Person-Centered Therapy as Counseling Theory

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Introduction

The utilization of theories is essential for counseling professionals for many reasons. Theory ensures consistency between understanding, interpretation, and action, which is vital to achieving positive results. Moreover, utilization of a theory promotes integrity and smooth transition of clients from one counselor to another if it is required. The theory is also vital for research, as it helps to explain the findings using a robust paradigm tested by previous studies. For inexperienced counselors, theoretical frameworks serve as roadmaps to achieve positive results by strictly following the conventions. However, as counselors grow more experienced, they tend to modify their approach using knowledge acquired from practice. They start to realize the limitations of theoretical approaches and begin to integrate various theories. Thus, it can be stated that every counselor has a unique counseling approach.

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While every professional has a personal counseling theory, not everyone has made a conscious choice to support a particular framework. If a counselor does not realize which concepts he or she utilizes, there is a high probability that the effectiveness, efficiency, consistency, and integrity of counseling will suffer. Therefore, framing a personal counseling theory statement is of extreme importance. The present paper aims at describing the counseling theory I support and provide the reasons for the choice. In this paper, I will also examine the central techniques and methods associated with the theory and discuss their limitations and contradictions. Finally, I will assess the gaps in my understanding and skills, which I want to fill in the future.

My Counseling Theory

I am drawn by person-centered therapy (PCT) as it reflects my beliefs as a counselor and as a religious person. I believe that every person has a unique worldview and experience that can be used to treat mental conditions. In other words, every individual has enough power to find the best solution in every situation and make appropriate life changes. I believe that in most scenarios, clients only need to listen to themselves and feel reassured to identify, analyze, and cope with problems.

I am a religious person, which implies that I believe that people should not judge others, as God is the only ultimate judge. In PCT, the role of the therapist is only to demonstrate unconditional empathy with no air of authority. In Ephesians 4:2, it is said, “always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (New Living Translation). PCT adheres to this message, as it promotes acceptance, which builds a strong bond between the therapist and the client by promoting honesty and transparency.

I also prefer PCT, as I had a chance to experience it as a patient. When my mother passed away, I decided that I needed therapy to deal with depression and anxiety. PCT was an appropriate choice as I could speak how I felt, while the therapist was judgment-free and helped me reflect on my thoughts. I thought that it was vital to express all my feelings instead of keeping everything inside me. Currently, I am still visiting my therapist, and I continue to make progress in coping with my mother’s death. In short, I chose PCT as my counseling theory because I am living proof of its effectiveness.

Theory Overview

PCT emerged as a reaction to psychodynamic and behavioral approaches. In the 1950s, Carl Rogers proposed that therapeutic approaches should base on a simple and optimistic theory (Colledge, 2017). As a result, he introduced PCT, which stated that clients should be encouraged to focus on the subjective understanding of their problems, rather than on somebody else’s interpretation of the situation (Colledge, 2017). The theory is based on the concept of self, which is understood as an organized set of beliefs and ideas about oneself (Colledge, 2017). Rogers believed that every person has vast resources to alter his or her self-concept; however, an adequate environment is required to help the person find and use these resources (Colledge, 2017). The central idea of PCT is that humans behave as they do because of the way they perceive the situation (Colledge, 2017). As no one else knows how a person perceives a situation, the client is the only one who can help (Colledge, 2017). Rogers believed that even though disorders appear due to past events, it is more useful to focus on the present and the future (Colledge, 2017). In short, PCT is a humanistic approach that facilitates the understanding of a client’s situation rather than guides what should be changed.

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Rogers believed that theories should be based on practice rather than the other way around. Years of work with emotionally troubled clients demonstrated that they have a tremendous capacity for self-healing that leads to self-actualization (Colledge, 2017). The effectiveness of PCT is confirmed by numerous research, the latest of which emphasizes its applicability to adolescent clients (Cook & Monk, 2020). Emotionally unstable adolescents claimed that therapy based on PCT helped them understand who they are and how they can improve their lives (Cook & Monk, 2020). The theory is also helpful for addressing the problems of the LGBTQ population (Knutson & Koch, 2019; Nasir et al., 2019). In general, anyone who needs to gain more confidence and develop a stronger sense of identity to trust his or her own decisions can benefit from PCT (Colledge, 2017). In short, the theory is based on practice and can be applied to a wide range of populations.

Role of the Counselor

The functions of the therapist in PCT differ considerably from the role in behavioral and psychodynamic approaches. As mentioned above, according to PCT, the counselor takes a step away from interpreting the events of the past and explaining what a person should do to recover. Unlike other theories, PCT takes responsibility for improving from the counselor and puts it on the client. A person enters therapy at a state of incongruence between the image of oneself and the ideal self. However, the therapist does not need to make aggressive interventions to reverse the problem. Instead, a warm environment is created that facilitates recovery using the inner resources of the client.

The central difference between PCT and non-humanistic theories is that the person undergoing therapy is referred to as a “client” and not as a “patient.” This implies that counselors do not have authoritative air; instead, they view clients as partners (Colledge, 2017). Counselors do not see themselves as doctors who treat patients with disorders. They are peers, who help the clients to achieve self-congruence by enabling reflection about the self-concept (Colledge, 2017). Counselors are not directors of the therapy, as neither the client nor the therapists are sure about the direction the sessions will take (Colledge, 2017). Instead, counselors are facilitators of self-reflection that take the role of the process experts and expert learners (Colledge, 2017). In summary, therapists utilizing PCT try to be close friends with their clients that have achieved a certain level of expertise in restoring congruence.

In practice, a counselor keeps silent for the post part of the sessions and allows the client to speak about his or her thoughts and feelings. The therapist may rephrase or make short resumes of what he or she has heard, and the client confirms the correctness of ideas. Such small interventions help the client acquire an adequate image of herself. According to semi-structured interviews among adolescents conducted by Cook and Monk (2020), clients often enter therapy with the feeling of vulnerability before a power figure of the counselor. The role of the counselor is to erase the official borders between the client and the therapist so that the client can express the most sacred feelings and thoughts rather than keep them inside. The central goals of the therapy are to help the client develop trust in oneself, feel in control of the relationship with boundaries, and exercise power in relationships (Cook & Monk, 2020). The counselor needs to find unique ways of achieving these goals together with the client.

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Achieving the Therapeutic Goals

PCT supposes that therapists cannot set practical goals for their clients due to the lack of knowledge about the clients’ inner world and their subjective views of the world. However, counselors can help their clients to set realistic objectives. The goals of the PCT differ considerably depending on the client and the therapist. However, there are overreaching goals for all humanistic therapies. These goals include facilitating personal growth and development, mitigating the feeling of distress, increasing self-esteem, encouraging openness to experience, end enhancing self-awareness (Ackerman, 2020). The purpose of PCT-based therapy is to achieve set goals through client-therapist communication.

The success of the therapy depends upon building an effective relationship between the client and the counselor. The link should be based on trust, authenticity, and mutual positive feelings (Ackerman, 2020). According to Ackerman (2020), therapeutic goals are achieved by satisfying six conditions. First, the client and the therapist should be in psychological contact. Second, the client should be aware of being in a state of incongruence. Third, the therapist should be genuine and aware of his or her feelings and the feelings of the client. Fourth, the counselor develops unconditional positive regard for the client. Fifth, the client recognizes this unconditional positive regard. Sixth, the therapist gains an empathetic understanding of the internal frame of reference and looks for ways to share this experience with the client. When all the conditions are in accord, the therapist uses active listening and empathizes with clients to achieve set goals.

PCT can be used for diverse populations, including the population of my interest, which is elementary-age students. According to Boyer (2015), PCT is an appropriate philosophy for meeting the needs of young learners. Children in early childhood classrooms experience the need to express themselves. However, since they cannot discuss their feelings, as they are not very fluent in the language, I can ask them to use crayons or paint to draw whatever they feel like drawing. After that, I will empathize with the children and ask them to explain what was drawn and how it affects their lives. The feeling of reassurance and self-confidence will help them be open to new experiences through “trying new hobbies, learning something new, and finding new ways to invest themselves in life” (Boyer, 2015). I will adapt my approach to the individual needs of every child for the therapy to be effective.

Methods and Techniques

There are no methods or techniques in PCT due to the unique character of each counseling relationship. As mentioned above, the therapist is not aware of the direction the sessions will take. At the same time, the counselor is not required to adapt his or her methods for every client, as the only thing that is necessary for the therapy to be successful is non-judgmental listening (Ackerman, 2020). However, McLeod (2015) identifies several techniques that I will use in my practice. First, I will set boundaries with my clients to avoid the relationship becoming non-professionals. Balancing between empathy and the professional relationship may be difficult; therefore, the boundaries need to be acknowledged during the first session and strictly followed throughout the therapy. Second, I will always remind myself that the clients know best and that I should not make any decisions for them. Third, I avoid being judgmental in my thoughts and words to promote unconditional empathy and trust. Fourth, I will try to focus on the underlying ideas of the words and restate them to the client to act as a sounding board. Finally, I will be genuine and try to share my own experience to achieve trustful relationships.

In general, PCT criticizes the preoccupation with using specific techniques. Rogers believed that the utilization of a pre-determined set of techniques leads to the depersonalization of relationships (Colledge, 2017), and I share this opinion. Instead of judging what method of addressing the problems is the most applicable, I believe it is more appropriate to focus on the clients to help them find confidence and strength to fight their psychological issues.

Limitations

Even though I believe that PCT is almost a universal approach that can meet the needs of the majority of clients, there are certain limitations to the utilization approach, which need to be acknowledged. I understand that I will need to draw from other theories under any of the following two conditions. On the one hand, I will not be able to use PCT if I cannot guarantee unconditional empathy to the client and a lack of judgment. I have a clearly defined set of values, and I will not be able to be genuinely empathetic with clients that demonstrate unacceptable behavior. For instance, I will not be able to tolerate and accept offensive words about God and church. On the other hand, there are objective limitations to the use of PCT. For instance, instead of seeking improvement, some clients seek reassurance from their negative actions.

When one of the two limitations is mentioned above, it is vital to utilize other theories to help clients understand their problems and deal with them. At the same time, PCT can be used together with different approaches to improve the outcomes. For instance, according to Cerone (2019), PCT can work effectively when combined with a psychodynamic approach (PDA). PDA is based upon the idea that the current feelings of a person often depend on past and forgotten events (Colledge, 2017). PDA is especially interested in the dynamic between conscious and unconscious motivation (Colledge, 2017). The central aim of PDA is to help the person connect past events to the present behavior and help the person return to the unresolved problem and deal with it.

PDA contrasts with PCT in almost every aspect. First, in PDA, a counselor is an authority that sets goals and defines strategies to achieve them, instead of helping the client appreciate his or her needs (Colledge, 2017). Second, the therapy is based upon the interpretation of the therapist rather than on the understanding of the client (Colledge, 2017). Third, PDA focuses on the past more than it does on the future or the present (Colledge, 2017). Finally, the counselor is encouraged to confront the judgments of the client (Colledge, 2017). However, PDA is still applicable as it assumes that the client talks most of the time, while the counselor makes only brief interventions (Colledge, 2017). In other words, PDA is also based upon insights rather than teaching clients new behaviors. In general, I believe that in some cases, PDA can be used instead of PCT, as it is one of the oldest theories that has been tested by many generations of therapists.

Apart from insight-based therapies, clients can benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The approach is based upon the idea that the core of the problem lies in people’s interpretation of events rather than on the events themselves. However, instead of focusing on the issues, CBT aims at developing coping mechanisms that help clients eliminate dysfunctional behavior (Colledge, 2017). Modern CBT includes numerous techniques, such as cognitive processing therapy, relaxation training, acceptance and commitment therapy, and stress inoculation training (Colledge, 2017). In summary, while PCT is the theoretical approach to counseling of my choice, I can use the techniques offered by PDA and CBT if the limitations of PCT are met.

Conclusion

PCT is an approach that suits me because it reflects my beliefs as a therapist and as a religious person. I believe that every person has the inner strength to deal with any psychological issues, and everything that is needed is reassurance and unconditional positive regard. At the same time, Scriptures tell that people should avoid judgment, which is coherent with PCT. I believe that every person is unique and knows about his or her inner self better than the therapist. Therefore, it is the client that should determine the goals and the direction of the sessions while the counselor works in partnership to help the client reflect upon the ideas. Finally, I experienced PCT as a client, and I made significant progress after working with my therapist.

However, I understand the limitations of the approach as it cannot suit every situation. In particular, I cannot be genuinely empathetic with all the clients. At the same time, some clients may not want which to recover or have insufficient communicative skills to explain their thoughts and feelings. Therefore, PDA and CBT can be used to address the limitations of PCT.

In the future, I want to gain a better understanding of the limitations of PCT to be able to differentiate my approach depending on the situation. At the same time, I want to learn to find a balance between professional and personal relationships by maintaining appropriate boundaries. Without these boundaries, I will not be able to differentiate between my professional and personal life, which can lead to emotional problems.

References

Ackerman, C. (2020). 10 person-centered therapy techniques inspired by Carl Rogers. Positive Psychology. Web.

Boyer, W. (2015). Person-centered therapy: A philosophy to support early childhood education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 44(4), 343–348. Web.

Cerone, V. L. (2019). A brief psychodynamic and person-centered approach to address anticipatory loss in acute care settings. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life & Palliative Care, 15(4), 145-156.

Colledge, R. (2017). Mastering counselling theory. McMillan International.

Cook, D., & Monk, L. (2020). Being able to take that mask off”: Adolescent clients’ experiences of power in person-centered therapy relationships. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 19(2), 1–17.

Knutson, D., & Koch, J. M. (2019). Person-centered therapy as applied to work with transgender and gender diverse clients. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. Web.

McLeod, S. (2015). Person centered therapy. Simply Psychology. Web.

Nasir, M. A. M., Adli, A. H. T., & Fharizan, N. F. (2019). A person-centered therapy approach in handling counseling cases for gay and lesbian group. Perdana: International Journal of Academic Research, 6(2), 63-75.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Person-Centered Therapy as Counseling Theory'. 4 February.

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PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Person-Centered Therapy as Counseling Theory." February 4, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/person-centered-therapy-as-counseling-theory/.

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PsychologyWriting. "Person-Centered Therapy as Counseling Theory." February 4, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/person-centered-therapy-as-counseling-theory/.