Discuss each of the following key concepts in the Person Centred approach:

a) the nature of the individual.

In order to appreciate both the concept and the importance of the nature of the individual within the person centred approach it is helpful to set the development of this therapy in its historical context. For example, the originator of person centred therapy (PCT), Carl Rogers, was trained as a psychologist and in his early days was used to working in the analytical school of thought (1). In fact as a non-medically trained professional Rogers was not permitted to practice psychotherapy so in his later life to be able to implement his new way of working he adopted the term counselling. This goes some way to showing that he was moving in a different direction from his peers and this different view of the individual and their place in the therapeutic process was central to this shift in his thinking.

Rogers was himself unhappy with suggestions that he might be following in anyone else's footsteps too closely but he did agree that his thinking was closer to that of Rousseau than that of Calvin (2) . Calvin, and others, viewed man as basically inherently evil and destructive whereas Rogers believed the individual to be trustworthy and good with a desire for development, differentiation and co-operative relationships.

Further, he says that "Man's behaviour is exquisitely rational, moving with subtle and ordered complexity towards the goals his organism is endeavouring to achieve" (3). Thus he rejects those earlier ideas that people are innately evil and also destructive. To explain his view more Rogers often told the story of his parents potato bin (4). In this story he recalls how potatoes stored for the winter in a dark cellar would produce small, thin shoots that grew to the distant light of a far away window. In this story he likens man to the potato in that how ever bad the conditions are people will strive to grow and develop.

As with NLP, Rogers believed that clients develop an internal perceptual world, the self-concept, that is determined by their life experiences. He developed the term "fully-functioning" to describe how a person with a healthy self concept would live. He described three main characteristics of a fully functioning person. These are:

1. Openness to experience: individuals are highly aware of their own feelings, they are able to listen to themselves and others and to be secure in their experience of the world.

2. Ability to live fully: individuals know that their self-concept is fluid and will be developed by their experiences in the world. These are people who exhibit flexible behaviours and have trust in their own security.

3. Organismic trusting: individuals believe in themselves and their own ability to make decisions. Whereas the opinions and experiences of others may play a part it is the fully functioning individual who make his/her own decisions based on an internal feeling of security.

The final aspect of the full functioning individual is their ability to be creative by changing behaviours as the environment develops and initiating new behaviours to build new environments or relationships.

It is the in-built tendency to develop into a fully functional person that Rogers calls self actualisation. PCT has developed the idea that each person has their own self and sense of self to develop and that no two people are alike. Its also important to refrain from labelling people as the human personality is far too complex to be explained by a simple label. Further, no therapist is ever likely to fully understand a client but that clients may achieve this at some stage.

In the process of therapy Rogers makes a point of including the effect of the therapist' own view of humanity, their own self concept, and the consequences on the therapy that this view produces. This is vital given the belief that an individual will develop in its {true !} own direction when provided with a non-threatening environment.

b) the development of psychological disturbance

In general terms psychological disturbance can be defined as "the degree of success or failure experienced by the individual in resolving conflicts" (5). The degree of success is a function of the difference between the how the individual experiences the world in which they live - sometimes called the "real self" - and the development of the "self-concept". This is the internal construction of the self - in NLP terms it is the internal map.

The self concept develops over time and is directed and built in direct response to those people who are perceived as being significant, usually the parents. From the earliest infancy there is a need for positive regard or approval from these significant people. Should such approval or regard be missing or replaced with negative messages then a conflict is built up between what the individual knows to be necessary {for}from their inherent ability to self actualise, creating the self concept, and the outside world.

This conflict results in a disturbed individual who either loses or never really develops the ability to trust their own thoughts and feelings when needing to make a decision or choose a course of action. This skill is termed the "internalised locus of evaluation". People with such a disturbance showed a need for external authority figures to make decisions for them or they fall into a paralysis of indecision. {Watch tenses}

The disturbances are developed when the individual is raised with a number of significant others who are judgmental, highly censorious or otherwise prone to presenting with negative messages. In this kind of environment, like the potatoes described above, the individual may take on board all those messages and separate themselves from their own organismic experience. This separation results in the actualising tendency being poorly developed - akin to the weak shoots produced by the potatoes. The tendency is there but much more stunted than it could be.

In PCT the conditions that give rise to disturbance result from beliefs called the conditions of worth. In essence it is the belief that a contract or bargain has been agreed e.g. "If I do X, or stop doing X, then you will love me". It focuses on the attainment of positive regard from significant people and later the focus is added to by internalised conditions of worth, bargains struck with oneself.

The conditions of worth develop from introjections that come mainly from the parents. Introjection is the process by which the beliefs, judgements, attitudes and values are incorporated into the individual and become resources for life even if they are totally against the spirit of the individual. The introjection process {can}results in the development of harmful behaviours, as behaviour is a function of both external forces and the internal perceptions of self e.g. "I am only loved if they tell me I am."

Finally, its acknowledged in PCT that a individual may be totally unaware of their disturbance. In this individual the self concept is so important that evidence of any other kind is ignored or deleted. The overriding need to win approval is so great that evidence to the contrary is maintained in the unconsciousness. It is when the disturbance becomes conscious that the person begins to make the journey to being a fully functioning being.

c) the function of Person Centred Therapy in promoting change

The outcome of PCT is the development of the fully functioning person as described above. This is achieved by the therapist experiencing the world as the client experiences it. The PCT therapist will attempt to understand the client's self concept and then bring this in to the awareness of the client.{the theapist doesn't set out to do this - the client comes to this awareness as a result of experiencing the core conditions} There are three "core conditions" to be met if the therapy is to be successful.

These are:

1. Empathic understanding. In empathic understanding the therapist's total concern is for the client's subjective perceptual world of the self concept. The self concept can only be developed if the therapist has as full an understanding of it as possible.

In gaining a full understanding of the client the therapist will need to lay aside their own self {rather thier own 1st position/frame of reference - check how this relates to congruence} and be able to immerse themselves with the client. Further, the therapist will move with the client on a moment to moment basis and refrain from making observations that maybe outside of the client's self concept at that particular moment in time.

2. Unconditional acceptance of the client. In this process the conditions of worth are sought to be annulled by the presenting of a relationship with no bargain or contract - no conditions of worth . The therapist provides positive regard and unconditional love to the client as the client presents themselves in the immediate present. There are no expectations and no pressure is applied.

Some therapists suggest that non-verbal responses can be more powerful than words. They also suggest that clients may want to test out the unconditional love to ensure that it is both true and safe as it may be the first time such an environment has been available to them.

3. Congruence of the therapist. This is dependent on the degree to which the therapist can be in touch with the client. This process is about how much the therapist will share their own awareness of themselves with the client. PCT is about direct personal involvement between client and therapist. However, it is the responsibility of the therapist to judge what of his/her own thoughts and feelings are helpful to the client and which it might be better to hold back.

Rogers developed PCT with the idea to involve those who were receiving the therapy. Thus, he termed people "clients" as proactive participants in the therapy rather than "patients" to whom things were done. It is here in the construction of an environment of sharing that the therapist can have the most dramatic therapeutic effect with a client.
{Sounds like empathy - do double check your grasp of this concept

Presence of the therapist.
If the above three core conditions are met then Rogers believed that this resulted in the degree of presence of the therapist and can be described as a description of effectiveness. Rogers described this as being about the connection of the Spirit of both therapist and client making contact. He contended that when this happens therapeutic progress is made almost without any further action being needed.

In 1988 Mearns & Thorne (6) described the process of the PCT session as having three stages:

1. Trust - this is where the client meets the therapist and confidence in the therapeutic process is developed.

2. Intimacy - this is a deeper level of trust and here the client reveals more about themselves to the therapist and quite often to themselves as well perhaps for the first time.

3. Mutuality - this is when both therapist and client form a system in which benefit is gained by each participant. In order to reach this stage the therapist will need to disclose details about themselves which creates a stronger bond.{not a precondition, rather an accompaniment of the intimacy of the relationship and the therapists congruence}

In the successful process of personal change the client learns to become their own therapist such that their self concept moves and achieves that of the fully functioning individual.


In my short experience of PCT it seems that the process could be summarised by the following statement that I developed in the training:
In the empathic process the system of the client self actualises and so solves the problems. {YES !}
It all hinges on the ability of the individual to be able to fully self actualise in order to develop the self concept to a fully functioning state and so make the best and the most healthy use of the world in which they find themselves.


Janaury 1999



Kirschenbaum, H. On Becoming Carl Rogers. New York: Delacorte Press. 1979.


Rogers C, A note on "The Nature of Man" Journal of Counselling Psychology. Vol. 4. No.3. 1957 199-203


Rogers C, "A therapists view of the good life". The Humanist, 1957. In press.


Thorne, B Person Centred Therapy - Handbook of Individual Therapy. Sage 1996.




Mearns D & Thorne BJ Person-Centred Counselling in Action. London: Sage. 1982.

Your genrally accurate grasp of the PCA, and your personal "feel" for it, come across strongly, and the reflections you make add interest and show that you have had a "hands on" experience of the approach. An area you could choose to improve is clarity of language, and more rigorous (smaller chunk) reasoning.