On this page

  • The purpose of person-centred therapy
  • The theory behind person-centred therapy 
  • Who can benefit?


The purpose of person-centred therapy

The core purpose of the person-centred approach is to actualise tendency – facilitate the personal growth and relationships of an individual by allowing them to explore and utilise their own strengths and personal identity. A person-centred counsellor will aid this process and will provide vital support to help their client’s overcome the problems that are thwarting their personal development and progress.

The three core conditions that reflect the attitude of the counsellor to a client are:

  1. Congruence – the counsellor must be completely genuine.
  2. Unconditional positive regard – the counsellor must be non-judgemental.
  3. Empathy – the counsellor must strive to understand the client’s point of view.

A variety of factors can affect an individual’s ability to flourish, including low self-esteem, a lack of self-reliance and very little openness to new experiences. The person-centred approach recognises that an individual’s social environment and personal relationships can greatly impact these, so therapy is offered in a neutral and comfortable setting where a client can feel at ease, authentic and open to learning about themselves. In this way, the approach offers individuals the opportunity to counteract the damaging effects of past relationships and experiences. This can help them foster change and achieve their full potential.

Other related changes that can be cultivated from this therapy include:

  • Closer agreement between an individual’s idealised and actual selves.
  • Better self-understanding and awareness.
  • Decreased negative emotions such as defensiveness, insecurity and guilt.
  • Greater ability to trust oneself.
  • Healthier relationships.
  • Improvement in self-expression.
  • Overall a healthy sense of change.


The theory behind person-centred therapy

The theory that lies behind person-centred counselling is that clients are more likely to benefit if they are encouraged to address their current subjective understanding of a situation rather than an unconscious motive or someone else’s interpretation of it. Essentially, it aims to help individuals unravel and explore the difficult facets of their experience that are challenging to their self-concept.

Self-concept refers to the organised and consistent set of beliefs and perceptions an individual has about himself or herself. These form a core component of a person’s total experience and influence their perception of the world. Person-centred counselling recognises that a person’s self-concept can become displaced if they strive too hard to fit in and be accepted by those around them.

Typically, individuals cope with any conditional acceptance offered to them by gradually and unconsciously incorporating these conditions into their own self-image. This can lead to the development of a self-concept that consists of characterised ideas such as ‘I am the sort of person who always respects others’. Because human beings generally desire positive regard from others, it is often easier for individuals to ‘be’ this accepted, simplified type of person. To be anything else, or different could see them risk losing that positive regard.

Over time, a person’s identity – their personal judgements, meanings and experiences – can become displaced with the ideals of others. It is for this reason that person-centred counselling aims to help individuals to self-actualise and achieve personal growth. This is cultivated through the provision of a supportive environment where client’s can strengthen and expand on their own identity and begin to separate themselves from their developed notions of how they should be.

Who can benefit?

Generally, person-centred counselling can help individuals of all ages with a range of personal issues. Many people find it an appealing type of therapy because it allows them to keep control over the content and pace of sessions, and they do not need to worry that their therapist will be evaluating or judging them in any way. The non-directive style of person-centred counselling is thought to be of more benefit to individuals who have a strong urge to explore themselves and their feelings, and for those who want to address specific psychological habits or patterns of thinking.

The approach has been found particularly useful in helping individuals to overcome specific problems such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders and alcohol addictions. These issues can have significant impact on self-esteem, self-reliance and self-awareness, but person-centred therapy can help individuals to reconnect with their inner self in order to transcend any limitations.

Alternatively, even though person-centred counselling was originally developed as an approach to psychotherapy, it is often transferred to other areas where people are in relationships – including teaching, childcare and patient care to name a few. Today many people who are not practicing counsellors use the approach to help guide them through day-to-day work and relationships.