What is Person Centered Theory

Carl Rogers, developed person-centered therapy in the 1940s, as a reaction against psychoanalytic therapy. Person-centered therapy emphasizes the client’s resources for becoming self-aware. It also challenged ideas such as the counselor knows best. In addition, it is hoped that the clients realize their potential for growth, wholeness, spontaneity, and inter-directedness. Further, it is not the therapist who primarily brings on the change. That responsibility rests with the client (Corey, 2009).


Person-centered theory is based on the positive view of humanity that sees people as innately striving towards becoming whole. Carl Rogers believed that with a proper client/relationship, meaning, authentic, caring, nonjudgmental, and empathic, along with the establishment of trust, clients would be able to understand themselves. Further, clients would be able to resolve their own problems.

If the client is figuring out his or her own problems, then where does the counselor come in? The counselor’s role in person-centered theory is to focus on the client’s strengths. A positive asset search could be done. Further, the counselor needs to create an environment that will allow the client to explore their thoughts, emotions, etc. The environment is an essential piece to this therapy (Corey, 2009).


It could be suggested that because of the nature of person-centered therapy, it would be suitable for high school students and students in post secondary education. The client should be capable of setting his or her own goals (Corey, 2009). Person-centered therapy is extremely dependent on the relationship between the client and counselor; as a result it will probably not be very effective with very young children. Further, it takes a special person to develop true empathy for children. Children, because of their sensitivity, are experts at detecting a lack of sincerity or genuineness. As a result, active listening skills are an extremely crucial component of this therapy, even more so when working with children (Bates, 2003).

However, sometimes people just need someone to talk to, especially high school kids. In person-centered theory, the client does much more talking than the counselor does. As a result, it can be hypothesized that for this reason, person-centered therapy would be great for high school kids, and/or college kids.


If, for example, a student came to see the counselor because they someone was spreading very degrading rumors about them. The counselor might ask the student explain what is going on. After the student/client tells the story, the counselor can pull out some feeling words, and also ask clarifying questions to make sure he/she understands the story correctly.  The counselor would then paraphrase the story, and include the client’s emotions within. This might encourage the student to tell more about the rumors that were spreading about them, perhaps theories about who may have started them, etc. The counselor might then help the client sort through, and discuss his/her emotions. Lastly, the counselor should do a check out, and summarize the session, this helps ensure that the counselor fully understands the client’s story, and that his/her observations are accurate, and also helps the client with any reservations he/she might have. In other words, it is a great way to tie any loose ends, at the end of a session. 

Social Concerns

In our society, emotions are something that is rarely discussed. When people ask, “How are you doing?” we give the generic “Fine!” instead of going into detail about how we really are.  When people are shedding tears, we think something is wrong. Crying is not something that is usually thought of in the process of healing. This particular therapy goes against society’s norms.

In addition, people go to a counselor because they want help making a decision, or they have a complication in their life. Because of the media, many people have it in their head that counselors give advice, and magically make problems go away. This could not be further from the truth. The counselors’ use of this theory will require superb listen skills. In addition, the client will be doing most of the talking, while the counselor reflects upon, and clarifies what the client has said. It could be suggested that this is not the public perception of counseling, and as a result, could potentially be problematic. 

Cultural Concerns

“Multiculturalism is more than an emphasis on techniques; the focus must always be on the competence in an effective therapeutic relationship, which will be assessed differently in each cultural context” (Glauser and Bozarth, 2001, p. 144). It could be hypothesized that person-centered therapy lacks cultural concerns, provided that the counselor has the skills necessary to carry out an effective session. The underlying philosophy of person-centered theory is rooted by the importance of hearing the deeper messages of individuals. “Each individual is complex, dynamic, and unique, calling for individual manifestations of the postulates of the relationship and client resources as put forward by Rogers a generation ago and affirmed by psychotherapy outcome research” (Glauser and Bozarth, 2001, p. 146). The counselor should display empathy, and respect the values of the client. Most importantly, the counselor should not let personal cultural biases get in the way of conducting an effective session.  

The concepts of person-centered therapy possess value when working in a multicultural context because the core concepts are considered to be universal, regardless of the client’s cultural background (Corey, 2009). As previously mentioned, person-centered therapy allows the client to tell their story, reflect on it, etc., with the guidance of a counselor. As a result, the client’s story is already rooted with their cultural beliefs, and norms. This makes person-centered therapy an effective therapy for people of many diverse cultures, without cultural concerns.

Legal Concerns

First, when it comes to any type of counseling theory or therapy confidentiality is always a legal concern. Because of the nature of person-centered theory, it is imperative that everything that is said and heard stays in the room in which the session was conducted, and is not repeated. Further, the counselor should refrain from taking excessive notes, as notes can be subpoenaed, should the client find themselves dealing with legal matters.

There are also concerns about the limits of confidentiality when working with today’s youth. “One of the difficulties in balancing parental and child rights is the lack of specific guidance in law, ethical codes, and social standards” (Mitchell, Disque, & Robertson, 2002, p. 157). Though it should be noted however, that there is a difference between the parents’ right to information and their child’s progress in counseling and the right to access their child’s records. In most cases, parents are entitled to general information about their child’s progress. “Although minor clients have an ethical right to privacy and confidentiality in the counseling relationship, the law still favors the rights of parents over their children” (Corey, Corey, & Callahan, 2003).

Secondly, since the application of this theory in a school counseling session is the topic of interest, there can be some concerns raised about whether children can consent to treatment and counseling without the consent of their parents. “Most states require parental consent before a child can begin counseling” (Bates, 2003, p. 2).

Ethical Concerns

It is important for counselors to remember that person-centered theory is based on the client, their story, their feelings, etc. Therefore, it is crucial that the counselor keeps any personal values and biases to themselves, and not let them show during the session.

In fact, it could be suggested that the limitations of person-centered therapy, lies in the hands of the counselor, and their ability or lack of it offer their clients the necessary environment for change and development (Connolly, 2006). Further, the counselor should not practice in any areas of therapy in which they have not received sufficient training (Bates, 2003).


Carl Rogers believed that counselors should be the experts in developing the therapeutic relationship; however he also believed that clients should direct the interview. Person-centered therapy does just that. It allows the client to take over the session, and take it wherever he/she feels it needs to go.

This theory is unique in that it does not have a lot of techniques. As a result, active listening skills, displayed by the counselor are imperative for this theory to be effective. However, when done correctly, person-centered theory can be considered the core of what therapeutic counselor should and could be.


Bates, K. (2003, September). Connecting with Kids. Newsletter of the Delaware Technical & Community College, 1(1). 

Connolly, P. (2006). An ethical way of being: Implications of the person-centered approach. Retrieved from http://www.openoog.com/eth.html

Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

Corey, G., Corey, M.S., & Callahan, P. (2003). Issues & Ethics in the helping Professions. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Glauser, A. S., & Bozarth, J. D. (2001, Spring). Person-centered counseling: The culture within. Journal of Counseling & Development, 79, 142-147.

Mitchell, C.W., Disque, J.G., & Robertson, P. (2002). When Parents Want to Know: Responding to Parental Demands for Confidential Information.

Professional School Counseling, 6(2), 156-161.