What is client centered therapy, and why does it matter?
Therapy that allows the client to be in control of the healing process is a basic premise of Client Centered Therapy. (It is also called Person Centered Therapy)
This approach has been found helpful in addressing depression, dPTSD, anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders and addictions. It is known to have a significant impact on self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-reliance.
Let’s break down the three terms: Client, Client Centered, and Client Centered Therapy
- First of all, why do we call the person seeking therapy a client rather than a patient? A client is a person who is purposefully seeking to better themselves. Clients have agency, respect, and are not coming because they are “sick” or in some way “less than”.
- Next, why do we use client centered? Client Centered means to focus on the client’s needs and desires for healing rather than the therapist’s needs to be an “expert” or to direct therapy.
- Finally, why use Client Centered Therapy: Therapy that is centered in the client’s unique needs does not follow a certain prescribed formula that may not fit. It is based in relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and confidentiality that responds to the client’s needs.
Growth and Healing
Client centered therapy starts with the premise that people tend to move towards growth and healing. It is a term that comes from Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers pioneered a non-directive style of therapy based on three primary outlooks for the therapist to embody.
- Empathic understanding
- Unconditional positive regard
Empathic understanding requires the therapist to reflect the client’s feelings and thoughts. This shows an understanding and concern for the client.
Unconditional positive regard is felt when the therapist is able to acknowledge and accept the choices the client makes without judgment. The client is the able to freely explore options without fear of being rejected or judged.
Congruence/Genuineness is the therapist’s ability to show who they are as a person, to be in relationship without a mask, and to truly interact with the client on a human to human level.
What happens when these three elements are in place and how does this benefit the person seeking therapy?
Very often when someone seeks therapy, they are looking to find answers and healing. They might feel inadequate, in pain, lonely, depressed, anxious, a client wonders what they can do to feel better. The choice is made to come to counseling because they’ve lost a sense of their own ability to make sense of their world and feel like no one understands them. They might feel that others are judging them.
The therapist who uses client centered therapy starts with the attitude of respect; respect that the client is doing the best they knew how to do up till that point, respect that the client has the right to self-determination, belief that the client is worthy of trust, and a desire to support the client to make personal choices based on their desires, needs, and values.
This is important for anyone, but especially for someone who is feeling unsure and is in emotional pain due to life circumstances. The idea that someone could hear them, believe their struggle, and enter into relationship with them to heal can be the most empowering part of the therapy.
As Carl Rogers suggests : Of utmost importance, however, is the quality of the relationship between client and therapist.
When a person has been traumatized by whatever method, either through domestic violence, natural disasters, childhood abuse, etc. one of the most important things is to be understood and “heard”. This requires being “present” and communicating on a deeper level. Empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence connects beyond the thinking part of the brain and reaches the traumatized part.
Healing and finding personal empowerment comes by reaching the trauma as it manifests in the present moment through trust, empathy, and respect. With these elements in place, the barriers of fear and anxiety to healing come down. This leads to growth and personal empowerment.
We can see that client centered therapy matters; it supports the individual healing and finding a sense of self empowerment.