Harvard Mental Health Letter

Client-centered therapy

Sixty years ago, the psychologist Carl Rogers introduced a new approach to psychotherapy, designed as a contrast to the behavioral and psychoanalytic theories dominant at the time. Unlike behavior therapy, the Rogers approach does not emphasize action over feeling and thinking, and unlike psychoanalysis, it is not concerned with unconscious wishes and drives. At first he called his method nondirective therapy, later client-centered and person-centered therapy.

The method can be defined partly by what Rogerian therapists don't do, or rarely do: ask questions; make diagnoses; conduct psychological tests; provide interpretations, evaluations, and advice; offer reassurance, praise, or blame; agree or disagree with clients or express opinions of their own; point out contradictions; uncover unconscious wishes; or explore the client's feelings about the therapist.

What that leaves is letting clients tell their own stories at their own pace, using the therapeutic relationship in their own way. The therapist provides a model of reflective listening without trying to point out directions and provide solutions. Rogers popularized the use of the term "client" rather than patient to set the relationship on more equal terms, emphasizing that the person being treated is not passive and the therapist is not an authority but an agent.

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