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Person-Centered Counseling

Updated on November 12, 2014

by Amber Maccione

Person-centered counseling “assumes people are inherently growth seeking and naturally capable of leading fulfilling, productive lives” (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). The role of the therapist is to collaborate with the client to help clients understand their own minds and resolve difficulties for themselves (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). The therapy centers around the client where the primacy is having the client make sense of the reason why they are living through their perception, not through the perception of the therapist (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). The three core values that person-centered counseling revolves around are unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence (McCarthy & Archer, 2013).

Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional positive regard is a core value that a therapist should have when counseling a client. Having the “ability to see the client as having inherent worth as a human being” helps build a trusting relationship between the client and the therapist (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). Clients are coming for help with a problem, yet they do not know you as a therapist. They bare their life story and problems at your feet hoping that the judgmental attitudes they have encountered in their world will not be met here. By having an unconditional positive regard, you allow the client to feel welcomed and comfortable. You treat them like a human regardless of what they have done in their life (McCarthy & Archer, 2013).


Next, a therapist needs to have empathy for those s/he counsels. Empathy is the “ability to perceive the internal frame of reference of another person” (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). In order to help someone, you have to first understand where they are coming from. A common saying to this is “walking in someone else’s shoes” (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). As you listen to the client without preconceptions and judgments based on your beliefs and values, you can imagine what it must be like to be in the situation they are in and the thought process that led them to it. You immerse yourself into their world so that you can help them understand it and bring meaning to it (McCarthy & Archer, 2013).


Lastly, a therapist needs to help the client realize that s/he is worthy as a human being. You help the client realize that their real self can eventually be their ideal self (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). Real self is how the client views themselves. The more the person sees themselves like this rather than as their ideal self, they are more at risk for psychological distress or incongruence (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). The therapist’s goal is to help lead the client to see themselves eventually possessing what they would like to be although right now they may not possess it (McCarthy & Archer, 2013).

Universally Applied

Universally, these concepts may cause a therapist troubles especially when the therapist may not understand the values and beliefs of a culture. The main thing to remember is that all are human beings created by God regardless of where they came from and what their values and beliefs are. Therefore, having an unconditional positive regard for that client should come easily. Having empathy, the therapist would need to drop their preconception of their own bias and value system to understand what it is like to walk in that person’s shoes. Lastly, helping a client start to develop into their ideal self, you must understand the values and beliefs of that client’s culture to help them realize what to achieve to verses what to disregard. For example, you are counseling a twenty-something Muslim lady who is still single, yet has been betroved to a Muslim man since she was born. Her father and his father arranged it from the beginning of her life. Unfortunately, she is conflicted by wanting to fall in love and honoring her family. Knowing a little bit about the religion of Islam and the Arabic culture, you know that counseling this woman to follow falling in love and not marrying whom her father has picked out would cause more pain. Instead, you show empathy for her understanding how love is important. Maybe ask her why she doesn’t want to marry this man she doesn’t love and maybe walk her into realizing that maybe if she stopped to get to know her betroved and courting this man romantically, may spark the love that she has been looking for while honoring her father and being true to her want for true love.


Existence of Psychological Dysfunction

Incongruence, one of the things not wanted within person-centered counseling, claims that if a person stays in perceiving themselves as not ever reaching their ideal self, they will be at risk for psychological distress (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). According to Szasz of the existential counseling school of thought, mental illness does not exist; instead, persons claiming psychological distress are just not able to adjust to their environment (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). Both sides seem to see things differently, although both have valid points. Psychological dysfunction is real. Not being able to adjust to one’s environment as well as not being able to see potential into becoming their ideal self can lead to psychological dysfunction. The mind is a very powerful part of the human body. When things do not line up with what the mind wants or thinks should be, stress can make someone snap. Psychological dysfunction is real and should be dealt with in a gentle manner. You do not have to label the client. Instead, listen and guide the client into coming to a realization of where they are and how they can develop into who they want to be.


Person-centered counseling is non-directive. The therapist needs to allow the client to make decisions and come to conclusions by themselves. To help them do this, the therapist needs to remove the conditions that hinder the client from coming to the awareness of who they want to be and can be (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). The therapist can do this by displaying unconditional positive regard, feeling empathy for the client and being authentic and genuine in your responses to what the client is saying, and helping the client become congruent (McCarthy & Archer, 2013). Listening and understanding each client as a human being looking to grow, you can adapt to them universally because you are leaving your own bias and values at the door so that you can immerse yourself into their world. Never label the client, but guide them into understanding who they are and their potential.

Which Core Value is Most Important

Out of the three core values of person-centered counseling, which do you think is the most important?

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McCarthy, C. J. & Archer, J. Jr. (2013). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy. San Diego: Bridgeport Education, Inc.

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© 2014 Amber


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