What is person centred counselling?

2 females, one looking at photographs

Coming under the umbrella of humanistic counselling, person centred (PC) counselling was devised by psychologist, Carl Rogers.

The idea behind PC theory is that the counsellor and the client work together to understand the client’s experience of themselves. In doing this, the self awareness and understanding this brings, the client is then able to change as they see fit.

Core conditions

PC counselling is relational, ie. it relies on the relationship between the counsellor and the client for the work. There are 6 core conditions that are considered necessary for therapeutic change to occur:

  • Empathy—the counsellor understanding the client’s point of view and communicating this to the client.
  • Psychological contact between counsellor and client—a meeting of minds, making sure the client and the counsellor are on the same page and can understand each other. (Most (but not all) counsellor-client contracts will include a no alcohol/drugs before sessions clause.)
  • Counsellor is congruence—being honest, genuine and authentic with what is going on between counsellor and client.
  • Client is incongruent—the client comes to the counselling room with an issue or problem and has a desire to change.
  • Counsellor shows unconditional positive regard—the counsellor considers the client positively, without judgment.
  • Clients perceives unconditional positive regard—client accepts that they are accepted, positively, without judgment.

With these conditions in place, they are considered sufficient for the client to self heal.

What to expect

PC counselling isn’t directive so the counsellor won’t tell you what to do or say. Nor will you be given homework. As you talk, perhaps about a particular issue, the counsellor may reflect things back to you, paraphrase or summarise. They won’t interpret what you’ve said.

Self editing and clarifying may occur over and over which may then lead to a deeper understanding and awareness and/or changes of perspective.


Clients who’re self motivated and show a high level of self awareness are likely to do well in PC counselling.

Many PC counsellors will integrate other theories—they will tell you if they’re an integrative counsellor. In this case, they may be more directive, suggest interpretations and/or suggest “homework” exercises.

Additional information

In PC theory, it is thought that the client goes through 7 stages of process. At stage 1 the client is in denial that they can help themselves, they may blame other people and are unlikely to seek help. As they progress through the stages, they will take accountability for their actions, take ownership of their situation and then move towards self actualisation.

The aim of PC counselling is to enable a client to self actualise i.e. “the process of becoming everything you are capable of becoming.” The concept is related to Maslow’s hierarchy of need. Ensuring that our basic needs (food, water shelter) are catered for means that we can then address higher order needs. Needs further up the triangle include security, friendship and self esteem. It only once we’ve taken care of our medium order needs that we’re able to self actualise and become the person we’re meant to be.

Person centred counselling can help us to evaluate our true values and beliefs. Often we’ve been conditioned to believe certain things by the people around us. Sometimes we evaluate ourselves based on what other think about us. By spending time getting to grips with where you’re beliefs have come from you can decide if you want to keep them!

Like with any counselling, change can be hard and the people around you may not want you to change. But becoming the person you were always meant to be is a liberation we all deserve.

I’m an integrative counsellor working from a person centred base. If you’d like to chat about whether this could work for you, contact me here.

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