Human Centred Psychotherapy

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Introduction to the Approach and Purpose

The Human Centred approach to Psychotherapy grew out of a need to bring in the human being or the client in the vortex of the therapeutic process. Therefore it is also called person-centred or client-centred psychotherapy.

  • The basic tenet of this approach is to allow the person to make his own set of choices and options.
  • The therapist plays a supporting, non-directive role and only seeks to guide the individual towards a better understanding of his self, his goals, his motivational forces, his creative potentials and above all, the environment he is living in.
  • This therapy transforms the therapist into the role of a companion, albeit an informed and a responsible one, who is able to conduct and handle the therapeutic process in such a way that the client is able to take decisions of his life on his own.
  • Hence the process becomes empowering and makes this sort of therapy successful, sustainable and special.

Background to the development of Human Centred Psychotherapy


  • The humanistic approach to therapy grew out of the recognistion of human potential as a tool in the process of self actualization.

It became increasingly apparent that the formal and often detached role played by the therapist in psychoanalysis did not provide a very conducive or nurturing environment for the treatment procedure to take place.

  • Human beings needed to be viewed as a wholesome, complete entity, capable of taking charge of their own lives.
  • Therapy could help, provided it was only supportive in nature and took cognizance of the individual’s ability to make choices.
  • The therapist could be a catalyst to increase individual insight about himself and his abilities along his prevailing environmental gradient.
  • The above change in thinking patterns led to the emergence of the Humanistic School of thought in the 1950s, spearheaded by Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Abraham Maslow and Clark Moustakas.

Humanism and Therapy

  • The Humanistic school of thought and the various theories and approaches it postulated were a departure from the Behaviourism and Psychoanalytical Approaches, which were the first and second forces of psychology.
  • Psychologists such as Pavlov, Skinner, Jung, Freud, Adler, Erickson, Fromm and others were more interested in the working of the human psyche, especially the various layers of consciousness and their interplay. They viewed human beings as aggressive and corrupt and who were egged on in life by forces of sexuality. T
  • his approach viewed people as inherently good, driven by a motivation to achieve the highest potential he can hope to achieve.
  • The Humanistic School formed the third force and focused on the human aspects as self, self regard, self actualization, health, and positive notions of self in the environment.
  • In a nutshell they tried to see the individual as a human being with positives and frailties, and not as comprising of layers of consciousness or as entities that were an amalgamation of a set of conditioned reflexes.

Maslow’s Theory of Self Actualisation

  • Maslow’s greatest contribution to the science of psychology was his model on the hierarchy of needs.
  • His model resembles that of a pyramid with the lower rung capturing the physiological needs such as hunger, thirst, sex, sleep etc. Next rung comprises of the need for affection, companionship.

In the subsequent rungs more and more psychological needs, each more complex than the other are listed; like the need for acknowledgement. These needs finally end at the highest point, the need for self-actualization.

  • All these needs are interdependent, in the sense that without the fulfilment of the lower level of needs, the next set of needs does not arise. Hence a hungry man will not be overtly occupied with the need for affection or companionship.
  • Maslow’s theorization was the bulwark upon which further theories were built. The only difference with Carl Roger’s theory is that he did not stop only at humans; he also applied it to all ecosystems too.

Carl Rogers’s Approach - Key Concepts

Genesis of Carl Roger's Theory

Carl Roger’s theory is one that grew out of two influences:

  1. that of Maslow and
  2. also very surprisingly Freud’s psychoanalysis.
  • His theory views individuals as able entities carved out of the choices they make and the levels of actualization they achieve during their life.
  • It takes a very tolerant view of mankind and is logically tight in its analysis of human behaviour and psyche.
  • This approach does not make the mistake of focusing only on one aspect of human behaviour.
  • This approach finally changed the dynamics of a client therapist relationship and gave equal if not more responsibility to the individual entering the therapeutic process.

Organismic Valuing

Rogers was the first thinker to point out the concept of organismic valuing. This he said was a product of the evolution process which helped humans place higher regard or value for those things that enhanced the chances for survival. Thus the concept of good and bad came about. All good things promoted survival. The opposite was true for things considered bad.

The Concept of Postive Regard

  • Out of the concept of Oranismic Valuing was born the concept of positive regard.
  • This stood for love and affection that humans also need to grow, evolve and achieve the highest level of potential that can be achieved.
  • Apart from the regard people have of others, there is also a sense of self worth and self esteem an individual carries within himself.
  • This positive self regard is heavily dependent on the regard others have for us. Thus a child, who has a positive childhood experience, has received a lot of love, affection and appreciation will be more confident and amiable as an adult.
  • Both the positive regards are important in the individual’s growth in the direction it is meant to be.

Conditional Positive Regard

  • In addition there are certain conditions of worth put down by the society. These are akin to a set of norms that must be followed if the individual expects to get any love, affection, respect or regard from the society at large. This is called conditional positive regard. These may often act as barriers in the tendency to actualize because the conditions of worth may not fit with the organismic values.
  • By a logical extension, conditional positive regard leads to conditional positive self regard. Thus an individual builds a better image of himself, increases his self worth and esteem if he is able to build his personality in congruence with what the society expects of him and not by what all he can do or what he truly values.
  • Hence successful, good individuals may not be happy, healthy individual because they have derived their sense of worth from societal standards and not from what they need, value, want or love.
  • The individual's potential to actualize is the pathway for him to attain his real self.
  • The conditions of society, thwarts this process of actualization by constantly shaping the individual in accordance to conditioning procedures that are similar for all individuals living within that particular society.
  • It creates a standard or an entity that the individual strives to achieve but often cannot. This is the ideal self.
  • Anxiety arises when the real and ideal self are very different, totally incongruent with each other. This is the genesis of neuroses according to Rogers.



Roger's Explantion for Psychosis

  • Rogers also gave his own explanation for psychosis. According to him when the threatening environment, coupled with the individual resorting to defence mechanisms overwhelms the individual, his sense of self breaks down. He loses touch with reality and this is what is termed Psychosis.
  • Carl Roger, unlike other thinkers was more interested in defining a healthy human personality.
  • His theory strove to reinstate these qualities in every individual who came in for therapy. According to him a functionally and behaviourally healthy individual is one who is open to all kinds of experiences around him.
  • This would also mean being in touch with his feelings, emotions because they are manifestations of organismic valuing.
  • Alongside the individual must also be able to know what it is that makes him anxious.
  • This was because Rogers believed that the problem lay in the conditions of worth and individual inability to deal with it properly.
  • Rogers advocated the value of living in the moment or in psychological terms, existential living.
  • Openness to experience and existential living help a person understand what his real self is, what his self actualization tendency is. He is able to understand his own conditions of worth, develop positive self regard and work towards the self that allows him to use his potentials to the fullest and arouses feelings of happiness and well being.
  • Rogers also underlined that true happiness is also dependent on the experiential freedom. Individuals must work on their free will, but free will is also not indiscriminate. There are other forces operating it. Hence it is only intelligent to understand the boundaries that limit our free will and act accordingly. This ultimately makes an individual responsible for his choices. * Finally Rogers believed that health and happiness are also dependent upon a persons’ creativity which he uses to contribute to the process of self actualization other individuals are undertaking. The way this is manifested are varied and are again dependent on an individuals conditions of worth, organismic valuation etc.


Carl Rogers not only spanned a huge and a new body of work, but also pioneered a new form of therapy called the Rogerian Therapy.

  • This was the first of its kind for a lot of reasons - it was supportive, put the person in charge of his decisions, helped him to find his real self etc.
  • However what provides this theory with a cutting edge is it's emphasis on reflection i.e. the mirroring of emotional communication. This reiterates empathy and support for the client.
  • Also it helps the individual analyse his statements more minutely till he finds out specifics about his problem. The therapy also encourages focusing as a method too where the individual is asked to reflect on his present emotions and feelings so that the real source of disturbance can be found.

Rogers client centered theory did not end with him. Rather it led to a whole body of work in this area which tightened its philosophical leanings. A lot of emphasis has been put also on the therapist because although he plays a supportive role, the entire process does revolve around him.

  • Rogers was very clear and perhaps demanding when he outlined the characteristics a therapist in this approach needs to have. They are honesty with his clients, empathy and respect for the choices of his client.
  • Later human centered psychologists shifted the focus from a simple one person centered therapy to a two person centered therapy because the therapist is also required to bring his own self to the therapeutic table as a dynamic, throbbing human being. This makes the therapist as much of a human as the client and helps him empathize even better.

Rogerian Therapy-An Analysis

  • Rogerian approach is considered one of the best forms of therapy that psychologists have at their disposal.
  • It refrains from a top down approach, is supportive to the point that it is empowering for the person entering the therapeutic vortex, takes a very simplistic and kind view of human nature and in general encourages the individuals to make individual decisions based on his realities, environment, self regard and the cultural milieu he lives in.
  • However as with other theories and approaches, this approach too had its fair share of criticism.
  1. One, Rogers termed this therapy a client centred therapy. This irked many others belonging to different schools of thought, as all therapeutic processes irrespective of the ideology they cater to, have the benefit of the patient at heart, and thus are all client centered.
  2. Secondly, Rogers was also criticized for his ‘non-directive’ approach.
  • The question was that how non-directive is the process truly under this form of therapy.
  • Although the client is the fulcrum around which the process revolves, the therapist does seek to understand and empathize and give the process a certain direction. In doing so or if the therapist wants the person to try out some other forms of therapy or meditation, if he thinks that the patient requires medication, then the process ceases to be non-directive.
  • The therapist in a very natural way does bring in his views, values, experiences etc. which may colour the therapeutic direction.
  • Rogers himself is said to have understood this point and rectified this later.



Further Readings

  1. Rogers, Carl R., (1951), “Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory”, Constable, London.
  2. Maslow, Abraham Harold and Béla Mittelmann, (1951), “Principles of Abnormal Psychology: The Dynamics of Psychic Illness”, Harper

See Also