The Person-Centered Approach, Techniques, Theory into Practice and Application

The Person-Centered Approach

This theory, which evolved from the work of Carl Rogers (1961), focuses on the “core conditions” of genuineness, empathy, positive regard, and concreteness that are essential to all helping relationships and the counseling process. Humans are characteristically positive, forward-moving, constructive, realistic, and trustworthy. Rogers also believes that people are aware, inner-directed, and moving toward self-actualization from the time they are born. Rogerian believe that self-actualization is the most prevalent and motivating drive of existence and it encompasses actions that influence the total person.

The person-centered theory stresses that each person is capable of finding personal meaning and purpose in life and that the self is an outgrowth of what a person experiences. Self-awareness helps a person differentiate herself or himself from others, but a person needs positive regard in her or his life for a healthy self to emerge. Positive regard is love, warmth, care, respect, and acceptance.

Through the counseling process, the client learns how to deal with and cope with situations. As the client begins to free herself or himself of defense mechanisms and past experiences, she or he approaches counseling with openness to self-exploration and self-awareness. Person-centered counseling assists the client to develop into a more mature, confident, and well-adapted decision-maker. The client embraces a more realistic sense of self, can adapt and recover quickly from situations, and is less stressed in her or his everyday events.


There are three different stages of application of the theory. The nondirective stage emphasizes the development of the relationship with the student by creating a permissive and nonintervention atmosphere that creates a climate of acceptance and clarification. The second stage is known as the reflective period. During this time the student with the counselor’s help tries to create non-threatening relationships in her or his life. 

The counselor concentrates on responding to the student’s feelings and reflects the underlying effect back to the student. During the third application, called the experimental stage, positive regard (acceptance) and congruence (genuineness) are emphasized. Other overall techniques that are used are active and passive listening, accurate reflection of thoughts and feelings, clarification, summarization, confrontation, and general and open-ended leads.

Theory into Practice

The person-centered approach works well when treating students who exhibit mild to moderate anxiety and adjustment and interpersonal disorders. This therapy requires the student to have a complete understanding of herself or himself and her or his experiences. Therefore, it may not work well with young children or students with learning or emotional disabilities. This approach can be effective in a relatively short time; however, behavioral change may also be short-term. The person-centered approach may address only sur- face issues and not challenge the student to explore deeper when the ultimate goal is to develop a long-lasting impact on the student.

Students with minor behavioral adjustments or mild anxiety, and older students who are just generally confused about their future direction, benefit from this approach; however, one criticism is that person-centered counseling may be too optimistic or perceived as a short-term solution for today’s complex societal issues.

Practical Application

Michael’s parents are going through a separation. Although Michael cannot remember a time in his 10 years when his parents were not arguing and fight- ing, he feels he is to blame and somehow he has contributed to the problem. Michael’s teacher asked you to talk with Michael. At least three times this week, Michael started to cry in class when corrected for small errors on homework or classwork. He also noticed that he does not seem to be hanging out with his friends as much in the lunchroom and on the playground.


Stone, C., & Dahir, C. A. (2015). The transformed school counselor. Cengage Learning.

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