Person-centred and Experiential Psychotherapy

The Person-centred and Experiential Approach. The Person-centred counselling/ psychotherapy was the first talking therapy to be based on empirical research. In the 1940s and 50s Dr Carl Rogers, and his colleagues, audio-recorded therapy sessions to try and determine which therapist interventions were effective for clients. From this work, a comprehensive theory and practice was developed which has been continually expanded and refined and which is supported and validated by decades of research (e.g. recently: Cooper, Watson & Hölldampf, 2010; Elliott et al, 2013; Murphy & Joseph, 2016.)

Originally described as non-directive, this therapy moved away from the idea that the therapist was the expert and towards a theory that trusted the innate tendency (known as the actualising tendency) of human beings to develop positively, and in functional ways that are constructive in their own circumstances.

This is predicted to happen in a psychological environment where the client feels free from threat, both physically and psychologically. Six conditions were identified as necessary and sufficient for (Therapeutic Personality Change) or (constructive psychological development) to take place:

  1. Two people are in psychological contact
  2. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
  3. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent or integrated in the relationship.
  4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client.
  5. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s frame of reference and endeavours to communicate this experience to the client.
  6. The communication to the client of the therapist’s empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is, to a minimal degree, perceived.

(Kirschenbaum, H & Henderson, V. L. (1990) (Eds.). The Carl Rogers Reader.)

For Rogers, the understanding of the person is predominantly understanding the person’s subjectivity˙ how they perceive and experience their own world. The experiential dimensions of the Person-centred theory led several practitioners to create practical applications to facilitate the client and therapist to express the unique way of the client’s experiencing process (fluid, process-like nature of the in-the-moment inner experience). For the experiential field of the PCA, experiencing is always holistic and has a sensory, visceral bodily expression. At its core is the person as an experiencing organism.

Person-centred therapists believe that all of a client’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour are valid responses in the context of their previous and current experience and therefore will not usually diagnose or label clients. However, they are able to work successfully with extremes of distress and disturbance.

The philosophic-anthropology foundation of the Person-centred concept is:

  • trust in the positive self-structuring power of humans
  • life as a permanent process of change
  • self-responsibility of humans
  • acceptance of individual life-plans
  • trust in personal-experience as the source for knowledge.

The image of people in the Person-centred concept is gaining importance beyond the clinical-scientific field. It is acting as a social movement in the political field.


Psychotherapists are required to engage in extensive personal psychotherapy during their training which is up to seven years duration. Psychotherapists usually have a first degree followed by a professional, highly specialised, theoretical and clinical training which includes research methodology and continuous professional development. The EAP promotes the recognition of common standards of training throughout Europe, and will ensure their mobility across member states.