Bringing you the best of mental health every week.
A therapist who doesn’t practice Rogerian Person Centered Counseling is like a musician who doesn’t practice scales. It is so basic and foundational that I wouldn’t know what to do without it. But, going to a therapist who only practices Rogerian Person Centered Counseling is like listening to a musician practicing scales. It gets pretty tedious and you wonder if it’ll ever go anywhere.
Carl Rogers, who, incidentally, developed his theory when he lived right here in Rochester, likened counseling to growing a plant. When you provide the right kind of soil, the right amount of sunlight, and the right amount of water, plants grow themselves.
Rogers said there are three things needed for growth of people: empathy, acceptance, and sincerity.
Think about it, when you’re with someone who’s willing and able to take your point of view, you start to take your own point of view more seriously. No, it’s not just because you like to be around people who agree with you. You might be one of those who doesn’t value your own point of view. You might not believe that what you feel and think is important. If that’s the case, then it’s easy to become alienated from your feelings and sloppy in your thinking.
Therefore, if you want to help another person be the best they can be, look at things through their shoes. Show a little empathy. Rogerians are big on paraphrasing what has just been said so they can demonstrate empathic understanding. They like to identify feelings. They summarize the thoughts that the other has just expressed. When they do so, the client starts to hear what they’re saying; so, if it’s nonsense, they can make it more lucid, and, if it’s wisdom, they can start listening to their own best advice.
When you’re with someone who accepts you without judgment, you become freer to talk about your thoughts, feelings, and actions. If you’re trying to work things out, you need to be able to play with thoughts and ideas. Judgmentalism shuts down this process. When someone pronounces the thing you said as good or bad, you figure it’s completed and you stop it right there.
It’s important to realize that acceptance is not the same as approval. A real Rogerian counselor would not judge you positively any more than she would judge you negatively; she’ll just be open to what you have to say. A positive judgment is still a judgment and will hamper you from feeling free to change your mind.
You can tell when someone is acting fake. You just can’t trust them. When someone is getting high and mighty, telling you what to do, acting like they’re better than you; then you start paying more attention to what they’re doing than what you came for. When you’re with someone who is cloying and sentimental, then you wonder who they really are, you question whether you are dealing with a real human being. On the other hand, when you’re with someone who is real; you can get real, too. You can both take off the masks.
A Rogerian counselor will strive to be authentic, transparent, and forthright. What you see is what you get. If you have questions for him, he’ll answer them clear and honestly. He won’t hide behind a degree, or a role. Rogerian counselors will self disclose. They will especially self disclose whatever is going on the the session for them, what they think and feel about you in a non-judgmental way. But they won’t do this so that they can be the center of attention; they’ll do it so you don’t have to think about them at all.
I believe Carl Rogers was really on to something. Any counseling session, or any other kind of human encounter, that does not possess the characteristics of empathy, acceptance, and sincerity is not going to be growth producing. Therefore, Rogerian Person Centered Counseling is always an essential ingredient. However, sometimes you need more.
Whenever I meet with a client who has been to other therapists, I ask how effective they thought those therapy sessions were. The most common complaint I get is that the therapist just sat there, seldom said anything, and didn’t make any suggestions. I think I know what happened. Those therapists think they are giving the client the maximum space to explore themselves without interference. They thought they were practicing Rogerian Person Centered Therapy.
Actually, they may not be. They may be falling short on sincerity. They may be so intent on being a Rogerian therapist that they forget to be themselves.
But, even if they are practicing authentic Rogerian Person Centered Therapy, there are limitations to that kind of approach. The approach, essentially frees people up to heal themselves. Most people who come to counseling do not believe they can heal themselves. If they could, they wouldn’t be paying a counselor to sit and watch them do it. They need help and they are often so clouded and hampered by their misery that, if they cannot be relieved of their symptoms quickly enough, they’ll give up on the whole enterprise.
That is why I’m not only a Rogerian Person Centered Therapist. I’ll use other methods, more directive methods, as well; so you can feel you’re getting somewhere and gaining something from the experience.
Next, I’ll talk about a very popular directive method: cognitive behavioral therapy.
To read a pdf version of Roger’s classic book, On Becoming a Person, click here.