Of all the counseling and psychotherapy approaches out there, person-centered therapy might be the most quickly dismissed of them all. I’ve had therapists watch or listen to a PCT demonstration and then make dismissive comments like: “Oh yeah. That was just basic listening skills. I know all about that.”
It’s usually hard for me to figure out how to best respond to that sort of statement. What makes it hard to take is that typically, when someone says something like, “I already know all that Rogerian stuff,” it’s a surefire sign that they really don’t get person-centered therapy.
Although this is mostly just my opinion, it’s also the opinion of Natalie Rogers (daughter of Carl Rogers, the person who originally developed person-centered therapy). The following is an edited excerpt of two telephone interviews I did with her way back in 2003. This excerpt is included in our theories textbook: http://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Psychotherapy-Theories-Context-Practice/dp/0470617934/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8
Additional interview material is in an article published in the Journal of Counseling and Development in 2007: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1556-6678.2007.tb00454.x/abstract
And even more interview material is resting on the hard-drive of my computer.
Other fun and interesting content about person-centered therapy is in our Student Guide: http://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Psychotherapy-Theories-Context-Practice/dp/0470904372/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438700878&sr=1-1-fkmr1&keywords=sommers-flanagan+student+guide
Here’s what Natalie had to say about the status of Person-Centered Therapy in the U.S.
Why Is the Person-Centered Approach Undervalued in the United States?
In the following excerpt from two telephone interviews, Natalie Rogers discusses why person-centered approaches tend to be undervalued or overlooked in the United States.
John Sommers-Flanagan (JSF): Other than the managed-care focus and an emphasis on quick fixes, can you think of any reasons why more American therapists aren’t practicing PCT?
Natalie Rogers (NR): That’s a good question. Most psychology students I know only get a chapter or two in the academic world, and they don’t really understand in any depth what the person-centered approach is about. And, most importantly, I think they haven’t experienced it. They’ve read [about] it and they’ve talked about it and they’ve analyzed it, but my own belief is that it really takes in-depth experiencing of the client-centered approach to know the healing power of empathy and congruence and unconditional positive regard.
JSF: So it’s almost like students get more of an intellectual understanding, but you’re just not seeing them get the experiential part.
NR: Even the intellectual understanding is very superficial, because they read maybe a chapter and watch the old Gloria film (Rogers, 1965). The fact that there have been 16 books written on client-centered therapy and a lot of other books now that Carl’s passed away and the research that he did is so profound . . . the in-depth research on what actually helps clients go deeper into their feelings and thoughts.
NR: You know, [how therapists can help clients go deeper into their feelings and thoughts] is hardly ever mentioned in academia as far as I know.
JSF: And what I remember from our last conversation was that you said you thought it didn’t happen in the U.S. at all and maybe a little bit in Europe?
NR: I think it does happen a lot more in Europe, and most particularly in the United Kingdom, Scotland and England. They have really excellent training programs in the client-centered approach, and the books that are coming out are coming out from there. You know in Germany they have a several-year, very extensive training program that’s also linked in, I believe, to becoming accredited or licensed as a therapist. Things are going that particular route in Europe, but none of that is here in the States.
JSF: That seems to reflect our own emphasis on the surface or the quick fix as well in that people just really haven’t gone deeper and experienced the power of PCT.
NR: Right. And then again I think the other point is that the ego needs of the therapists [appear] to be strong here. Therapists in this country seem to need to have the attitude that “I have the answers” or at least that “I know more,” and it’s . . . the old medical model that we still hold onto in this country a lot. The doctor knows what he needs to diagnose and treat, knows what’s wrong and that there are ten steps to fix it.
JSF: Right, which seems to be the opposite of the person-centered therapy of “trust the individual, trust the person.”
NR: Not just seems to be, it is the opposite. So, to actually believe, to have faith in the individual, to have faith that each person has the answers within himself or herself if given the proper conditions, and that’s a big if. That philosophy takes a great deal of humility on the part of the therapist.
JSF: For us to realize that we don’t have all the answers for another person.
NR: Right. I kind of like the gardener metaphor. That I’m the gardener and I help till the soil and I help water the plants and fertilize the plants, and care for them. And I need to understand what the plant needs, what conditions that plant needs for it to actually grow and become its full potential. That’s very different. That’s what I see as one metaphor for being a therapist. I don’t know all the answers, but I’m a person who creates the conditions for the person to grow.
JSF: Kind of the fertile field metaphor. So . . . what would you tell beginning therapists that would help them see the tremendous value of following person-centered principles?
NR: Well, I always ask my students to examine their own beliefs about psychotherapy and about what it is that creates psychological feelings and growth. I think it’s a philosophical, spiritual belief system that we’re looking at. People are using the words “methods” and “techniques,” which always puts me off, because although there certainly are methods that we use, it’s much bigger than that. It’s a belief system about the connection between mind, body, and emotional spirit. And so I ask them what do they believe creates personal growth, and what have they experienced themselves that creates growth, and we get them to think and talk about their religious experiences, their psychotherapy experiences, their experiences in nature, and their experiences in relationships. I think they’re all profound. And then when we focus in on relationships, which is what psychotherapy is about, then I want them to experience . . . from me or my colleagues in hour-long demonstrations what it means to be client-centered. So then they experience it as witnesses and they can experience it as a client.
JSF: So more students need to directly experience, or at least witness, client-centered therapy.
NR: Let me give an example. I was talking to a colleague once who had some of my training and who said that he was now using brief therapy, brief psychotherapy, and I admitted I didn’t really know what that was. We decided that he’d have to give me some ideas on what that’s like. So I listened to him describe the theory and practice for quite a while and questioned him about it. And as he was describing it, I was wondering, how would I feel if I were in the client’s chair and this was what was being done to me. And so then I felt pretty uncomfortable, and thought, “I guess I wouldn’t like it.” So I asked him, “Have you ever been a client in this kind of brief therapy yourself?” And he said “No,” and I thought that was inexcusable. To practice something on somebody else that you haven’t experienced in-depth yourself. I think it is inexcusable. So that illustrates in a kind of negative way the point that I wanted to make. You really need to have in-depth experience of that which you are going to have other people do.