Client Centered Therapy

Self-discovery is part of being a human.  When we learn more about ourselves, it can be an exciting or terrifying.  What if someone told you that what you needed to heal could come from inside of you? That, in some way, with gentle guidance, you can be your own therapist?  

Client Centered Therapy Client Centered Therapy

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Table of contents
    • What is the definition of client-centered therapy?
    • What is Carl Rogers's client-centered therapy?
    • What are some client-centered therapy techniques?
    • What is client-centered therapy for depression?
    • What are the advantages of client-centered therapy?

    Definition of Client-Centered Therapy

    Client-centered therapy is a type of therapy formed out of the humanistic perspective of psychology.

    Client-centered therapy aims to help people strengthen personal authority over their healing by promoting self-actualization and creating a safe and accepting space.

    Client-centered therapy (or person-centered therapy) focuses on the person rather than the problem. Rather than reducing people down to a medical diagnosis (i.e., an "alcoholic" or "schizophrenic"), client-centered therapy focuses on that which makes a person unique such as race, gender, ethnicity, social roles, social class, or ability. This approach is ethical and supports the notion that all humans deserve dignity and respect.

    Carl Rogers Client-Centered Therapy

    Carl Ransom Rogers is considered the founder of client-centered therapy, marked by his work entitled Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942). In this book, Rogers expands on his radical non-directive approach. Later, he outlines the client-centered therapy approach in Client-Centered Therapy (1951), in which he also summarizes his views on actualizing tendency and unconditional positive regard.


    Client-centered therapy is unlike many other treatments in that it is not driven by the therapist but rather by the client. This is meant to communicate to the client a sense of trust in their ability to find their own solutions within themselves. Instead of the client being a receptacle of the therapist's attitudes, the two interact and co-create. The therapist's job is to create a safe space to promote growth and self-realization. This is not passivity or a lack of responsiveness but simply a non-directive and nonauthoritarian attitude. The therapist is to remain open, authentic, and empathic.

    [A therapist's non-directive approach] is rather a moral compass that guides our course without dictating the route." (Carl Rogers, 2013, p. 98)

    Actualizing Tendency

    A cornerstone of the humanistic approach is the belief that all humans are innately good. Rogers drew from the humanistic approach while developing client-centered therapy. However, rather than strictly implying that all humans are inherently good or evil, he suggested that all humans have an actualizing tendency.

    Actualizing tendency is the innate human desire and motivation to maintain and enhance themselves.

    In other words, Rogers operated under the assumption that everyone wants to improve themselves. He was not ignorant of the human capacity for destructiveness but rather believed that humans are all working towards fulfilling our potential to enhance ourselves.

    Unconditional Positive Regard

    Another hallmark of Rogers' theory is the therapist's commitment to unconditional positive regard, a radical form of acceptance. The desire to be accepted is universal, pervasive, and persistent for all of us. Simply being in a judgment-free space can be incredibly liberating.

    Rogers recognized this and found that many clients benefited from a respectful and empathic environment. No matter what they said or did, the therapist would accept them as the whole person. As a result, Rogers found that clients found their way towards congruence (or a state of wholeness).

    Client-Centered Therapy Techniques

    Traditional client-centered therapy means a therapist must be fully committed to taking a non-directive approach. This is a difficult task, and Rogers acknowledged that it might be impossible for anyone to be fully non-directive. However, one technique he often used is active listening. By taking this approach, client-centered therapists can improve communication with their clients.

    Take the following tips on how to engage in active listening.

    1. Clarify: Ask the client to give examples or spend more time explaining a feeling or experience. ("Can you give an example of a time...")

    2. Paraphrase: Summarize what the client has expressed in your own words to check your understanding (i.e., "I'm hearing you say...").

    3. Reflect: Pick up on cues such as the client's word choice, body language, and intensity to reflect what they may be feeling (i.e., "That sounds disappointing...").

    Client-Centered Therapy, woman with hand held to hear, StudySmarterActive listening,

    Other techniques used in client-centered therapy may include giving the client homework. The therapist never initiates homework - it is created or requested by the client.

    A person struggling with agoraphobia may express that they are ready to go to the grocery store for 15 minutes, or someone who struggles with social anxiety may say they would like to try reaching out to three friends that week.

    When clients assign homework to themselves, it is a positive sign of self-determination. Also, supporting or helping create homework is another opportunity for a therapist to communicate trust in the client to find their own solutions.

    Focusing-Oriented Therapy

    As client-centered therapy became a more established approach, several psychologists branched off to develop specific techniques for helping a person reach self-actualization. Eugene Gendlin, for example, developed focusing-oriented therapy or experiential therapy. This therapy aims to help a person locate where in their body they are processing their experience or emotions. Rogers supported this in his client-centered approach stating that emotions are experienced physiologically.

    Gendlin found that focusing-oriented therapy was an effective way to help people find the "right" words for how they feel. Sometimes, there is no greater feeling than being able to name your experience and your emotions. However, this approach moves slightly away from the traditional client-centered approach in that it may require some directiveness from the therapist. Still, this technique does not support teaching the client how to focus, allowing them to find their way towards accessing this information. Additionally, focusing-oriented therapy can create an accepting space for the client, which is true to the traditional client-centered therapy approach.

    Emotion-Focused Therapy

    Another branch of client-centered therapy, originally developed by Laura North Rice, is emotion-focused therapy. In this technique, the goal is to enhance the client's experience so they may experience vivid emotions.

    The assumption is that the client's problems stem from avoidance and dysregulation of their emotions. By bringing these emotions to the forefront, a person can finally understand how they truly feel and find ways to move forward. Additionally, due to the emotional vulnerability required for this type of therapy, the quality of the relationship between the client and the therapist is more important than any therapeutic task.

    Client-Centered Therapy for Depression

    Client-centered therapy can be effective in treating several psychopathologies, including depression. It helps a person validate their own experience and emotions. Often, when we feel down, it's because of something we can't accept about ourselves or our situation. Client-centered therapy can help guide a person towards greater acceptance, thereby combating symptoms of depression.

    A client-centered therapist would allow a person to share their depressive thoughts and feelings freely, helping to normalize their experience. Some studies show that gentle questioning from the therapist about suicide and self-harm can help to decrease symptoms of depression (Rossomm et al., 2016).

    Advantages of Client-Centered Therapy

    Client-centered therapy aims to help a person become more self-assertive and confident. This may allow a person to take more risks, be more open to experiencing new things, and develop more empathy toward others. The advantages of client-centered therapy are that they help improve a person's self-concept, locus of evaluation, and experience of their world.


    Our self-concept is our perceptions and feelings about ourselves. An advantage of client-centered therapy is that it should improve a person's self-concept. For example, how they talk to themselves or deal with failure. If the therapy is successful, these attitudes should shift towards more positive and accepting.

    Client-Centered Therapy, woman hugging herself, StudySmarterSelf-love and confidence,

    Locus of Evaluation

    We can't help but think of what others think of us. However, when we base our actions and beliefs of ourselves on the beliefs of others, it can cause emotional distress. Rogers referred to this as our locus of evaluation.

    The locus of evaluation is how a person interprets and understands their value either externally or internally.

    Rogers found that many of his clients were too concerned with what others thought of them (external locus of evaluation). How they viewed themselves was almost internally dependent on how others viewed them. However, if a person can shift to an internal locus of evaluation, then what they think of themselves will determine their value.

    When our locus of evaluation is internalized, we often find more interest, confidence, and excitement in our lives. Our self-esteem improves, and we become more self-determined.


    As we take more responsibility for our circumstances, we begin to experience our world with less rigidity and more openness and flexibility. We may find ourselves trying new things we never thought we would or reaching out to people we otherwise would have avoided.

    Client-centered Therapy - Key takeaways

    • Client-centered therapy aims to help people strengthen personal authority over their own healing by promoting self-actualization and creating a safe and accepting space.
    • Key concepts of client-centered therapy include non-directiveness, actualizing tendency, and unconditional positive regard.
    • Some techniques used in client-centered therapy are active listening, assigning homework (only if requested by the client), emotion-focused therapy, and experiential therapy.
    • Client-centered therapy can help guide a person towards greater acceptance of their feelings and emotions, thereby combating symptoms of depression.
    • The advantages of client-centered therapy are that they help improve a person's self-concept, locus of evaluation, and experience of their world.


    1. Witty, M. C. (2007). Client-centered therapy. In Handbook of homework assignments in psychotherapy (pp. 35-50). Springer, Boston, MA.
    2. Rogers, C. R. (2013). Client-centered therapy. Curr Psychother, 95-150.
    3. Rossom, R. C., Solberg, L. I., Vazquez-Benitez, G., Crain, A. L., Beck, A., Whitebird, R., & Glasgow, R. E. (2016). The effects of patient-centered depression care on patient satisfaction and depression remission. Family practice, 33(6), 649–655.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Client Centered Therapy

    What is client-centered therapy in psychology?

    Client-centered therapy aims to help people strengthen personal authority over their own healing by promoting self-actualization and creating a safe and accepting space.

    What is the goal of client centered therapy?

    The goal of client-centered therapy is for the patient to grow in self-actualization. 

    What is client centered therapy used for?

    Client-centered therapy is used for several psychopathologies including depression, anxiety, phobia, grief, personality disorders, panic attacks, and even eating disorders. 

    What is Carl Roger's client-centered therapy?

    Carl Rogers believed that client-centered therapy should emphasize non-directiveness, actualizing tendency, and unconditional positive regard.

    Who developed client-centered therapy?

    Carl Ransom Rogers is considered the founder of client-centered therapy, marked by his work entitled Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942).

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What technique does Carl Rogers outline in his work entitled Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942)? 

    _______________ is the innate human desire and motivation to maintain and enhance themselves.  

    A client-centered therapist would allow a person to share freely their depressive thoughts and feelings, helping to ________ their experience.

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