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Person-centered therapy: definition, goal, techniques, uses, and effectivity

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Person-centered therapy: definition, goal, techniques, uses, and effectivity

Person-centered therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on supporting the client to gain self-knowledge, cultivate self-acceptance, increase their sense of self-worth, and achieve their highest potential. It is a non-directive form of therapy where the client is allowed to direct the course of therapy. The counselor creates a safe and supportive environment that encourages self-expression and demonstrates attitudes of empathy, understanding, absolute acceptance of, and respect for the client and their internal experiences.

The primary goal of person-centered therapy is to empower clients to discover the solutions to their problems themselves by helping them gain self-knowledge, develop self-worth, inculcate self-acceptance, and initiate an intrinsically motivated journey of self-growth to reach their highest potential.

The techniques used in person-centered therapy include forming a strong therapeutic alliance, encouraging the client to explore and reflect on their thought processes and belief systems, allowing them to take the lead during a session, listening actively and non-judgmentally, and acting as a sounding board.

The uses of person-centered therapy include helping a client not suited to other forms of psychotherapy, encouraging them to process negative thoughts, empowering them to reach their highest potential, helping them cope with daily stressors, supporting the treatment of or reducing the symptoms of psychiatric disorders, aiding addiction treatment, and supplementing mental healthcare efforts in low-resource environments.

Person-centered therapy is effective in treating addiction if it is delivered along with evidence-based therapies, such as motivational enhancement therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. Person-centered therapy supports addiction treatment by improving the mental health and emotional well-being of the client, making them more resilient, enhancing their sense of self-worth, and helping them discover an innate source of strength that empowers them to make lasting positive change.

What is person-centered therapy?

A man sitting with a therapist

Person-centered therapy, also known as client-centered therapy, is a form of psychotherapy where the sessions are structured to support the client’s self-discovery and actualization in response to the counselor’s demonstration of attitudes of empathy, understanding, absolute acceptance of, and respect for the client and their internal experiences.

According to this definition of “client-centered therapy” in the APA Dictionary of Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association and updated on 15 November 2023, the counselor creates a safe and supportive environment that promotes self-growth and change by paraphrasing and reflecting on the words of the client and allowing the latter to frame their own conclusions about themselves. Person-centered therapy is a non-directive therapy where the counselor takes the backseat and allows the client to direct the course of the therapy by processing their emotions, resolving conflicting thoughts, reorganizing themselves, and recalibrating their perceptions about life, by themselves.

Who developed person-centered therapy?

Carl Ransom Rogers (1902-1987) developed person-centered therapy in the early 1940s. Rogers is regarded as one of the founding fathers of humanistic psychology. He did his Ph.D in clinical psychology at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. While working on his doctoral research, he worked as a therapist at the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. According to this short biography by the American Psychological Association created in June 2021, titled “Carl Rogers, PhD,” Rogers’ work here laid the groundwork for the conceptualization and development of his person-centered therapy.

Carl Rogers was instrumental in promoting and popularizing person-centered therapy. He worked with the United Service Organization to develop programs to educate and train others to perform person-centered therapy. This was after World War II when there was an increase in the need for counseling services. Rogers’ program enabled the United States to train clinical psychologists within a short period and press them into service.

What are the other names for person-centered therapy?

The other names for person-centered therapy are Rogerian therapy, client-centered therapy, and non-directive therapy. Carl Rogers initially referred to his theory as non-directive therapy because the clients lead the session instead of the counselor directing the discussion.

According to a 2023 release by Lucy Yao and Rian Kabir published in StatPearls, titled “Person-Centered Therapy (Rogerian Therapy),” clients know best how to create their lives and have a strong and intrinsic motivation to realize their maximum potential. They are the experts in their life.

Person-centered therapy is firmly focused on the client, hence the name client-centered therapy. Using the word “client” instead of “patient” is deliberate, according to author G.C. Smith in the chapter titled “Psychotherapy” in the book Encyclopedia of Stress (Second Edition) published in 2007. The word “client” reflects the autonomy of the individual going through the therapy and conveys the idea that they do not need to be fixed.

What is the primary goal of person-centered therapy?

A young African American girl going through psychotherapy session.

The primary goal of person-centered therapy is to empower clients to discover the solutions to their problems themselves by helping them develop self-worth and move toward a higher level of self-actualization, according to this 2014 article by Avinash De Sousa published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research, titled “Client Centered Therapy – a review.” The counselor does not establish specific goals. They facilitate the client to define and clarify their own goals.

Carl Rogers was a humanistic psychologist, and the primary goal of person-centered therapy is based on the core principles of humanistic psychology. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology published by the American Psychological Association, updated on 19 April 2018, humanistic psychology believes that individuals are innately motivated to reach their highest potential and that they have the inner resources necessary to make the choices that best serve their needs and aspirations.

According to a 2023 release by Lucy Yao and Rian Kabir published in StatPearls, titled “Person-Centered Therapy (Rogerian Therapy), person-centered therapy is grounded in the belief that clients are the experts in their life and have an innate knowledge of what works for them. They just have to be encouraged to go on a journey of self-discovery and start believing in their worth.

What are the techniques used in person-centered therapy?

A woman therapist and a woman talking.

The techniques used in person-centered therapy are listed below.

  • Forming a strong therapeutic alliance: According to this 2012 article by Boontarika Narknisorn published in the Journal of Social and Developmental Sciences, titled “Person-Centered Therapy and Personal Growth,” the quality of the therapeutic alliance between the counselor and the client is the most powerful component that determines the latter’s personal growth. The stronger and more positive the bond between the two, the more the client feels encouraged to open up and share their experiences and innermost thoughts and emotions. According to this 2014 article by Avinash De Sousa published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research, titled “Client Centered Therapy – a review,” the therapeutic relationship is founded on the counselor’s attitudes of genuine empathy, respect, and unconditional acceptance rather than their knowledge of theories and techniques.
  • Encouraging self-exploration: According to De Sousa (2014), the counselor encourages the client to explore their psyche by acknowledging and embracing their varied emotions, feeling their feelings intensely, and accepting the conflicting thoughts and beliefs they harbor. The client is encouraged to embark on a journey of self-discovery where they uncover unconscious negative thoughts and experience deeply traumatic feelings they had suppressed because those felt overwhelming or did not align with their sense of identity or morality. This process of self-exploration helps clients come to terms with and integrate within their psyche the thoughts and feelings they had previously denied or distorted.
  • Allowing the client to lead the therapy: In his book On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy published in 1961, author and psychologist Carl Rogers says that the client knows their hurts, the problems that are crippling them, their deep-seated traumas, and the direction they want to take. So, person-centered therapy follows a non-directive approach where the client is allowed to lead the therapy in the direction they want to, establish their own goals, and become the person they choose to be. The counselor does not ask directive questions or offer advice. They do not interrupt or interfere when the client speaks. They do not try to divert the free outpouring of words. The counselor, however, provides clarifications if the client asks questions.
  • Listening actively: In active listening, the intent of the counselor is to understand the client, not to respond to, control, or direct the free flow of speech. According to Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson in their book Active Listening originally published in 1957, active or sensitive listening facilitates positive changes in a client’s attitude toward themselves and others. Being heard and understood is a profoundly healing experience that softens their defenses and encourages them to become less rigid in their values and open up to new experiences. The change in the way they perceive other people and the specific circumstances in their life facilitates improved interpersonal relationships and promotes enhanced coping abilities. Active listening entails listening for total meaning, acknowledging the feelings of the client with appropriate verbal utterances or gestures, and noticing non-verbal cues like breathing, posture, hand and eye movements, and the inflection of their voice.
  • Acting as a sounding board: The counselor acts as a sounding board to the client by restating or paraphrasing in their own words what the latter says during therapy. As the counselor repeats the words of the client, the latter has the opportunity to edit the words, clarify their meaning, decide if they are being realistic, or just reflect on the emotions hidden behind those words. This exercise allows the client to gain greater clarity about their emotional states and how their thoughts dictate their responses. According to De Sousa (2014), the counselor does not merely parrot the words of the client. They restate the words of the client with the genuine intent to understand accurately the latter’s internal frame of reference.
  • Listening non-judgmentally: Listening non-judgmentally means accepting the client unconditionally and for what they truly are. The counselor refrains from criticizing or passing negative judgments even if the client’s beliefs and behaviors are unacceptable to them in other contexts. According to Marjorie Cross Witty in the chapter titled “Client-Centered Therapy” in the Handbook of Homework Assignments in Psychotherapy published in January 2007, the counselor in person-centered therapy abandons the ordinary, human discriminating mindset and spontaneously and sincerely exhibits a warm, caring, and accepting attitude toward the client as they meet the latter in their personal and hitherto private world of meanings.

What are the key concepts of person-centered therapy?

A man having Psychotherapy session.

The key concepts of person-centered therapy are listed below.

  • Self-actualization: Person-centered therapy is built around the proposition that humans have a self-actualizing tendency, according to Marjorie Cross Witty in the chapter titled “Client-Centered Therapy” in the Handbook of Homework Assignments in Psychotherapy published in January 2007. Individuals are fundamentally motivated to reach their highest potential and strive to do so even under unfavorable circumstances. They know what is best for them, how to attain their best, and what is holding them back from achieving their full potential. According to this 2014 article by Avinash De Sousa published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research, titled “Client Centered Therapy – a review,” they have the capacity for self-direction and enforcing positive personal transformation. They are being held back from doing so by external circumstances, such as dysfunctional relationships and financial instability, and/or their internal frame of reference, such as lack of self-worth and/or self-acceptance. The concept of self-actualization is the premise for the non-directive approach of person-centered therapy.
  • Unconditional positive regard: Unconditional positive regard is manifested as spontaneous, radical, and total acceptance of the client as they are and perceiving them as a person of value. This attitude of acceptance should persist even in the face of client behavior and beliefs that the counselor does not approve of (Witty, 2007). The counselor must communicate their attitude of acceptance to the client through their words and/or behavior. The behavioral manifestations on the part of the counselor include assuring the client that they are free to feel or behave as they want to; not commenting negatively or harshly on the latter’s words, beliefs, and actions; and acting as a source of positive reinforcement. According to this 2018 article by Farber et al., published in the journal Psychotherapy, titled “Positive regard and psychotherapy outcome: A meta-analytic review,” positive regard is a critical component of a strong and positive therapeutic relationship and a key predictor of therapy outcome. However, it must be remembered that unconditional positive regard does not constitute approval of all behaviors demonstrated by the client (De Sousa, 2014).
  • Congruence: Congruence implies an inner state of being where the experience of a person accurately matches their awareness. In the context of person-centered therapy, the term implies that the counselor is exhibiting genuine, authentic, and integrated behavior during the therapy session. They do not portray a false front or “play a role.” Instead, the counselor’s inner experience matches their outer expression. For instance, the unconditional positive regard that they feel toward their clients is evident from their responses and gestures (De Sousa, 2014). Counselor congruence conveys to the client the qualities of sincerity, care, respect, and authenticity, and they feel they are in the presence of a person, not someone who is playing a professional role (Witty, 2007). According to this 2020 article by Natri Sutanti published in the Journal of Professionals in Guidance and Counseling, titled “Understanding congruence in person-centred counselling practice: A trainee counsellor’s perspective,” the counselor’s congruence is a significant determinant of the client’s positive personal growth.
  • Empathic understanding: The concept of empathic understanding implies that the counselor strives to understand accurately the client’s internal frame of reference. The counselor leaves their world of knowledge, beliefs, and prejudices, enters the private world of the client with its own set of meanings, and develops a sense of personal identification with the client. As Carl R. Rogers mentions in his book A Way of Being, originally published in 1980, the counselor strives to sense the subjective world of the client, especially their here-and-now experiences, what emotional meaning they impart to these experiences, and how these meanings change from one moment to another. A high degree of empathy is more than being able to sense obvious feelings. It entails being able to intuit the feelings that the client is scarcely aware of or hardly experiencing (De Sousa, 2014).

What are the uses of person-centered therapy?

The uses of person-centered therapy are listed below.

  • Helping a client not suited to other forms of psychotherapy: Person-centered therapy helps people who are not suited to or unwilling to undergo other forms of therapy, such as psychoanalysis or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). For instance, clients choose not to undergo CBT because they lack the time or energy to do homework assignments, which are an integral part of CBT. According to this 2023 release by Lucy Yao and Rian Kabir published in StatPearls, titled “Person-Centered Therapy (Rogerian Therapy),” clients hesitate to go through psychoanalysis because they are uncomfortable processing the deep-seated emotions that are unearthed during these sessions. Person-centered therapy allows these clients to address their mental health issues or deal with stressors in their lives in a way that is convenient and acceptable to them.
  • Helping clients process negative or maladaptive thoughts: In person-centered therapy, the counselor does not seek to channel the conversation in another direction. They do not interrupt or interfere with the client as the latter reveals their inner world, and in the process, goes through a process of honest self-exploration. The counselor seeks to maximize a client’s understanding of themselves by answering their questions or doubts without advising. During a session, the counselor often reflects on and restates the words of the client to understand their thoughts and motivations. When they hear their words repeated to them, the client is able to reflect on their meaning. They gain clarity about their behavioral and thought patterns or discover the unconscious or subconscious motivations powering their actions. Thus, negative or maladaptive thoughts are brought to consciousness by the clients themselves. Awareness triggers them to process these negative thoughts in a safe and supportive environment and replace them with healthy thinking patterns.
  • Maximizing a client’s ability to make positive changes: By creating a non-judgmental environment that supports honest self-expression, the counselor helps the client gain insights into their emotional world and intrinsic motivations. With this awareness, the client is able to formulate solutions or make decisions that are in their best interest. By being a source of positive reinforcement, the counselor boosts the self-esteem of the client. The client becomes confident about taking charge of their lives and relying on their feelings and emotions to make judgments. When clients are aware of what drives them and how to heal themselves or solve their problems, they are able to make lasting and impactful positive changes.
  • Helping a client cope with daily stressors: The objective of person-centered therapy is not to diagnose an underlying mental health issue or bring about a deep transformation in the personality of the client. Instead, the counselor empowers the client to cope with daily stressors by helping them gain greater self-knowledge and develop an increased understanding of how they fare in their interpersonal relationships. Dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, workplace problems, concerns about a physical injury or a chronic health problem, and/or financial hardships are daily stressors that contribute to or exacerbate an existing mental health condition. Feeling overwhelmed by daily stressors also impairs an individual’s ability to function productively. Coping with daily stressors involves tweaking maladaptive thoughts, changing one’s perspective to discover the positive aspects of a grim situation or re-viewing a setback as a learning experience, recalibrating expectations to align with reality, enhancing self-esteem, and setting boundaries and engaging in honest self-expression in the context of interpersonal relationships. The counselor does not seek to interpret the behavior of the client or unearth hidden motives or deep-seated traumas driving the latter’s responses because the client is seeking immediate solutions.
  • Reducing the symptoms of psychiatric disorders: Yao and Kabir (2023) in their article refer to several studies that suggest non-directive counseling approaches like person-centered therapy being able to reduce or improve the symptoms of psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In adults with depression aged above 50 years, person-centered therapy was effective in reducing depressive symptoms, and the effects lasted for at least six months. However, the authors caution that person-centered therapy was found to be as effective as CBT at six months but not at 12 months. So, it needs to be provided continuously to produce enduring benefits. Trauma treatment research has repeatedly shown that there are fewer dropouts when person-centered therapy is used for PTSD treatment compared to other therapies. The authors suggest that person-centered therapy is a viable treatment option in low-resource settings where there is a lack of highly-trained mental healthcare personnel to deliver technical forms of psychotherapies to address PTSD. However, person-centered therapy should not be considered as a substitute for medication in severe psychiatric cases like bipolar disorder.
  • Supporting addiction treatment: Person-centered therapy supports addiction treatment by promoting indirect benefits like easing emotional distress, a key factor that contributes to the development of addiction and triggers relapse, and helping the client adopt alternative and healthier coping mechanisms. The techniques implemented in person-centered therapy aim to increase the client’s sense of self-worth and acceptance, so they are motivated to make lasting positive changes to remain drug-free.
  • Providing mental health services in low-resource environments: Carl Rogers said that the abilities of the counselor and their experiential training are more crucial to the success of person-centered therapy than intellectual knowledge. This makes person-centered therapy easy to deliver in low-resource environments, such as mental healthcare settings in rural communities where there is a scarcity of trained professionals to provide rigorous and technical psychotherapy (Yao and Kabir, 2023).

Who performs person-centered therapy?

A woman psychotherapist

Person-centered therapy is performed by a trained and qualified psychotherapist. However, Carl Rogers clarifies that the counselor does not need to possess any specialized knowledge because they are not required to make a precise psychological diagnosis, according to this 2014 article by Avinash De Sousa published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research, titled “Client Centered Therapy – a review.”

In person-centered therapy, the attitudes of the counselor, namely those of empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard for the client, are more important than theoretical knowledge. The aim of therapy is to establish a positive and strong therapeutic relationship grounded in trust, acceptance, and respect; it is not merely about implementing techniques.

What is the counselor’s role in person-centered therapy?

The counselor’s role in person-centered therapy is to create a safe and supportive environment for the client to reveal their inner world and express and explore their deepest thoughts and emotions–positive or negative–without any fear of being bullied, ridiculed, or rejected. Besides playing the role of a facilitator who encourages honest self-expression, the counselor also acts as a sounding board by summarizing and re-stating what the client says. This allows the client to reflect on their words and emotions and discover for themselves what is holding them back or how their distorted sense of self and/or reality is sabotaging their life. The counselor helps the client gain deeper insight into their emotional state and core drives by clarifying their queries.

According to this 2014 article by Avinash De Sousa published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research, titled “Client Centered Therapy – a review,” the counselor’s role in person-centered therapy is not to play any role. They do this by adhering to and demonstrating the Rogerian concepts of unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence. They interact with the client on a “person-to-person” basis by shedding their persona of being an expert and allowing the client to lead the therapy. They also shed their prejudices and notions of right and wrong and enter the private world of their clients where the meanings are different and in some instances, not appropriate or moral by conventional constructs. The counselor listens actively and tries to understand the client’s perspective, emotional state, and inner motivations. Their role is to identify with their client’s inner experiences, hold a place of high regard and unconditional acceptance for the client, and demonstrate congruence by expressing these attitudes in their demeanor, words, tone of voice, and body language.

Is person-centered therapy effective in treating addiction?

A woman therapist in a session with a young girl.

Yes, person-centered therapy is effective in treating addiction if it is delivered concurrently with evidence-based therapies, such as motivational enhancement therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. By combining therapies, it is possible to provide a holistic treatment with sustainable benefits. For instance, if the non-directive approach of person-centered therapy fails to promote significant and impactful positive transformation in the client, utilizing a more directive counseling approach will generate the desired results.

This 2003 article by Brands et al., published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, titled “Impact of Methadone Program Philosophy Changes on Early Treatment Outcomes,” refers to a case study where incorporating the basic principles of person-centered therapy in a methadone maintenance treatment program showed a significant decline in the use of illicit drugs in the first six months of treatment. This program was earlier focused on eliminating substance abuse in the participants. Then the program altered its philosophy to a more person-centered approach. The participants in the program were allowed to provide input on how much methadone they wanted to be prescribed, an approach that is based on the Rogerian principle that clients know best what works for them and thus, should be permitted to direct their course of treatment. The program decided to retain individuals even when they continued to use illicit drugs, an approach that demonstrates an attitude of absolute acceptance and genuine empathy. However, this example does not conclusively prove that person-centered therapy in isolation is capable of treating addiction because, after six months of treatment, there was a significant reduction in the use of opioids and benzodiazepines but not cocaine.

How does person-centered therapy work in addiction treatment?

Person-centered therapy works in addiction treatment by conferring several indirect benefits. These benefits improve mental health and well-being and work to build resilience in the client, improve their sense of self-worth, and help them discover and activate the inner resources that prime them to make positive and lasting change.

According to this 2008 article by Rajita Sinha published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, titled “Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction,” chronic stress is a significant risk factor in the development of addiction and triggering relapse.

A key reason for emotional distress is the incongruence between the client’s perception of their self, their notion of an ideal self that they feel compelled to attain, and their experiences related to themselves in their physical reality, according to this 2014 article by Avinash De Sousa published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research, titled “Client Centered Therapy – a review.” This incongruence is rooted in unprocessed trauma, rigid negative thoughts and beliefs, and a distorted perception of reality and manifests as unrealistic expectations from oneself and others, low self-esteem, and a belief that they are unable to take charge of their lives.

The mere act of confiding in a caring, non-judgmental, and empathic person–the counselor–imparts significant therapeutic benefits by calming the client and soothing their emotional distress.

Additionally, person-centered therapy works in addiction treatment by allowing the client to explore, reflect on, and process their thoughts and feelings and gain insights. With these insights, they are able to reorganize their sense of self, recalibrate their perception of reality by shedding rigid beliefs and dogmas about what “should be,” and regain their lost sense of self-esteem. They are thus able to identify alternative and healthier coping mechanisms and feel positive about taking charge of their lives and making lasting and impactful changes to sustain sobriety.

What does a person-centered therapy session for addiction treatment look like?

A person-centered therapy session for addiction treatment looks like an easy-going and relaxed conversation between two individuals where the client does most of the talking and the counselor does not play the role of the expert. The counselor does not establish any agenda or goals for therapy and instead remains mostly silent, letting the client lead the therapy by choosing what they want to talk about and setting their own therapy goals. They listen actively and convey their genuine and warm curiosity with appropriate gestures and short utterances. Often, the counselor acts as a sounding board and re-states what the client says to clarify the latter’s point of view, express empathy, and convey to them that they have been heard and understood.

A person-centered therapy session for addiction treatment looks different than directive and dynamic psychotherapy sessions, such as psychoanalysis or cognitive-behavioral therapy. The counselor does not try to direct the therapy by asking probing questions. They demonstrate absolute acceptance by not passing judgment on the client’s choices, feelings, coping mechanisms, and/or their failure to remain sober. The counselor does not provide advice or offer solutions because the client is regarded as an autonomous person who is an expert in their life and capable of managing it appropriately. They do not attempt to interpret the client’s actions or decipher the inner motives behind their addiction. There is no change talk because the counselor does not try to convince the client that they are wrong or that they need to stop using drugs.

According to Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson in their book Active Listening originally published in 1957, active listening and conveying the attitudes of absolute acceptance and empathy by the counselor prevent awkward or aggressive attempts by the client to defend themselves or their choices or deny their experiences. So, there is no confrontation, and the client gains adequate trust in the counselor to feel encouraged to carry on with the conversation.

What are the benefits of person-centered therapy in addiction recovery?

A male sitting and holding his head in a Person-centered therapy.

Person-centered therapy supports addiction treatment indirectly. The benefits of person-centered therapy in addiction recovery are listed below.

  • Strong therapeutic alliance: Forming a strong therapeutic alliance is one of the cornerstones of providing person-centered therapy. According to this discussion paper by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and presented at the sixty-seventh session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in February 2024, titled “The relationship between person-centred care for substance use disorders and service outcomes: A systematic scoping review,” a robust therapeutic alliance is a strong predictor of positive addiction treatment outcome. There is strong evidence that there is a small direct benefit during the initial phase of the treatment and considerable indirect benefits in the long run when treatment is continued beyond six months. A strong therapeutic alliance promotes greater self-efficacy and increased motivation for driving positive change.
  • Cultivation of healthier coping mechanisms: Addiction is often a response to deep-seated and suppressed emotional trauma. The safe and supportive environment created by the counselor for the client to explore their feelings, the therapeutic bond shared between them and the client, and their attitudes of empathy, and unconditional positive regard encourage the latter to open up and reveal their emotional scars and repressed pain. Being able to express oneself freely is an integral part of addiction recovery. As they explore and process their feelings and motivations from a place of self-acceptance and high self-regard, clients gain greater clarity about what works for them and what holds them back. They develop alternative and healthier coping mechanisms that decrease their chances of relapsing.
  • Increased self-acceptance: The non-judgmental and empathic attitude of the counselor conveys to the client that their addiction issues do not stem from a moral flaw. This is profoundly healing because addicts often face societal stigma and are judged harshly even by their loved ones. Being accepted unconditionally by the counselor with whom they have formed a strong bond allows the client to accept themselves and consider themselves worthy of love and respect.
  • Increased self-worth: According to this 1993 article by Donna M. White published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing, titled “Treatment of the Addicted Client Utilizing Rogerian Theory,” addicted individuals are often found to exhibit feelings of hopelessness that stem from diminished self-worth. These feelings fuel relapses. Multiple episodes of relapse further erode self-esteem. The Rogerian principle of establishing a strong therapeutic alliance based on unconditional positive regard that is at the core of person-centered therapy helps an addicted individual regain their lost self-esteem. Taking the lead during a therapy session and exercising the freedom to set therapy goals also boost their sense of self-worth by making them realize that they have it in them to manage and direct their lives.
  • Sustained sobriety: As the client explores their inner worlds and listens to their thoughts as re-stated or summarized by the counselor, they identify their maladaptive coping mechanisms and the negative thoughts and beliefs that do not align with reality. They discover strengths and a sense of purpose they did not know they possessed. These valuable nuggets of self-knowledge coupled with an enhanced sense of self-worth motivate them to change. This motivation to change is evoked from within the psyche of the client and is more powerful than when it is given to them by the counselor. So, their chances of relapsing decrease and they are able to sustain their sobriety.
  • Prevention of re-traumatization: The non-directive nature of person-centered therapy entails that the client with the addiction problem is not required to reveal or talk about traumatic events from their past. The empathy, genuine curiosity, and non-judgmental attitude demonstrated by the counselor ensure that there is no confrontation during the sessions. This prevents the client from being re-traumatized. They are thus motivated to attend therapy sessions.
  • Improved interpersonal relationships: Expectations, both from oneself and from others, which do not align with reality; blurred personal boundaries; and an inability to express their needs or define their limits are a few reasons why interpersonal relationships turn dysfunctional. Improvements in interpersonal relationships follow when the client’s greater sense of self-acceptance translates into increased sincere acceptance of others. Interpersonal relationships also improve when the client is able to shed their guard, communicate their needs, and reveal their vulnerabilities and insecurities. Improved interpersonal relationships support addiction treatment by acting as a source of support for the client.
  • Effortless integration with other treatment modalities: Person-centered therapy allows for easy integration with other types of therapy, such as CBT, motivational enhancement therapy, family therapy, and group therapy. This allows mental health practitioners to implement a holistic and effective treatment plan that encompasses the benefits of all modalities.

What are the disadvantages of person-centered therapy in treating addiction?

A young woman with curly hair with a therapist.

The disadvantages of person-centered therapy in treating addiction are listed below.

  • Unsuited to addicted individuals who are not motivated: The non-directive approach of person-centered therapy makes it unsuitable for addicted individuals who are not motivated to explore their feelings or examine and define their goals. The therapy is also unsuited to addicted individuals who lack insight into their inner worlds and are thus unable to acknowledge and articulate their thoughts and emotions.
  • Unsuited to addicted individuals who are not comfortable talking: Person-centered therapy is a form of talk therapy where the client is encouraged to speak their mind and verbalize their thoughts and emotions. This makes this therapy unsuited to addicted individuals who are uncomfortable or ashamed of talking about themselves or their struggles.
  • Unsuited to addicted individuals with a distorted sense of reality: Person-centered therapy is also unsuitable for individuals with a mental disease that distorts their perception of reality. It is challenging for these individuals to view reality objectively and consequently, they are unable to recalibrate their thought processes, belief systems, and expectations to align with what is real in the here and now.
  • Scarcity of empirical research: There is limited empirical research on the use of person-centered therapy for addiction treatment. There are no established therapy protocols specific to addiction treatment, which makes it challenging for counselors to implement it in practice.
  • Challenging for counselors to deliver: In many instances, it is difficult for counselors to adhere to and implement the techniques of person-centered therapy. For instance, according to this 2014 article by Avinash De Sousa published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research, titled “Client Centered Therapy – a review,” counselors often experience difficulty in allowing the clients the autonomy to decide therapy goals and direct the course of the session. Counselors need to respect the client and demonstrate the courage to allow the client to decide the direction of the therapy even if they do not agree with the latter’s choices. It is also challenging for counselors to maintain their sense of unique identity when they enter the subjective world of the client and identify with their experiences. When the counselor loses their sense of identity, authenticity, and uniqueness, they are unable to suggest fresh perspectives or meanings to the client. They, thus, lose their power to be the catalyst for change for their clients. Person-centered therapy, then, merely becomes a listening and reflecting exercise that does not bring about powerful positive change in the client.