Sixty years ago, psychologist Carl Rogers introduced a new approach to psychotherapy that ran contrary to the theories dominant at the time. His method, client-centered therapy, still offers a contrast to most approaches to therapy today, says the January issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
Client-centered therapists rarely ask questions, make diagnoses, provide interpretations or advice, offer reassurance or blame, agree or disagree with clients, or point out contradictions. Instead, they let clients tell their own stories, using the therapeutic relationship in their own way.
In client-centered therapy, the therapist listens without trying to provide solutions. The therapist must create an atmosphere in which clients can communicate their feelings with certainty that they are being understood rather than judged, says the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
This permissive indirect approach makes clients more aware of aspects of themselves that they have been denying, say its supporters. The aim is to free clients of the sense that they are under the influence of forces beyond their control.
Client Centered Therapy Critics
Client-centered therapy has its critics — for the vagueness of its principles, its antipathy to diagnosis, and its emphasis on the client’s self-evaluation as the way to judge the outcome of therapy. Client-centered therapy may work less well with people who find it difficult to talk about themselves or have a mental illness that distorts their perceptions of reality, says the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
Today, only a small proportion of mental health professionals regard themselves as taking the client-centered therapy approach. “But the principles may have influenced the practice of many therapists,” says Harvard Mental Health Letter editor Dr. Michael Miller. “Its legacy may persist less as a specific technique than as a background influence.”