Chapter 22: Rogers: Humanistic Psychology

Part 3: Client-Centered and Person-Centered Therapy

Central to Rogers’ view of psychotherapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client, and we must again emphasize the distinction between a client and a patient.  This involves shifting the emphasis in therapy from a psychologist/psychiatrist who can “fix” the patient to the client themselves, since only the client can truly understand their own experiential field.  The therapist must provide a warm, safe environment in which the client feels free to express whatever attitude they experience in the same way that they perceive it. At the same time, the client experiences the therapist as someone temporarily divested of their own self, in their complete desire to understand the client.  The therapist can then accurately and objectively reflect the thoughts, feelings, perceptions, confusions, ambivalences, etc., of the client back to the client. In this open, congruent, and supportive environment, the client is able to begin the process of reorganizing and reintegrating their self-structure, and living congruently within that self-structure (Rogers, 1951).

In 1957, Rogers published an article entitled The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change (Rogers, 1957/1989).  The list is fairly short and straightforward:

  1. The client and the therapist must be in psychological contact.
  2. The client must be in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
  3. The therapist must be congruent in the relationship.
  4. The therapist must experience unconditional positive regard for the client.
  5. The therapist must experience empathic understanding of the client’s frame of reference and endeavor to communicate this experience to the client.
  6. The client must perceive, at least to a minimal degree, the therapist’s empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard.

According to Rogers, there is nothing else that is required; if these six conditions are met over a period of time, there will be constructive personality change.  What Rogers considered more remarkable are those factors that do not seem necessary for positive therapeutic change.  For example, these conditions do not apply to one type of client, but to all clients, and they are not unique to client-centered therapy, but apply in all types of therapy.  The relationship between the therapist and client is also not unique, as these factors hold true in any interpersonal relationship. And most surprisingly, these conditions do not require any special training on the part of the therapist, or even an accurate diagnosis of the client’s psychological problems.  Any program designed for the purpose of encouraging constructive change in the personality structure and behavior of individuals, whether educational, military, correctional, or industrial, can benefit from these conditions and use them as a measure of the effectiveness of the program (Rogers, 1957).

Can any one of these conditions be considered more important than the others?  Although they are all necessary, Rogers came to believe that the critical factor may be the therapist’s empathic understanding of the client (Rogers, 1980).  The Dalai Lama (2001) has said that empathy is an essential first step toward a compassionate heart.  It brings us closer to others, and allows us to recognize the depth of their pain. According to Rogers, empathy refers to entering the private world of the client, and moving about within it without making any judgments.  It is essential to set aside one’s own views and values so that the other person’s world may be entered without prejudice. According to Rogers, not just anyone can accomplish this successfully.

Finally, let us consider group therapy situations.  Within a group, all of the factors described above hold true.  Rogers, who late in his career was becoming more and more interested in the growth of all people, including those reasonably well-adjusted and mature to begin with, became particularly interested in T-groups and encounter groups.  These groups were developed following the proposition by Kurt Lewin that modern society was overlooking the importance of training in human relations skills (the “T” in T-group stands for “training”).  Encounter groups were quite similar to T-groups, except that there was a greater emphasis on personal growth and improved interpersonal communication through an experiential process. Each group has a leader, or facilitator, who fosters and encourages open communication.  The group serves as a reflection of the congruence, or lack thereof, in the communication of whoever is currently expressing themselves. As a result, the group hopefully moves toward congruence, and the subsequent personal growth and actualization of the individual (Rogers, 1970).

This is a color image of a person sitting in a chair. The image shows the person's legs and torso only. The person is resting his/her hands palm-up on their lap. There are people sitting in chairs in a circle visible in the background.
Image Source: Rudamese. Retrieved from Pixabay at Licensed under CCO.

Given the usefulness of T-groups and encounter groups in a variety of settings, as well as the importance of continued personal growth and actualization for the well-adjusted and those suffering psychological distress, Rogers shifted his focus from simply client-centered therapy to a more universal person-centered approach, which encompasses client-centered therapy, student-centered teaching, and group-centered leadership (Rogers, 1980; see also Rogers & Roethlisberger, 1952/1993).  Rogers believed that all people have within them vast resources for self-understanding and for changing their self-concepts, attitudes, and behaviors. In all relationships, whether therapist-client, parent-child, teacher-student, leader-group, employer-employee, etc., there are three elements that can foster personal growth: genuineness or congruence, acceptance or caring, and empathic understanding.  When these elements are fostered in any setting, “there is greater freedom to be the true, whole person.” The implications go far beyond individual relationships. We live in what seems to be an increasingly dangerous world. Globalism has brought with it global tension and conflict. However, Rogers argued that a person-centered approach would help to ease intercultural tension by helping each of us to learn to appreciate and understand others.  Whether the cultural differences are political, racial, ethnic, economic, whatever, as more leaders become person-centered, there is the possibility for future growth of intercultural understanding and cooperation (Rogers, 1977).

Supplemental Materials

Carl Rogers and Gloria

This 1965 video [45:40] features a therapy session between Carl Rogers and a patient named Gloria.  This video is part of a set of three training films featuring the following therapists conducting a therapy session with Gloria: Carl Rogers, Frederick Perls, and Albert Ellis.



Empathic Listening, Carl Rogers

This video [14:22] features Carl Rogers speaking to a group of people about his approach to helping others through empathic listening.



Text:  Kelland, M. (2017). Personality Theory. OER Commons. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from  Licensed under CC-BY-4.0.

Duncan S.  (2013, May 14).  Carl Rogers and Gloria-Counseling (1965) full session.  [Video File]. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.

Be You Fully.  (2016, July 16).  Empathic listening, Carl Rogers.  [Video File]. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

PSY321 Course Text: Theories of Personality Copyright © by The American Women's College Psychology Department and Michelle McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.