Rogerian Therapy: What Is Person-Centered Therapy And How Does It Work?

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated June 02, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

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In the 1940s, noted psychologist Carl Rogers developed a therapeutic method that became known as Rogerian therapy. This style, also called client-centered or person-centered therapy, emphasizes the abilities, experience, and wisdom of the person receiving therapy. Although many styles of therapy have been developed since that time, most therapists still use elements of Rogerian therapy or rely on it completely to help people find their answers to the problems they face.

Definition Of Rogerian Therapy

Rogerian therapy is a type of counseling in which the therapist is nondirective but supportive, allowing the client to direct the course of their therapy. The counselor's expertise is secondary to the ability of the patient to solve his or her problems. The counselor's job is to interact with the client with the goal of understanding as completely as possible while allowing them to talk out their problems and come to their conclusions.

How Does Rogerian Therapy Work?

Before Rogers developed a person-centered therapy, the counselor told the person in therapy what to think about, concentrate on, and learn in therapy. The client told them the problem, and the therapist told the client what to do about it.

Person-centered therapy was a completely new way to approach therapy. With its emphasis on the value of the patient's resources and goals, the Rogerian therapist encouraged the client to view problems only in the light of finding solutions that would allow them to reach their goals.

You might wonder, 'How does Rogerian therapy work when the therapist takes such a nondirective role?' After all, if you're in charge of your therapy, what's the point of even going to counseling sessions? A skilled Rogerian therapist can help you find your solutions even without pushing you to do it their way. How does it work? The answers might surprise you.

Focus On You As A Person Rather Than On Your Problems

In other types of therapy, the problem is considered the entire reason for therapy. In contrast, when the therapist relies on Rogerian methods, the problem is secondary to who you are as a person and what you want to accomplish in life.

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Directive therapy methods are typically based on the idea that your thinking and behavior is disordered and needs to be corrected by the therapist. In Rogerian therapy, the therapist puts the focus on your positive qualities and abilities and encourages you to explore your psychological landscape to find what works for you to get the results you want.

You Are Recognized As The Expert On Yourself

Other forms of therapy place the psychologist as the expert on your mental condition. They listen to you long enough to find out your problem, and then the focus shifts to the therapist and their recommendations for you.

The Rogerian method assumes that you know more about yourself than anyone else. The therapist isn't there to 'fix' you. They're there to help you choose and direct the changes that are important to you. You are the expert here.

Self-Directed Sessions

Person-centered therapy allows you to direct your sessions. You decide what to talk about and what issues to explore. You talk through possible options for solving your problems and decide which to pursue. The therapist doesn't push you to face issues but instead supports you through the process when you choose to do it in your own time and on your terms.

Defining And Pursuing Your Own Goals

The first step in Rogerian therapy is to figure out what it is you want. What are your goals for therapy? What do you want out of life? You may already have some things in your life that make you happy, and it's okay to talk about those things, too. You can also discuss the things you want that you don't already have.

With this information in mind, you'll have a better understanding of what your specific goals might be. The therapist supports and encourages you as you define your goals in concrete terms. Then, they give you room to decide how you want to pursue those goals.

Learning From Your Own Experiences

During Rogerian therapy, your counselor might ask you about your own experiences that relate to your current situation. If so, it's strictly in a nonjudgmental way. Their goal is simply to help you reach into yourself to discover what you already know that might help you in the here and now. While they might ask you the question, they don't push you to dwell on any specific experience but allow you to decide what's significant and what isn't.

You may find that you have within you all the information you need to make current decisions. The therapist honors your perspective while encouraging you to look for yourself from different perspectives. Always, the emphasis is on what you believe matters most.

Making Your Plans And Decisions

The therapist isn't going to tell you what to do about any situation. If you ask them directly what you should do, they're likely to ask you what you think you should do. If you try to get them to decide an issue for you, they'll likely put the question back in your lap.

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The heart of Rogerian therapy can be found in what you think is best to get out of life exactly what you want. There's a certain sense of responsibility in the Rogerian style. You can't blame the therapist when you make poor choices. On the other hand, when you succeed in achieving your goals through excellent planning and wise decisions, you can feel good about yourself and your strengths.

What The Therapist Provides In Rogerian Therapy

So, what does the therapist give you in person-centered therapy that you can't get outside of therapy? It may seem like the therapist would have little impact on your life if they don't tell you what to do about it. The therapist is always engaged, in both obvious and subtle ways.

Respect For You And Your Ability To Make the Changes That Are Right For You

Clients often enter therapy with a lack of respect for who they are. They may feel powerless to meet the challenges they're faced with. In other types of therapy, the counselor would take over for you and instruct you about your problems and how they think you should solve them. This way of doing therapy can be helpful, but it doesn't tend to recognize your strengths and capabilities.

Rogerian therapy, though, recognizes the good within you. Your therapist always shows respect for you. Rather than setting themselves up as the expert who knows more about you than you do, they remember that no one else can see the world through your eyes. So, they respect your inner being and your ability to make the changes that are important to you.

An Opportunity To Explore Your Thoughts And Feelings Freely

Outside of therapy, it can be difficult to find a situation where you can talk out all your thoughts and feelings without feeling harshly judged. Even if you're very close to someone, there may be subjects you don't want to discuss with them for fear that your relationship will be damaged in the process.

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Within the therapeutic relationship, though, these worries don't exist. Your therapist used various techniques to help you feel safe and accepted, even when you talk about your problems and weaknesses. Your therapist encourages you to explore your ideas about how you can change the situation or your feelings about it.

A Supportive Environment

When you're in Rogerian therapy, you can discuss any problems, any feelings, any past experiences, any hopes, dreams, and fears you like. The therapist is there to support you through it all. You and only you are at the center of each session. The therapist not only listens but also reminds you in subtle ways that you are safe, appreciated, and valued.

A Chance To Be Truly Heard And Fully Understood

Your therapist will listen closely to understand exactly how you're feeling. One technique a counselor might use in Rogerian therapy is to try to put your feelings into their own words. You always have the opportunity to correct their perceptions and rephrase your feelings. When you feel completely understood, the relief can be amazing.

Empathy

Dealing with life's challenges can make you feel all alone in the world. Someone may take pity on you, but it can be hard to find someone who will metaphorically put themselves in your shoes to understand things from your perspective. Your therapist can do this by using Rogerian techniques. They then offer you something that's very rare, their empathy for the struggles you face now and have faced in the past.

Starting therapy can be scary, especially if you've never been in a counseling session before. If you've tried other types of therapy and felt anything less than the therapist's understanding and high regard, Rogerian therapy might be right for you.

It's easy to get started in therapy, too. Online therapy is available now through BetterHelp.com. Among the thousands of licensed and vetted therapists, many use person-centered or Rogerian techniques. You can start the process now and begin therapy right away. If you're longing to feel appreciated and understood, consider starting therapy right away. It may be the beginning of a road to the life you want most!


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