The person-centered model was developed by Carl Rogers from the early 1940s. Rogers had training in the psychoanalytic tradition of Freud, although he departed from that initial training. Rogers’ approach stresses each person’s inherent drive towards self-actualisation. On this model, each of us is the expert of our own experience (McLeod, 2013). It is a humanistic and phenomenological modality.

Rogers was strongly influenced in his approach by the work of Otto Rank who had developed a humanistic view: that each human is driven to self-actualise and departing from one’s true self (or ‘organismic self’, as Rogers would label it) is the source of our anxiety. Here Maslow (1943) was also influential. 

Rogers’ self-actualising tendency is:
an inbuilt proclivity toward growth and fulfillment“.

(Yalom in Rogers, 1995:xi)

It is a fundamentally positive and hopeful view of human nature that sees the potential in everyone to grow and live their best life based on their own internal resources (i.e. not dependent on a third party).

Key principles

Rogers (1959) believed all of us have an underlying actualising tendency. For humans, this is the principle that we are motivated to develop capacity to grow, to be autonomous and to flourish (each in our own unique way).

The actualising tendency is towards becoming a fully functioning person.  This is not a static state – Rogers (1961) describes this as  where the organism continually aims to fulfil its full potential. He listed the characteristics of a fully functioning person:

  1. A growing openness to experience – the client’s defences are lowered.
  2. An increasingly existential lifestyle – living each moment fully.
  3. Increasing trust in their own judgment.
  4. Able to make a wider range of choices more fluently.
  5. They will feel more free to be creative.
  6. Acts constructively to maintain a balance between competing needs.
  7. Capable of describing life in richer, fuller terms including emotions.

This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be.”

(Rogers, 1961)

Rogers (1957) listed six ‘necessary and sufficient’ conditions for therapeutic growth. Three are generally identified as “core” to the person-centred model:

Crucial to the person-centred model is that the therapist be congruent (genuine). This is important so the counsellor does not introject their own value system on a client. It is also a vital component in developing and maintaining the trust: that by being open, a bond occurs in the relationship.

Another core condition is unconditional positive regard.  This is a disposition of the counsellor that there are no conditions of acceptance of the client; no feeling of “I like you only if you are thus and so” (Rogers, 1957). Clients need to feel safe to speak, to interpret and to re-interpret. This can only occur, on Rogers’ model, in a space in which the client does not feel judged and does not feel that the positive regard of the counsellor is contingent on perceived ‘appropriate responses’.

Further, the therapist must have empathetic understanding.  The therapist must be able to place themselves in the client’s view of the work both so that the client can feel connection and be understood.

More info

Guide by the BACP


Maslow, A. H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96

McLeod, J. (2013) An Introduction To Counselling, McGraw-Hill Education (UK)

Palmer, S. (2000) Introduction to Counselling and Psychotherapy: The Essential Guide. Sage

Rogers, C.R. (1951). Client-centered therapy; its current practice, implications, and theory. Oxford, England: Houghton Mifflin

Rogers, C.R. (1957) ‘The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change’, Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol. 21, pp. 95–103

Rogers, C.R. (1961) On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable

Rogers, C.R. (1995) A Way of Being, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Thorne, B. (2003) Carl Rogers, London: Sage Publications.