What Is Client Centered Therapy?

This post is Part 2 of my mini-series on different types of therapy you may have heard about if you’re looking into starting therapy or switching therapists. If you’re interested, you can check out Part 1 on Cognitive Behavior Therapy here.

In Part 2 is about a very different kind of therapy, client-centered therapy. Remember that the point here isn’t to make any one of the kinds of therapy in this mini-series seem better than the others, but rather to help you understand the differences so that you can make an informed choice about which might be right for you.

Q: What’s the difference between this and other kinds of therapies?

A: The major difference you’ll notice between client-centered therapy and other kinds of therapies is that your therapist will not act like an expert who’s there to give you solutions. Rather, he or she will act like a guide who’s there to help you on the path to discovering your own solutions.

The therapist who invented client-centered therapy in the 1940s, Carl Rogers, believed that therapists should be “non-directive,” meaning they should try to let the client steer the course of the therapy rather than the therapist. This includes not only avoiding offering suggestions and solutions to the client, but also passing judgment on the client. A therapist practicing client-centered therapy should never be offering value judgements on a client’s behavior or feelings, but rather should always be demonstrating what Rogers called “unconditional positive regard,” the attitude that any emotion the client expresses in therapy – anger, resentment, fear, love, hate, confusion, etc. – will be accepted and will not diminish the client-therapist relationship in any way, no matter the circumstances behind the emotion.

Client-centered therapists take on the role of guide rather than authority. 

They believe that it is only through practicing self-determination that clients will come to be fully functioning, not by being told what to do. In fact, proponents of this method believe not only that people should practice self-determination but that people naturally are inclined toward it. As CRC Health explains, “A core tenet of client-centered therapy is that people are inclined to move toward healing and growth; thus, the role of the client-centered therapist is to establish an atmosphere in which the client can discover the answers and solutions that he or she has been looking for.”

Q: How do I know if I would benefit from client-centered therapy?

A: Client-centered therapy has been used successfully with quite a wide range of problems you might bring to a therapist, from general depression/anxiety to problems like addictions and compulsions. However, some individuals might find it the best, most helpful type of therapy while others might find it the most frustrating.

You might feel like you want your therapist to offer suggestions and solutions rather than leaving such things in your hands; some people feel as if it doesn’t make sense to pay for an expert if the expert is going to avoid giving his or her professional advice. But, conversely, you might feel like this kind of therapy is just the step in the right direction that you need to unlock your potential to help yourself. Before starting client-centered therapy, you should think seriously about what kind of therapist-client relationship you’re looking for, and whether this one sounds like it would be helpful or really frustrating to you.

Q: What would happen in a typical session if I was being treated with client-centered therapy?

A: One of the most obvious things you’ll notice about client-centered therapy sessions is that you would steer the conversation. As mentioned before, one of the main tenets of this therapy is that it should be “non-directive,” so the therapist tries to avoid steering you to talk about any particular thing and instead just lets you have control of the conversation. As Stephen Joseph, PhD, explains in his blog post on Psychology Today, “This may include the use of psychometric tests, cognitive exercises, or whatever, but always doing so in a way that is respectful of the client’s right to self-determination.”

The American Psychological Association published a video that shows a dramatization of what a typical client-centered therapy session would look like. It’s worth quoting at length the introductory statement that the therapist in the video makes, because it perfectly shows the kind of attitude that your therapist would bring to a session:

            “I believe I can be of most help to you by offering you a relationship in which I try to understand, in your own terms, your problems, your feelings, your hopes and fears, the way you see yourself and others. As we go along, you will be able to correct me when I am of the mark. Working with you in this way, I hope to help you clarify the problems that brought you here and how you might resolve them, to come to know yourself more fully, and to become more of the person you want to be. I see myself more as a companion in this search than the traditional expert who figures out what is wrong with you. I won’t try to change you to fit my model of what you should be but will respect your values. I’ll look to you to bring up whatever you choose in each session, to decide how often you would like to meet, and when you would like to stop coming.”

Even when clients explicitly ask their therapists for advice or solutions in client-centered therapy, the therapist will avoid giving it; instead, he or she will express understanding of the desire, but direct the client back toward his or her own process of self-determination.

Q: How long would it last?

A: If you’ve been following along up until this question, you can probably take a good guess at this answer: client-centered therapy lasts as long as the client wants it to last, no shorter and no longer. If the therapist were to make a firm decision about when the therapy should stop, according to Rogers, some of the client’s agency would be taken away.

Remember, therapists will be willing to talk with you about what kinds of therapy they practice so that you can make a decision about what’s best for your needs and expectations. Stay tuned for Part 3 in this mini-series, which takes a look at Dialectical Behavior Therapy!

If you want to talk about client-centered therapy or any other kind of therapy and whether or not it might be right for you, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult.

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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