What is Client-Centered Therapy? Is it right for me?

  Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Contributed by Emily Ruiz, MA
Clinically reviewed by Dr. Carrie Jackson

There is no wonder that therapy is considered a social science, as it is the art of relating to someone and how we delve through our problems. Initially, when asked to think about therapy, we might envision a Rorschach painting where you determine your psychosis through ink blobs or something akin to a power imbalance between you and your therapist. Carl Rogers flipped this idea of therapy on its head when he created Client-Centered Therapy. 

Client-Centered Therapy is a more conversational form of therapy where you and your counselor work together to find problems in your life. Imagine you are a valiant hero and the counselor is a wizard, you and the counselor face off against many challenges but you are the one fighting the dragons. The wizard is there to provide sage advice, healing potions, and other inventory for you to finish your many adventures. You are the hero of your story with client centered therapy and your counselor will be there to talk you through it all.

Define: Client-Centered Therapy

Carl Rogers created Client Centered Therapy in the early 1930s. The theory was revolutionary at the time as it was a form of therapy that took a more interactive approach rather than instructional. Rogers believed the key to successful treatment is to provide empathy instead of focusing on measurable results. 

Goals are helpful in therapy to determine if you are moving in the right direction, but they can't be the only focus because goals and success are defined individually. If you did not communicate, your goals and your therapist's goals would probably not align with your overall best interest. 

The term client centered therapy, or person centered therapy, focuses on you. Your therapist becomes a person to tell your secrets to and be vulnerable with instead of in the earlier days when there might have been a power dynamic. The power dynamic can show even in the physical settings; the psychoanalyst is sitting in a giant throne room chair while you are laid on your back; it forces you into a place of vulnerability while talk therapy or client centered therapy is all about equality. Even with Rogers using the term 'client' instead of ‘patient’ was intentional to dissolve this power dynamic so that you know that you are equals with your counselor.

You are in control of what you talk about with your counselor. You direct the conversation, and the counselor can reply with advice to better help a life situation you are undergoing. It almost seems like it is too easy to fathom, but it is! The conversation you can have with your counselor gets to the root of the problem in a less stressful or intrusive manner. The counselor can calmly talk you through some of the steps and reward you for reaching your personal goals. Client centered therapy is the definition of #nojudgementzone. The therapy believes that the best expert for your problems is you.

How Does a Counselor Practice Client Centered Therapy?

As the name implies, the entire focus of client centered theory is you! Client centered therapy isn't about shame or disgust, because let's be honest, you already do that to yourself way too much. The treatment focuses on mindfulness through discussion and collaborating with your counselor as a guide.

In practicing empathetic understanding (more about it a little later), the counselor can understand why the client may have acted the way they did. For instance, if a client were defined as the problem child in the classroom, the counselor would see this not as the client was a bad child but a child yearning for love and affection. They craved attention so severely that they did not even care if it was negative attention. It is a therapeutic conversation with the counselor instead of being psychoanalyzed and feeling judged for all the actions you have taken so far.

Anyone would feel shame if some of their most vulnerable aspects were harshly criticized. If someone in a position of power was pointing the finger at them; this would be the exact opposite of client centered therapy. They want the topics or traumas to come naturally and gently as the client has the power of choice. Suppose a client chooses to talk about the aspects that trouble them. In that case, the counselor gently discusses the problems they have identified and asks questions to help gain a better understanding.

As we further discover client centered therapy, we will find the traits that counselors are specifically trained in to ensure they can aid their clients during difficult times. When treatment is deemed successful, the client can know they had the answers all along and can self-soothe and regulate themselves during higher stress. Clients have reported positive feelings such as higher self-esteem, mental clarity, positive relationships, and feeling like they have more control in their life thanks to this approach.

Genuineness

So that you feel entirely comfortable, it is essential to have trust in your counselor. When you experience genuineness, it allows you to be more vulnerable and trust without waiting for ulterior motives. 

Practicing open communication with your counselor will alleviate stress and provide you with the confidence to open up and maybe practice this genuineness with others as you reflect on some of the lessons provided during your therapy appointment.

Unconditional Positive Regard

The second most important skill for a counselor to have is unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard is the total acceptance of the client's personality. The counselor knows that they cannot change your personality, nor do they want to, as you were uniquely made. A counselor sees the client in a light that cannot be tarnished or changed because there is always something lovable about a client.

Empathetic Understanding

Practicing empathy is how relationships are made. Empathy is the practice of "putting yourself in someone else's shoes." You can understand their feelings, stressors, and anything else that goes on in their life. Counselors need to be empathetic as each person comes from a different background and explanations on why they might have done this or that. Compassionate understanding is taking the information received by the client with love as they move through their mental health journey.

The Importance of Self-Concept

For victims who have experienced trauma, it may feel that they are fragmented within their body. The traumas that have occurred will stop a person's mental ages, so in the case of complex PTSD, there could be parts of the self not completely mended from the mental ages of 6, 12, or 21. The goal of client centered therapy is to close the bridges that separate the mental ages or breakages in the client's mind. Autonomy of self-concept is having someone feel whole once again.

When do you know you found a great Client Centered Counselor?

While utilizing the client centered therapy traits, the counselor needs to create a safe space. When you are a client going to therapy, be on the lookout for these traits to ensure the counselor has your best interest.

  • Respecting Boundaries

Boundaries are necessary for all healthy relationships. Creating boundaries with your counselor is important as you feel safe to share your thoughts and feelings without feeling pressured to talk about certain things.

  • Personal experiences

As a client, you are the captain of your own healing journey. The counselor can facilitate and help you with any of the problems you choose to talk about, but they are more of a resource while you are in charge of your healing through your personal experience. You might practice by identifying traits in your life that are limiting you with your counselor.

  • Active listening

 Active listening is truly understanding what you are saying to your therapist. The best way to demonstrate a non-active listener is to imagine if you are talking about something significant to you. The non-active listener will either look like they are about to say something while you are in the midst of talking or turn the conversation on themselves. An active listener finds what you say as important and understands that active listening is necessary for being understood.

  • Calm

Therapy is not always pretty. It can be a lot of tears, frustrations, and sometimes even anger towards the situation or the counselor. Even in the not so cute parts of therapy, there still needs to be a level of calmness from the counselor and the space they provide.

  • Positive tone

Positivity really can change the whole dynamic of the conversation, especially in therapy. It provides the client with the hope that "yes, I can move past this challenge" instead of feeling like no matter what they do, they will not be able to get out of the rut that a problem in their life has caused.

  • Additional Resources In your healing journey, it is necessary to be eclectic in your methods. Journaling can be incredibly useful in streamlining your mental health journey. A counselor utilizing client centered therapy and our online guide will help your introspection and solve some of the problems that might be holding you back.

So, does Client Centered Therapy actually work?

As stated before in the importance of self-concept, client centered therapy is beneficial for individuals who have experienced traumatic events. It is imperative to create a space for trauma victims and be a safe person to confide in as trauma is a physical response that affects your nervous system. Traumas like to pull the client back into the past, and being present is what heals the soul. Client centered therapy is helping the client focus on the current situation and how the trauma might be reflected in their present-day relationships.

Client centered therapy is not about fixing a person but being there while the client fixes themselves. A counselor is there to support the client as they go through challenging parts of their lives and focus on creating lasting change. It is a natural process. There can be some doubt whether client centered therapy is effective because it sees progress on a more qualitative side (devoid of numbers). For example, a success in client centered therapy is when a client can feel safe and self-soothe after a triggering event.

Success can be defined in many ways, but with client centered therapy, the goal they want the most is for their clients to feel safe in their office and feel one with themselves. Counselors do not label the patient with an exact diagnosis because that may inhibit the counselor from seeing other aspects of the person that a diagnosis may not encompass.

Is Client Centered Therapy Right for Me?

We believe that client centered therapy can be beneficial for anyone. Client centered therapy is very inclusive to problems such as relationship tension, fears like flying on a plane, substance abuse, low self-esteem, family trauma, anxiety, depression, and personality disorders like a borderline personality disorder. It can relate to more minor everyday stressors that seem to wear on us all, like tight deadlines or feeling a perfectionism level in everything you do.

Client centered therapy is an excellent resource for people who do not want to be defined by their mental condition because they are so much more. You are more than the second thoughts of worth, the harsh critical voice, and all the other things associated with mental health ailments. The therapy creates a space where you can just talk and be present, as a bit of escape from the real world each time you visit a psychologist. The counselor will help guide you through your self-worth, finding solutions to your problems, and so many other facets of your life.

When you go to therapy, you are not a broken person. You are a person who is starting the journey of loving themselves again and making an active choice of healing. Healing does not come overnight, but you are making this cognizant change to better your life. Stress or trauma doesn't have a scale of who has it worse or what quantifies for going to therapy, everyone experiences pain, and with therapy, you can now have a tool belt of resources to help you navigate through the darker times in your life. 

About Emily Ruiz, MA

Emily Ruiz is a contributor of JournalOwl with a passion for spreading mental health awareness. She believes that mental health topics are instrumental in creating change. She enjoys writing about PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other arrays of topics by adding an emotional feel to her writing.

Before joining the JournalOwl team, Emily received her Masters in Communication with a focus in healthcare advocacy at East Carolina University in North Carolina. She has assisted organizations teaching social skills to children who are autistic and ADHD and teaching mindfulness to teenagers with BPD and who are high-risk self-harm and suicide. Emily created a training module for a non-profit equestrian therapy, Difference instead of Disability, for her independent study during her master’s program.

Emily and her husband are North Carolina natives who enjoy traveling, exploring, and general shenanigans with one another. They foster and rescue animals in their free time. She enjoys riding horses, theatre, and reading.

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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