The person-centered approach of Rogerian therapy

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated January 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In the 1940s, noted psychologist Carl Rogers developed a therapeutic method that became known as person-centered therapy or Rogerian therapy. This therapy approach, less commonly called client-centered therapy, emphasizes the abilities, experience, and wisdom of the person seeking therapy. 

Rogers believed: "Individuals have within themselves vast resources for self-understanding and for altering their self-concepts, basic attitudes, and self-directed behavior; these resources can be tapped if a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided." 

Although many new approaches have been developed since the 1940s, most therapists today still use elements of the Rogerian approach or rely on Rogerian therapy completely to help people find answers to the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis.

Definition of Rogerian or person-centered therapy

Rogerian therapy is a type of counseling in which the therapist is non-directive but supportive, following the client’s lead over the course of each therapy session. The counselor's expertise is secondary to the patient's ability to solve his or her problems. The counselor's job is to listen to the client’s thoughts in order to understand as completely as possible, while allowing them to talk out their problems and come to conclusions. Client perception is at the heart of this theory: each patient should believe that their therapist is positive, empathetic,c and understanding in regard to their issues. 

In a 1957 article in the Journal Of Consulting Psychology, Rogers identified six necessary and sufficient conditions that must be present for a therapeutic personality change. Most are expectations of the therapist: unconditional positive regard for their client and therapist congruence are important. There also needs to be some level of client incongruence, where the client is feeling anxious or vulnerable. (​​Rogers, Carl. R.: The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change.)

How does Rogerian or person-centered therapy work?

Have you experienced therapy with little results?

Before Rogers developed  client-centered therapy, the therapist usually directed the client as to what to think about, concentrate on, and learn. Person-centered therapy was a completely new way to approach treatment. With client-centered therapy’s 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 and achieve personal growth.

You might wonder, 'How does this approach work when the therapist takes such a non-directive 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. Let’s delve into just how this works.

Focus on you as a person

In other methods, the problem is considered the entire reason for therapy. In contrast, when the therapist relies on person-centered therapy, the problem is secondary to who the client is as a person and what they want to accomplish in life.

Directive therapy methods are typically based on the idea that your own thoughts and behavior are disordered and need to be corrected by the therapist. In person-centered therapy, the person centered therapist puts a focus on your positive qualities and abilities and utilizes empathetic understanding to encourage you to explore your psychological landscape to find what works for you and get the results you want.

You are an expert on yourself during therapy

Other approaches 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 their recommendations for you.

Person-centered therapy, on the other hand, assumes that you know more about yourself than anyone else. The therapist’s role isn’t to 'fix' you. Instead, they help you choose and direct the changes that are important to you. This person centered theory can help you become more self aware and even ultimately lead to personal growth. 

Self-directed sessions

Unlike other types of therapy, person-centered therapy allows you to direct your sessions. You decide what to talk about and what issues to explore. Some patients may choose to begin with surface level issues and eventually work through more deeply buried problems. You also 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 with unconditional positive regard through the process.

Defining and pursuing your own goals


The first step in this type of therapy is to figure out what it is you want. What are your goals for your therapy sessions? What do you want out of life? 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 person-centered therapy sessions, your counselor might ask you about your own experiences that relate to your current situation. 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 already have within you all the information you need to make decisions. The therapist honors your perspective while also encouraging you to look at your circumstances from different perspectives. Still, the emphasis remains on what you believe matters most.

Making your plans and decisions

With person-centered therapy, 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.

There's a certain sense of responsibility in this 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 or person-centered 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 during the therapeutic process, though, in both obvious and subtle ways.

Respect for and belief in 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 and psychology approaches, the counselor would take over for you and instruct you about your problems and how they think you should solve them. This approach can be helpful, but it doesn't acknowledge your strengths and capabilities.

Person-centered therapy, though, recognizes the good within you. Your therapist always shows respect and unconditional positive regard for you. Rather than setting themselves up as the expert who knows more about you than you do, they maintain that no one else can see the world through your eyes. Thus, 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 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.

Within the therapeutic relationship, though, these worries don't exist. Your therapist uses 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. You’re not the therapist, but you have the freedom to work through problems with the support of one. 

A supportive environment

When you're in therapy, you can discuss any problems, any feelings, any past experiences, any hopes, dreams, and fears you like. Your therapist is there to support you through it all. In Rogerian theory, this is called having your therapist's unconditional positive regard. 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, accepted, appreciated, and valued. It’s up to a therapist to be sure their client perceives this unconditional positive regard through their communication.

A chance to be truly heard

Your therapist will listen closely to understand exactly how you're feeling. One technique a therapist might use in Person-centered therapy is to try to put your feelings into their own words. You then can correct their perceptions and rephrase your feelings. Once you feel completely understood, the relief can be profound.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Have you experienced therapy with little results?


Dealing with life's challenges can make you feel all alone in the world. Many people 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 truly. A trained therapist can show empathy and understanding by using Rogerian techniques through person-centered therapy. Rogerian psychotherapy then offers you something that's very rare: empathy for not only the struggles you face now but those you have faced in the past.


Starting therapy can be daunting, especially if you've never been in a session before. If you've tried alternate methods and felt anything less than a mental health professional's complete understanding and high regard, Carl Rogers’ person-centered therapy might be right for you. Many mental health professionals today utilize Rogers’ methods to provide a therapy experience that leads to positive change.

Individuals who have tried therapy before with little or no results may be hesitant to make the time for an in-person meeting. A session with an online therapist like those at BetterHelp may be a more convenient alternative. 

Researchers have found some online therapies to be more effective than others. One recent study found that empathy—a key component to person-centered therapy—can be conveyed even more effectively in a remote setting compared to an in-person therapeutic environment. 

It's easy to get started with a person-centered therapist, too. can match you with a provider online who has a strong background in this kind of therapy. Among the thousands of licensed and vetted professionals, many use the same Rogerian therapy approaches in this article. You can sign up through BetterHelp's easy-to-use platform and engage in therapy sessions from a comfortable setting inside your home.

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