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Person Centred Counselling and the Core Conditions
The Core Conditions
The Core Conditions
The three main core conditions that Carl Rogers considered essential for effective counselling are:
1. Unconditional Positive Regard. (UPR)
However in Roger’s paper “The necessary and sufficient conditions of Therapeutic personality change” he lists six conditions in total.
1. Two persons are in Psychological contact.
2. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
3. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist is congruence or integrated in the relationship.
4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client.
5. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the clients internal frame of reference and endeavours to communicate this experience to the client.
6. The communication to the client of the therapist’s empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved.
No other conditions are necessary . If these six conditions exist and continue over a period of time, this is sufficient…(Rogers Reader p221)
Unconditional Positive Regard, Empathy & Congruence are the counsellors or therapists conditions needed to facilitate change. Without these conditions being present a healing relationship cannot form. In the six conditions above we see that the client also has to ‘play ball’, Psychological contact is needed. If the client does not want to be there they are free to withdraw and the counselling processes cannot continue. The client too it seems needs to realise that there is something not working for them in their lives.
So what are these conditions? Roger's three core conditions for therapeutic change as explained by the good man himself:
"The first element could be called genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more the therapist is himself or herself in the relationship, putting up no professional front or personal facade, the greater is the likelihood that the client will change and grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is openly being the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment. Thus, there is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed to the client.
The second attitude of importance in creating a climate for change is acceptance, or caring, or prizing--what I have called 'unconditional positive regard.' When the therapist is experiencing a positive, acceptant attitude toward whatever the client is at that moment, therapeutic movement or change is more likely to occur. The therapist is willing for the client to be whatever immediate feeling is going on--confusion, resentment, fear, anger, courage, love, or pride. Such caring on the part of the therapist is non-possessive. The therapist prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way.
The third facilitative aspect of the relationship is empathic understanding. This means that the therapist senses accurately the feelings and personal meanings that the client is experiencing and communicates this understanding to the client. When functioning best, the therapist is so much inside the private world of the other that he or she can clarify not only the meanings of which the client is aware but even those just below the level of awareness. This kind of sensitive, active listening is exceedingly rare in our lives. We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know."
There is a lot packed in to the above descriptions, at a glance it does not seem much but upon examining them closely the basic framework of Rogers counselling work is described.
The first condition is named as congruence, realness, genuineness. That is to say that you are present and aware with the client. If we look back historically to the time Rogers was writing in the 1950’s I think he was saying to drop the facade of Doctor or Psychoanalyst to come out from behind the white coat and meet the person as another person, while still remaining in the role of therapist. My understanding of the therapeutic climate of the time is that the therapist took on an almost authoritarian role as a ‘fixer’ of a ‘broken’ patient. Rogers was the one who helped change the ‘Patient’ into a ‘Client’.
Once the client is treated as an equal communication will start. If the therapist comes across as an authority or an expert the client will start to tailor their answers to suit this. As Wilson points out in Prometheus Rising:
“Accurate communication is possible only in a non-punishing situation;
communication occurs only between equals”
I think that Rogers was also saying that we should be ‘real’ with who we are as a therapist. If we are only putting on the counsellor mask it will be picked up upon, much like when we visit a show room and get greeted by an over-zealous sales person, we can easily sense that they are not genuine or that they are only giving us attention because they are after a sale.
Unconditional Positive Regard:
Unconditional Positive Regard: UPR in a nutshell simply means that the counsellor listens in a non-judgmental warm way to the client. There are no conditions put upon the relationship. By taking this position in the relationship the client will be able to talk about what they are thinking and feeling without fearing a judgment or a rejection. It strikes me as ironic that one of the core conditions is a condition of unconditional positive regard. Nevertheless UPR is one of the bits of magic in the relationship that makes the listening and healing possible. It also ties in nicely or is on a similar continuum to congruence, as again communication occurs only between equals. Initially when I first came across this concept I wondered if I could hold it with all persons. I thought of an extreme case of an abuser, I wondered if I could hold this UPR? I thought about this and discovered that it is possible to separate the person from their behaviour. It is only when UPR is present that the client will trust the therapist enough to be open and honest about their inner world. I have faith in UPR so much so that no matter how much a person feels that they have slipped from society’s grace that they will be able to gain UPR for themselves and others and hopefully start anew. Rogers was quite wise to say that we all have potential for change up to the moment of our death. If find this concept wonderfully optimistic and applaud it.
Empathy or empathic understanding is the next core condition. This is where the therapist picks up on the feelings of the client and reflects this back to the client. This is the process where the therapist can act as a support to the client by making them feel ‘as if’ the therapist is there experiencing their array of emotions. There is an expression that I like that illustrates empathic understanding the term is ‘Grok’ it’s taken from the novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ (Heinlein, 1961), literally it means ‘to drink’ but is taken to mean 'understanding.' It is often used by programmers and other assorted computer geeks while discussing computer code. To ‘Grok’ means to become one with, understand and empathize with something or someone to the extent that the object or person becomes part of one’s sense self. I think that empathy in the person centred world is a ‘Groking’ of the other person, without getting so caught up in the experience that you react and become lost in it. Not to lose the ‘as if’ quality.
Do the Core Conditons Improve all relationships?
I am going to take a leap of faith and say that the core conditions do improve all relationships. I have all ready experienced the power of the conditions in my own personal counselling and have felt how powerful they are. Without a doubt in my mind I will say that within the therapeutic setting that they are essential for a healing relationship to occur.
I was debating with myself around the question of them improving
all relationships. Initially I thought that that this would not be the case so I decided to bring the conditions out into the playing field of life and experiment. I have been having a lot of fun with this. I decided to be congruent as far as its possible to be with anyone I met on the street for the last few weeks in as far giving a nod or saying ‘hullo’ if eye contact was made, rather than doing my usual paranoid ‘I’m too busy and important to be dealing with the likes of you’ walk. The response was phenomenal. One gent I’ve passed dozens of times while out walking my dog actually stopped for a chat for the first time, it consisted of no more than six words but it was a start. I’ve been getting smiles and salutes from perfect strangers when I pass them on my bike too. Saying that I’ve also encountered a few zombies too, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before contact is made. I think that time is a dimension of a relationship that gets overlooked sometimes, trust can take time.
Personal Anxiety & Fear
I have also recently had the fortune of being harassed by the local teenagers that live in the council estate adjacent to my house. As my house is the first house on the corner our cars get targeted frequently, windows smashed, set alight, stolen etc ... I saw some teenagers out in the garden the other night and went out to them. My usual approach is to tell them to clear off, usually in colourful language, this time however I went out and tried out the magic of unconditional positive regard with them. I met them as people rather than ‘bloody hooded youths’ and asked them what they were up to? This was taken as an accusation, I told them that I wasn’t blaming them for anything, only that we had been getting vandalised and that since they were in my garden I had a right to ask them what they were doing there. I asked them what they were doing out on such a cold night and they said that they where board. They had nothing on that night. I asked them what they thought should be there for them to do and one of them was quite keen on a racetrack another on somewhere to play ‘Xbox’. Admittedly one of the girls launched into a rant about how “youse (the people in the new houses) moved into our area and we’re going to smash up your stuff and houses and you until you all move away” and “ ‘cos you are the corner house that you are going to get it ‘cos your easy to run away from”, rather than rising to this bait I reflected this back to them saying that I understood that they were upset and felt like smashing up the place but asked them if they thought that this was fair? After some time they said that no it wasn’t fair but that it would probably continue. To cut a long story short I returned to my house and thought that I had made no head way with them. However, I felt that I had made some with myself. I lost my fear of the ‘youths’ and gained an understanding that these people are just board children that lack boundaries and parental control in their lives. This has made living here less scary for me and this was only through having UPR, empathy and congruence present in my dialogue with them that this change in me occurred. As a foot note to this story, the next night 12 cars on the road got their windscreens smashed, mine however was not one of them yippee! – perhaps I did get through in some small way!
More Fear and Loathing
Something similar happened again but this time with a group of younger teens from the area. Without going into too much story I started to apply the core conditions to my dealings with them whenever I had cause to. It really has made a huge difference with them. I realise that they were picking up on my distrust and judgement of their behaviour; once I started to meet them as real people I have had very little hassle with them. In fact they will now come up and chat the way children do whenever I am out working in the garden or on the cars. The other morning when I went to walk the dog there was a small group of them sitting on the wall. Rather than getting the usual dirty looks I got a ‘howareya mister!’ from them. So I can say that even in the most difficult relationships no matter how troubled they seem, using the core conditions will help improve them for the better. Perhaps only small steps at a time but steps towards something better never the less.
Heinlein, R. A. (1961). Stranger in a Strange Land. Berkley Publishing Group.
O'Farrell, U. (Reprint 2001). First Steps in Counselling. Dublin: Veritas.
Rogers, C. (1980). Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Rogers, C. (2005). The Carl Rogers Reader edited by Kirschenbaum & Henderson. London: Counstable & Robertson.
Sanders, P. (2006). The Person Centred Counselling Primer. Trowbridge, UK: Cromwell Press.
Wilson, R. A. (1994). Prometheus Rising. Arizona: Falcon.
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© 2009 Gareth Martin