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Person-Centred Approach

What is the Person Centred Approach?

The Person Centred Approach (PCA) is an approach to human relationships which values attitudes such as not judging others, trying to understand the experiences of others from their point of view, and fully honouring the uniqueness of the individuals we meet in a genuine and heartfelt way. Perhaps most importantly, PCA places a high value on autonomy – that is, the right of a person to be self-governing, make their own decisions and follow their own path in life according to what feels right for them.

Originally developed as a humanistic approach to counselling individuals struggling with personal issues, known as Person Centred Therapy, the uses of PCA have been expanded to address problems in many other areas of human life. It has been used in a wide range of health and social care settings, such as nursing, teaching & education, working with the elderly, and in planning to care for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia in a humane and dignifying way. Other applications have been in business and management, conflict resolution and encouraging open and genuine communication within groups.

Why is PCA Important?

Person-centred approaches are important because they…

  • Value relationships based on dignity and respect for individuals.
  • Empower people to make informed choices that feel right for them.
  • Take a holistic approach that supports the well-being of the person as a whole (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually).
  • Value each person’s unique differences, abilities, needs, preferences, beliefs, interests, ethnicity and cultural background.
  • Foster supportive relationships in which individuals can feel listened to, accepted and positively valued.

Development of the Person-Centred Approach

The development of the Person Centred Approach began in America in the 1940’s with the work of Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and others. Dissatisfied with the mainstream psychological theories of the day, this pioneering group began to formulate a psychology based on humanistic values. Rogers and his colleagues were interested in improving the quality of human life and concerned themselves with questions of how we grow and develop, find meaning in experience, deal with distress, foster loving, supportive relationships and lead more fulfilling lives. These developments, which became known as ‘Humanistic Psychology’, influenced a number of approaches to counselling and psychotherapy. Perhaps the most widely practiced of these today is Person Centred Therapy.

Carl Rogers, one of the leading founders of Humanistic Psychology, is one of the most influential figures in the world of counselling and psychotherapy. The model of counselling which he developed, known as Person Centred Therapy (PCT), was informed by the many thousands of hours he spent listening to his clients, and the many research projects he and his colleagues undertook to determine the aspects of counselling relationships that were most effective in creating positive therapeutic change.

PCT differs from other counselling approaches in that it places the client at the centre of the therapeutic process (it was originally called client-centred therapy) rather than the knowledge and expertise of the therapist. In this humanistic approach, clients are regarded as possessing within themselves the potential resources for growth and development required to overcome difficulties, and the natural capacities needed to develop their own pathways to living more fulfilling lives. PCT allows clients to progress at their own pace and in their own unique way, enabling them to be more accepting and embracing of they who are, be more authentically themselves, and ultimately enhance their quality of life and effectiveness in the world (in academic terms this is referred to as ‘self actualization’).

A person-centred counsellor’s role is to provide the therapeutic conditions in which this process of change can occur. Using the skills and attitudes that Rogers and his colleagues determined to be the most effective in facilitating lasting therapeutic change, such as attentive listening, empathy, being non-judgemental, and holding a positive belief in each individual’s unique capacities for growth and change, the counsellor forms with the client a warm, safe and trusting relationship in which effective therapy can take place.

Having successfully established the effectiveness of PCT through large-scale research studies, Rogers began to explore the ways in which his theories could be applied in other areas. Beginning in the 1950’s, the conditions for effective growth-promoting relationships were applied to fields such as education (student-centred learning), marriage, groups and leadership, business, health & social care and conflict resolution (for which Rogers received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1987). This wider use of Humanistic Psychology and PCT became known as the Person Centred Approach (PCA). Today it is widely used in counselling and psychotherapy and in developing health and social care policies, as well as by people who use PCA in their day-to-day lives to enhance their relationships and general well-being.