History of person-centred counselling

The person-centred counselling 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. Importantly, Rogers’ approach stresses each person’s inherent drive towards self-actualisation. This means that each of us is the expert of our own experience (McLeod, 2013), so it is a humanistic approach.

Rogers was strongly influenced in his approach by the work of Otto Rank who had developed a humanistic view. This means that each human is driven to self-actualise and departing from one’s true self is the source of our anxiety. Here Maslow (1943) was also influential, famous for his hierarchy of needs. 

The aim of counselling

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 (Rogers, 1961):

  • A growing openness to experience – defences are lowered.
  • An increasingly existential lifestyle – living each moment fully.
  • Increasing trust in their own judgment.
  • Able to make a wider range of choices more fluently.
  • They will feel more free to be creative.
  • Acts constructively to maintain a balance between competing needs.
  • 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)

The person-centred counselling approach

Rogers (1957) listed ‘necessary and sufficient’ conditions for therapeutic growth. Three are generally identified as “core”:

  1. The therapist be congruent (genuine). This is important so the counsellor does not impose their own value system.
  2. Unconditional positive regard.  You need to feel safe to speak, to interpret and to re-interpret. This can only occur in a space where you don’t feel judged.
  3. The therapist must have empathetic understanding.  The therapist must be able to place themselves in the client’s view so that the client can feel connection and be understood.

More info

Guide by the BACP

Carina Badger, April 2022


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.

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