The Essence of Person-Centered Therapy
Jerold D. Bozarth, PhD

    The essence (the basic nature and the basic core of Person-Centered Therapy is predicated upon the clients’ authority of their own lives (Bozarth, 1990a).  After examining the results of the Bower study, examining the evolution of Carl Rogers as a therapist and from an analysis of Rogers’ writings, the essence of the approach is
defined as follows (Bozarth, 1988):

       The essence of CC/PC therapy is the
       therapist’s dedication to going with the
       client’s direction, at the client’s pace and in
       the client’s unique way of being. (p.59)


       It is the full commitment " . . .to trust in the
       client’s own way of going about dealing with
       his problems and his life." (Brodley, 1988, p.

    The following points summarize findings that
contribute to this conclusion:

    First, the Bower study which is a qualitative study of six notable CC/PC therapists doing therapy. Three listeners independently reviewed an audiotape of each therapist’s therapy sessions.  The therapist and client participants responded to
questions from the investigator. The emerging consensual data were the following:

       1. Therapists had a wide repertoire of
       non-interfering responses. One therapist
       responded in a reflective way, with near
       intrusive reflective responses; another rarely
       commented, and then only in a way to clarify
       his uncertainties; another therapist was
       described as seductive by the listeners;
       another used a Gestalt- type metaphor that
       emerged from the client; and another
       therapist periodically ‘moaned’ throughout
       the session.

       2. The clients perceived the therapists as
       being helpful; the clients overall directed
       themselves in the process of inquiry. At
       times, they waited for the therapists to finish
       responses before continuing with their own
       explorations. In short, the therapists were
       experienced as being received by clients as
       permissible humans whose specific
       responses did not seem to interfere with the
       clients’ directions.

       3. The listeners perceived the therapists as
       disappearing in deference to their clients.
       They were experienced as being a ‘shadow
       to the client’. Their presence appeared
       obvious but there was neither intervention
       nor intrusion of the personality of the
       therapist (Bower and Bozarth, 1988).

    The overriding conclusion was that:
client-centered/person-centered therapists were experienced (by clients, listeners, and therapists) as non-interfering individuals who entered the world of the client in such a manner as to "disappear" into the client’s own process of development (Bower and Bozarth, 1988).

    In brief, the study also suggested that: 1. The attitudinal qualities of empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence (described in various ways) were the consistent therapist attitudes that existed; 2. The therapists held a position of total trust in the client’s own direction and way; 3. The therapists were active and
involved with a total dedication towards understanding the client’s world; 4. The therapists had a wide range of response repertoire and personality characteristics but were intent upon understanding and checking their understandings of their clients; and 5. The therapists did not attempt to intervene in the direction, process, or
with the pace of the clients.  The therapists were actively involved and readily
dialogued with their clients but ‘disappeared’ into
the client’s process.

Analysis of the evolution of Carl Rogers as a

    My examination of Carl Rogers’ evolution as a therapist is a qualitative inquiry to two questions (Bozarth, 1990a). These questions are: 1. Did Carl Rogers alter his fundamental views of client-centered therapy? and, 2. Did Carl Rogers change his operational functioning as a psychotherapist? It was my intent to further ask:
What were these alterations? And, what changes occurred? My basic thought had been that there was significant alteration of some fundamental views; and that his functioning as a therapist had changed over the years.

    My assessment of Rogers’ comments in the literature, his demonstration films, and from previous personal communication led me to conclude that Carl Rogers did not alter his fundamental views of client-centered therapy. I noted that he was quite consistent in his fundamental views of the importance of the conditions of empathy and unconditional positive regard that congruent therapists needed to experience with their clients, and of his dedication to go with his clients in the direction that the client wanted to go and in the way the client wished to do it. He became more explicit about the importance of being ‘genuine’ in the relationship. The importance of genuineness
(which Rogers periodically interchanged with congruence) as the primary condition to him was expressed in a dialogue with Wood and in an earlier statement when he commented that even when the conditions of unconditional positive
regard and empathy were not experienced by the therapist that genuineness alone may be facilitative (Rogers, 1967; Rogers and Wood (1984). His more explicit references to the importance of genuineness in the relationship did not represent any fundamental change in view. He was always dedicated to and intent on going with
the client’s direction, at the client’s pace, and with the client’s unique way of being (Bozarth, 1990a).

    My assessment of Rogers’ functioning as a therapist by reviewing demonstration films with Miss Mun, Gloria, and Kathy led me to conclude that Carl Rogers did not change his operational functioning as a psychotherapist. (Rogers and
Segal, 1955; Shostrum, 1964; Rogers, 1975). He did express a slightly wider range of responses over the twenty year period in the demonstration films; and had some spontaneous expressions that ‘bubbled up’, especially in the Gloria film. A
qualitative evaluation of Rogers’ response sets in the three films indicate Rogers’ primary responses to be empathic understanding responses. The
categories representing empathic understanding responses were identified as a continue frame representing ‘I am giving you my full attention, please continue’; and a check frame meaning ‘This is what I understand you to be saying. The
analysis revealed: 100% of the responses in 1955 were check or continue responses (including empathic under-standing responses); 90% of the responses in 1965 were continue or check responses (the few declarative responses were
the notable responses often referred to in the Gloria film); 84% of the responses were continue or check responses in 1975 (Bozarth, 1990b).

    Dr. Brodley’s examination of eight of Rogers’ interviews from the 1940’s to late 1985 using a comparable evaluation scheme revealed that in
seven of them 91% to 100% of Dr. Rogers’ responses were empathic following responses (Brodley, 1988). The session consisting of 100% empathic following responses was the one in late

    Overall it seems accurate to say that Rogers increasingly referred to the importance of genuineness when working with clients and that ‘realness’ of the therapist was increasingly important in his thinking. He responded with slightly more varied comments over the twenty-year time span of the demonstration tapes but his preponderant response efforts were clearly geared to the understanding of his clients’ worlds -
whether in 1955, 1965, or 1985. Carl Rogers’ fundamental views of
client-centered/person-centered therapy were not altered. He did not significantly change his operational functioning as a psychotherapist
(Bozarth, 1990a).

    A more holistic viewing of the films and tapes was interpreted as suggesting that Rogers allowed himself to be more expressive over the years. It also seems likely that his varied comments as a therapist over the time period were more client-and situation-specific. It became clearer to me that whatever Rogers said about CC/PC therapy or did as a therapist was within the context of placing his trust in his clients without doing anything to them or ‘being up to something’ as a therapist.

    These two examinations, the one of six notable CC/PC therapists and the other of the evolution of Carl Rogers as a therapist, support Rogers’ explicit statements about CC/PC therapy; i.e., that the foundation block of the therapy is the actualizing tendency (Rogers, 1980); that ‘. . . it is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go,
what problems are crucial. It would do better to rely upon the client for the direction of movement in the process’ (cited in Kirschenbaum, 1979, P.89). He had a profound and unwavering dedication to trusting the client as his/her own best authority.

    These reviews lead me to conclude with a functional theoretical premise that: The essence of CC/PC therapy is the therapist’s dedication to going with the client’s direction, at the client’s pace, and with the client’s unique way of being.

Implications of the Essence
of Person-Centered Therapy (PCT)

    The implications of the essence of person-centered therapy is a functional premise
that precludes other therapist intentions. The therapist goes with the client - goes at the client’s pace - goes with the client in his/her own ways of thinking, of experiencing, of processing. The therapist can not be up to other things, have other intentions without violating the essence of PCT.  To be up to other things - whatever they might be -
is a ‘yes, but’ reaction to the essence of the approach. It must mean that when the therapist has intentions of treatment plans, of treatment goals, of interventive strategies to get the client somewhere or for the client to do a certain thing,  the therapist violates the essence of person-centered therapy. This holds true if the therapist is trying to move the client through a certain process, to encourage clients to
experience themselves in a certain way, to teach clients to be empathic, or to impose other therapeutic methods on the client. It is a functional premise that includes wide therapist personality differences, unique ways of doing things, and idiosyncratic ways of responding as far as they are dedicated to the client’s direction, the client’s pace, and the client’s unique way of being (Bozarth, 1984). It is a functional premise that
begets therapists who ascribe to Rogers’ principles to test the essence of the approach in a consistent way over time. It is thus that therapists can experience the potency of allowing individuals to engage in their own empowerment, in their own
ways without being violated by the personal observations and theories of their therapists.

    Implications of this theoretical stance are integrally related to the concept of the locus of control. The therapist is promoting a natural individual and general process in the client by being a certain way; that is, experiencing certain attitudes toward the client. The client is his/her own best expert about him/her self and his/her life.
The therapist’s intent is not to promote feelings or to help the client to become more independent or ‘to get’ the client anywhere. The goal is not self-actualization, actualization, independence or to help the client to become a ‘fully functioning’
person. The only therapist goal is to be a certain way and by being that way a natural growth process is promoted in the client. The foundation of Person-Centered Therapy is consistent with the five decades of findings in psychotherapy outcome research and over ten years of clinical research with impossible clients’. That is, the person of the
client must be the master and director for successful outcome.


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