Understanding Client or Person Centered Therapy

Updated October 3, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Client-centered or person-focused therapy emphasizes helping people by having them lead and be viewed with unconditional positivity during a session. Developed by psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1930s, it has been one of the most widely used approaches in history. 

The person-centered approach relies on the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist in which personal growth, self-understanding, self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-direction are increased for positive results. This form of talk counseling is also a type of nondirective therapy, meaning the client's thoughts and own feelings lead the counseling session. 

In this article, we'll talk about what person-centered therapy is, how it has changed the way that people receive treatment, and how it could benefit you, either through in-person therapy oronline therapy.

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Person-Centered Therapy

The client-centered or person-centered therapy approach emerged in the 1930s at a time when neo-Freudians were expanding psychoanalysis, the basis of this mental health field, through humanistic psychology. 
In its previous form, psychoanalysis was an approach that placed the patient in the center, but not always in a positive manner. Many patients who experienced the Freudian method found it to be too suggestive, meaning patients left therapy with a diagnosis and little else [4].
Carl Rogers was the founder of Rogerian psychotherapy. Carl Rogers initially developed the client-centered method, so it has been called the Rogerian technique, the Rogerian approach, and Rogerian therapy. In the beginning, Carl Rogers called his method "client-centered therapy," but he later changed the name to "person-centered therapy." In this mental health field, therapeutic personality change is the goal while empathic understanding, the therapist's unconditional positive regard, and clear boundaries are the vehicles. 
Rogerian therapy can now be used to treat eating disorders, panic attacks, low self-esteem, and conflicts within interpersonal relationships. Humanistic psychology has evolved into the mainstream with vast resources on the subject now available online. 

Client-Centered Therapy - Individual

Client-centered or person-centered therapy is most effective for individuals who are experiencing symptoms of situational stressors, depression, and anxiety or who are working through issues related to personality disorders [1]. However, Rogers didn't want his patients to view themselves as patients or as a diagnosis. He wanted each person to know that he regarded them as a person, hence the name of his approach.

With client-centered or person-centered counseling, the focus is on the individual, and the person-centered therapist is a sounding board. The basic tenets of the client-centered approach are:

  • Unconditional positive regard - accepting the patient where and how they are
  • Congruence - the ability of the therapist to relate to the client's point by dropping the professional facade and being human. This is also referred to as the therapist's ability to have an empathetic understanding of the client's experience.
  • Empathy - the ability to recognize and respond to emotions expressed by the patient

For the therapeutic process to work, no matter the style, the patient shouldn’t feel like they're being judged. If an individual didn't have problems, then they would not feel the need to seek help from a mental health professional. Therefore, it's not the job of a therapist to form judgments or even opinions outside the realm of professionalism.

Clients who do not feel judged are generally more comfortable expressing themselves and tend to gain more insight into their problems while developing a greater ability to resolve them. The most important part of the client-centered theory is its reliance on the therapeutic relationship between the clients and the therapists. This therapist-client relationship is part of what makes this approach effective.

Why This Therapy Works

Client-centered therapy works because itfocuses on the consistent set of things that the patient needs [3]. If they need to discuss the past, the therapist will listen and respond in an empathic manner, using a client-centered approach. This method assumes that the past issue is impeding the individual's ability to deal with the present.

Unlike the cliché therapist who blames a client's parents or childhood experiences, client-centered therapy recognizes that past hurts can play an important role in the ability to work through current issues. For a person to effectively cope with and overcome current obstacles, they must be given a forum in which to express past pains — this can happen during client-centered sessions. These sessions could be the positive change between falling into the negative effects of alcohol addiction due to past trauma and finding treatments that make you healthier and uplift your mood. 

When expressing past hurts, it can be particularly helpful to talk to someone who is not a family member, a friend, or even a member of the clergy. It's not always easy to talk openly with those who know us best because they may not be able to listen to past pain with an open mind as a therapist can.

Active listening is a crucial part of stress management in client-centered therapy. With this approach, patients who have sought help before are often surprised and maybe even a bit put off by the fact that the therapist does not ask questions unless they're seeking clarification or mirroring what the client has stated [5].

Rogerian therapy focuses entirely on a client's self-directed behavior in the form of personal abuse and dissecting what the client perceives to be true. In letting the client explain their issues, client-centered therapists use facilitative psychological attitudes to help them develop a stronger self-concept and become more self-aware. 

The client-centered therapist doesn't instruct or suggest to their clients either. Instead, the therapist believes that the power of person-centered therapy stems from the client forming their insights and making their own decisions based on the insights [4]. With this in mind, the goal of client-centered therapy might remind you of the adage about teaching someone to fish instead of giving them fish.

Hierarchy Of Needs

The client-centered theory draws upon Maslow's hierarchy of needs for health promotion and personality development ideas. 

According to Maslow's studies, individuals are constantly seeking self-actualization – a state where an individual achieves recognition of and comfort with who they are.

This does not mean achieving all that can be achieved. Instead, the self-actualized individual has arrived at a point where they can do great work and contribute to the family, friends, society, education, and/or science at the number one level.

For a person to achieve self-actualization, Maslow theorized that lower-tier needs had to be met first. First-tier needs include physical needs, such as nutrition, sleep, and biological needs. The second tier needs revolve around safety and include having adequate housing, clothing, and comfort. The third tier of belonging needs represents having an intact family and/or social support system. The fourth and final tier before achieving a level of self-actualization is that of esteem and self-worth.

Rogers believed that an individual would find themselves in crisis if they did not have their basic needs met. However, if higher tier needs like belonging were met even though lower tier needs were not, recovery was possible through the person-centered approach.


Client-centered therapy works best for clients who can communicate, remain in the present, and put the past into perspective. The client's ability to do this will allow the person-centered therapist to identify what the necessary and sufficient conditions are to have successful treatment. 

Individuals who experience hallucinations, delusions, or other breaks with reality are usually not good candidates for client-centered therapy [3]. This is not because the person-centered therapy itself won't work, but because the client needs to be in touch with reality to reap the benefits of the client-centered approach.

Few therapists advertise that they practice client-centered therapy, so it's up to the patient to speak with their therapist in advance and express an interest in this particular client-centered method and person-centered theory.

Six Key Elements to Look for in a Therapist's Advertisement or First Session

  • Therapist-Client Psychological Contract: The therapist must indicate that they value knowing the client and establishing a client-therapist relationship based upon authenticity.
  • Client Incongruence or Vulnerability: The therapist recognizes the incongruence between self-image and the present reality, responding with empathy instead of judgment.
  • Therapist Congruence or Genuineness: The therapist is genuine and empathic. They do not allow professionalism to cloud the ability to demonstrate an authentic feel while still maintaining an ethical demeanor.
  • Therapist Unconditional Positive Regard: The therapist accepts the client for who and where they are, recognizing that growth is a process.
  • Therapist Empathy: The therapist can remain detached while still expressing empathy and understanding toward the client and their experiences.
  • Client Perception: The client recognizes that, even though they are uncomfortable with their present state, the therapist accepts and respects who they are and what they are experiencing.

What To Expect

The purpose of going to person-centered therapy is not always about getting better. Sometimes, person-centered therapy is about accepting who and where we are in life [3], regardless of other person's ideas. This acceptance of the person-centered approach can help with stress management. At times, family or societal expectations shape our view of ourselves and the world. But, to achieve self-actualization, it's important to accept ourselves as we are. There's no point in feeling guilt in our free time over past mistakes [1].

Once a person has recognized a wrong and taken steps to make amends, it's time to move forward. Depending upon others to accept an apology or to recognize an act of contrition is futile and isn't their business anyway. However, this isn't always the case. Many individuals still want acknowledgment. In the absence of this, it's often difficult for the individual to move forward in the healing process.

With client-centered therapy, there is no judgment, leaving the individual free to express guilt, anger, sadness, fear, and any other emotion relevant to their circumstances during a therapy session [6]. This is the main advantage of a client-centered approach and this therapy.

Most people find this is a helpful release because it's often hard to get this kind of space or acknowledgment in personal relationships as people tend to make it all about themselves when someone else voices a feeling, complaint, or recommendation.

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Relationships are not always easy because the people involved all have their agendas. These agendas can get in the way of communication. With client-centered therapy, there are no agendas, except for those set by the client so client-centered sessions can be a very healing process.

Help Is Available

If you're seeking person-centered psychotherapy services, there are a variety of avenues that you can pursue. Choices range from asking for a referral from your primary care physician to searching for a therapist in your insurance network. In addition, there are online therapy options that are not only affordable (with prices similar to insurance co-pays) but also private and convenient.

With online therapy services from a platform like BetterHelp, you can communicate with a qualified therapist, in a different city even, by email, chat, or video from the comfort of your area or any place you have an internet connection in the country. You also can explore the BetterHelp website for articles medically reviewed by these therapists on a wide range of topics. 

In addition to offering a service that is convenient and cost-effective, the BetterHelp platform can also connect you with a wide range of therapists who specialize in client-centered therapy and many other approaches similar to client-centered, eliminating the risk associated with finding the right therapist for you and making sure you are both on the same page.  

A licensed therapist online can help with challenges like depression, anxiety, and other specific mental health conditions. Qualified & experienced therapists here help people feel their best, improve their mental health, and strengthen or heal their relationships.

All 20,000+ licensed mental health professionals and therapists currently available on the BetterHelp.com platform are experienced practitioners. There are many different types of online therapists that can help our users deal with various important concerns at a time and location best suited for the user, inside or out of the United States. These therapists study and research the latest trends in psychotherapy practices and those that have worked for years to ensure they are helping you in the best ways possible. 

Check out the reviews below and on our website to see what others thought about working with a BetterHelp therapist for person-centered therapy.

BetterHelp Reviews

"I'm not sure I have the adequate words to express how much Dr. Drew has helped me. She is supportive and has given me so many different outlets and tools to work through our therapy together. I have had therapists who have tunnel vision where they'd like to direct the conversation, and it was a relief to not have that with Dr. Drew. She lets me organically go where I need to in the session. She also has been able to connect with my personality and direct therapy in a fashion that is conducive to my learning. I couldn't recommend her enough."

"Aaron is a fantastic counselor. He listens, appreciates, and understands that every advice and task he gives me is very personal and specific to me and my needs. He makes me feel comfortable and relaxed and I feel completely comfortable opening up to him."

Client-Centered Therapy Conclusion

When seeking a therapist, it's essential to recognize that they are not an authority on what is best for you. Instead, a therapist is a guide to help a person achieve a level of self-discovery. The therapist is not and should not ever be in a position of power; think of them as a tool for empowerment. Then and only then can a client feel comfortable enough to reveal authentic feelings and thoughts.

Client-centered therapy works because it's about what works for the client. The goal of psychotherapy is not always being cured. Sometimes it's simply about acceptance. A life full of acceptance, appreciation, and respect is possible – all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.

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