Person centered therapy techniques aka as client centered therapy techniques, originally founded by Carl Rogers, put an emphasis on the client as an expert. It posits that people strive toward a state of self-actualization and therapy can help a client reach self-awareness. It is a therapist’s job to create the proper surroundings for a client to become a “fully functioning person”. While some may argue that a person-centered therapist does not use techniques as much as they develop a therapeutic atmosphere, there are certain behaviors a therapist must perform to create the optimal environment. Let’s look at some techniques a therapist uses in person-centered therapy.
Unlike most therapies, where a clinician may have an agenda for a particular session, a person centered therapist lets the client lead. It is the client’s journey and it is believed they are experts about their own lives. Thus, the therapist is seen as an equal collaborator, rather than an authority who knows how to guide a person toward self-actualization. This is the reason that Rogers referred to a person in therapy as a client rather than a patient. Although it may be tempting to offer guidance, it is important that the client is taking responsibility for their own life.
Unconditional Positive Regard
One of the most important aspects of person centered therapy technique is that the therapist must exhibit unconditional positive regard for the client. In short, this means that they accept and care for the client as they are. This does not mean that the therapist always has to agree with the client but it does mean that they refrain from judgment. It is essential that the client feels valued by the therapist. You might note that this resembles aspects of positive psychology; Rogers was ahead of his time.
The development of self-concept was key to Rogers. In order to be functioning at an optimal level, he thought that a person must balance their ideal self with how they experience their real self. When that is achieved, they obtain what he termed congruence. He believed congruence was necessary to become a highly functioning person and achieve life goals. It is thought that a client is usually in a state of incongruence when they enter therapy and a major part of their work is to achieve congruence.
To that end, Rogers believed that a therapist must be genuine with clients. He thought that their behavior and thoughts needed to match. In other words, the client should see the client’s authentic self. In order to be effective, a client needs to believe that what a therapist is saying is the truth. This is a major diversion from much of psychodynamic psychology, where therapists were encouraged to hide their true selves from patients. Being genuine allows the therapist and client to build trust and models a healthy relationship. If a therapist is not exhibiting congruence, a client will not be able to achieve a similar state.
It is essential that a therapist exhibit empathy while applying person centered therapy techniques. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and relate to their experience. It should be noted that empathy is different from sympathy. Empathy is showing understanding for a person while sympathy is feeling bad for them. If a client does not feel understood they will not feel safe with the therapist and will be unable to be genuine and exhibit their true self.
Accept Negative Emotions
Remaining positive, supportive, and non-judgmental with a client can be difficult. There are times when a client is going to express negative emotions that elicit a reaction. At times a client may even direct negative emotions toward the therapist. A therapist needs to remember that person centered therapy techniques are based upon creating a safe environment for a client where they feel they can share information without negativity and judgment. A therapist needs to learn to not take words personally, especially from a client that is experiencing personal issues.
Active listening is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, you are listening to the client. In fact, truly listening to the client without exhibiting judgment is a fundamental part of person-centered therapy. But, active listening is not just listening. It is listening in such a way as to let the client know that you understand what is being said. Here are some critical aspects of active listening:
One way to show a client you are paying attention is through body language. You want to maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward, and keep an open style of communication (e.g., arms and legs uncrossed).
Another part of active listening is verbally responding to what is being said. In many therapies, the therapist is trying to interpret what the client means and see it through their own lens. In person-centered therapy, you do not try and change the meaning but rather simply reflect to the client in an effort to further understanding.
It is quite easy to misunderstand a client’s meaning. The goal in active listening is to clarify what is being said so you know you are hearing what they want you to hear. One way of doing this is to paraphrase their comments to ensure you are understanding their meaning.
Your tone of voice is an important consideration in person-centered therapy. Your tone should remain even and supportive. Large inflections may be interpreted by the client as a judgment or a lack of empathy.
When you ask a client a question you have a choice: direct them toward a certain answer or leave it open-ended. In person-centered psychotherapy, open-ended questions are superior. They are not leading, allowing the client to remain in control of their session. In addition, open-ended questions tend to elicit more information.
Affirmations can be both verbal and non-verbal. “I appreciate what you are telling me” is an example of a verbal affirmation. Even a small phrase like “go on” tells a client you are interested in what they have to say. A non-verbal affirmation can be something as simple as a head nod.