Looking around for some form of helping relationship can be quite overwhelming. There are so many treatments, methods, drugs, so many experts claiming to have the one true way. Has anyone formulated what it is which actually helps a person in need?
Looking around for some form of helping relationship, or self development, can be quite overwhelming. There are so many treatments, methods, drugs, so many experts claiming to have the one true way. In my experience, however, no one got down to the essential matter of what can actually help a person who feels they need help, as simply or elegantly as Carl Rogers.
Rogers (1957) writes as follows (with my comments in brackets):
For therapy to occur it is necessary that these conditions exist.
- That two persons are in contact.
- That the first person, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
[Incongruence means that somehow the person is not directly in touch with, or acting from, their experience.]
- That the second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent in the relationship.
[In this relationship, here and now, the therapist is aware of his or her thoughts, feelings and experiences and can choose whether to express them or not. Nothing they express is fake.]
- That the therapist is experiencing unconditional positive regard toward the client.
[However the client is, and whatever course they may choose, the therapist has basic respect and goodwill towards them.]
- That the therapist is experiencing an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference.
[The therapist experiences the client’s whole personal world, the meanings they construct and the way they feel and think, as if it were his or her own for the duration of the session.]
- That the client perceives, at least to a minimal degree, conditions 4 and 5, the unconditional positive regard of the therapist for him, and the empathic understanding of the therapist.
[The client is able to feel, at least slightly, the respect, goodwill and empathy of the therapist, it has been communicated to them.]
Rogers states that these six conditions are necessary and sufficient for therapy to take place, and for some constructive change to come about in the individual seeking help. They are enough, because each individual is an organism, a kind of organised whole, which seeks to actualise, to move forward, to grow, to become the fullest version of itself that it can be.
Unfortunately we have all been hampered in this growth by our need to fit in and gain approval, and by various relational, cultural, social, and/or genetic factors. The organism, however, seeks to live from direct experience of the world and not from fixed schemes, addictions, fears, or trying to be one way or the other.
Part of its forward moving tendency is an intrinsically social nature. This is not individualism in the sense of trampling over others in order to “be yourself”.
It is true that the theory may sound too simple, naive even, in the face of complicated treatments specifically tailored for different problems. But I would argue that no psychological treatment is going to cause fundamental and lasting change in people’s lives if it is not accompanied by personal contact, by an actual reason to be seeking change, by realness and genuineness in the helper, their respectful attitude and goodwill, and their empathy towards the whole world of the client. It is also necessary for all these things to be clearly communicated and received as no more or less than what they are.
It is 50 years since Rogers wrote the six conditions down. If he were with us now he would, I’m sure, be excited by the new knowledge we have today about neurological processes and helpful methods of dealing with specific problems. But his view of the person as an organism which needs to actualise itself and suffers when it cannot do so, and of the conditions, so simple to say and so challenging in practice, which can allow it to move forward again, remains pertinent. It may be, in these times in which we are so fearful of each other, more pertinent than ever.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by