article, we delved deeper into counseling the elderly and PWD. Instead of focusing on the technicalities, the article focused on the issues the elderly and PWD face. It also focused on the importance of counseling for them as well as the skills therapists should employ. Finally it talked about removing biases about counseling from the mind. This article will talk about client-centered therapy-what it exactly is, what its aims are, what skills therapists should employ and the criticisms that accompanied. But before that, we will explore the person behind it and the school of thought he belongs to.
Carl Rogers and Humanistic school of thought
“The subjective human being has an important value…that no matter how he may be labelled and evaluated he is a human person first of all”- Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers was one of the most influential psychotherapists of the 20th century. He belonged to the humanistic school of thought. The behavioristic school of thought viewed human behavior as something influenced by the environment. The Psychodynamic school of thought saw humans majorly ruled by their innate desires centering on sex and aggression. But the humanistic school of thought proclaimed that human beings are inherently striving towards a positive direction of growth and improvement. Carl Rogers established client centered therapy on the same ideals.
What is Client Centered Therapy?
Client centered therapy/Person centered therapy/Rogerian therapy was developed by Carl Rogers. It is a specialized branch of humanistic therapy that highlights the experiencing of a client and his or her subjective and phenomenal world (Gillon, 2007). Developed on the basic principles of humanistic school of thought, it took a positive view on human beings. It was developed around a time when other forms of therapy like psychoanalysis (developed by Sigmund Freud) aimed at ‘correcting’ maladaptive behavior. But Carl Rogers believed that above all, a human being is a person. This might sound strange but as mentioned above, most therapies during that time disregarded people having any control over their behavior.
Rogerain therapy accepts the fact that human beings are motivated to grow and maintain themselves in a positive direction. Thus, human beings are on a journey of ‘self-actualization’. Carl Rogers replaced ‘patient’ with the word ‘client’ in his therapy. This was to establish that the therapist is not an authority figure who will try to correct or determine future behavior of the client. The therapist is a passenger, who is there to accompany the client on his journey of re-discovery.
What are the aims of the therapy?
Unlike other therapies that aim to correct maladaptive behavior, client-centered therapy as the name suggests revolves around the client. This means that the therapist is there to provide a comfortable environment for the client to ponder over his/her/their issues. The therapy is non-directive in nature. This simply means that the therapist will not attempt to guide the client in a particular direction. The client can mull and ponder over any event/behavior/issue in front of the therapist. The therapist in turn, will be support and empathize with the client. Thus the aims of the therapy are as follows-
- To build on the self-regard of the client- Typically, in the starting of therapy there is an incongruence on the client’s side. By in congruent we mean that there is a difference in reality and how the person views themselves. The aim is to shift this in-congruence to congruence. While this might appear like a small aim to be achieved, a negative perception of oneself is often an important factor. For example- the therapist might doubt her skill as a writer. The therapist will not attempt to change that perception. Rather the therapist try to provide a warm, empathetic* environment for clients to explore this perception.
- *Note: There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy implies that you pity the person. In layman’s terms, it means that you feel bad for the person. Empathy on the other hand implies that you try to put yourself into the other person’s shoes. It means that you try to understand and feel what the other person is feeling.
- Shifting the focus from others to oneself- In the starting of the therapy, the client is often overly concerned about what others think. Client-centered therapy attempts to redirect this focus from others to self. This is called shifting the locus. From a negative perception to a positive view regarding self is another aim of the therapy.
- Flexibility-This means that by the end of the therapy the client must be more willing and open to experiences than before. The client must move from a negative, stiff perception of the world to embracing the experiences that may come the person’s way.
- In the words of Carl Rogers himself, “When the facades are worn away during the therapeutic process, what kind of person emerges from behind the pretenses?” Rogers (1961).
- What skills should the therapist bring to the table?
It is to be noted that client-centered therapy doesn’t employ any techniques. There are no guidelines or a code to be followed. Rather the focus on the client-therapist relationship which must be empathetic and comfortable. The therapist might provide-
- Unconditional Positive Regard
- This means that the therapist has to ascertain and assure the client that no matter what he/she might say, the therapist will not judge and will keep on continuing to provide a warm, empathetic environment.
- As mentioned above empathy doesn’t mean to pity but to try to understand where the other person is coming from. This requires active listening and clarifying what the client is trying to say if he/she is not precise.
- When we talk about congruence in lieu of the therapist, it means that the therapist should project whatever he/she is feeling. This means that the therapist should attempt to convey what he’s he is feeling so as to help alter the client’s perception.
- For example:
- Client: Since my father passed away I have felt this terrible sadness that just won’t go away
- Therapist: * remains silent*
- Client: I have even felt this guilt…I can’t explain it.
- Therapist: I understand. After my mother passed away I used to feel guilty for a long time even when I knew there was nothing I could have done.
- Through this hypothetical snippet of conversation, we can discern that the therapist is providing a warm, empathetic environment for the client to talk. He/she is not rushing on to why the client feels a particular way. The therapist is silent when need be and is empathetic by disclosing about own personal life. This decision to disclose or not on the part of the therapist comes with years of practice and experience.
- Criticism regarding Client-centered Therapy
- The client-centered therapy has drawn admirers and critics alike. Some criticisms surrounding the therapy are as follows-
- When Carl Rogers came out with his take on psychotherapy, people complained that it was way too optimistic and naïve. The therapy is often misinterpreted because it focuses on the positive aspect. But Carl Rogers simply wished to express that he had a deep belief that people were always striving to be better, do better even in adverse situations. He expressed this belief in his therapy.
- A valid criticism regarding client-based therapy was that it would be difficult to diagnose mental disorders through. But in the current scenario, mental health professionals employ a variety of techniques and tests to assess and diagnose.
- Many also criticize the fact that client-centered therapy is too vague in its application. Carl Rogers himself admitted that much of his ideas are open to interpretation.
- After looking at a brief overview of client-centered therapy, we must remember that Carl Rogers belied in the innate goodness that is present in each and every individual. Unlike his counterparts who were quick to rush and investigate the negative areas, Rogers strolled towards the positive aspect. The ideas that he presented in his lifetime were to be considered mere stepping stones and not the end of the path. This is the takeaway from this article too. The understanding of client-centered therapy and to keep believing in the innate goodness of human beings.