The Person-Centred Approach: A Contemporary Introduction

This is an impressive and very wide ranging introduction to the Person Centred Approach. It not only introduces the approach but adds new dimensions to the theory and new extensions of it into practice, reaching well beyond the counselling room walls.

Rating: 4.5

The Person-Centred Approach: A Contemporary Introduction

By , 2004. ISBN 1403902275. Palgrave Macmillan. 324 pages.

This is an impressive and very wide ranging introduction to the Person Centred Approach. It not only introduces the approach but adds new dimensions to the theory and new extensions of it into practice, reaching well beyond the counselling room walls. It contains the energy of the living process of its writing by five authors, all of whom are associated with the Tenemos person centred training centre in Sheffield, UK.

The book will be of interest to counsellors, psychologists, parents, environmental activists, those working in education, health, business, and all manner of groups, communities and organisations, as it deals with the contribution the person centred approach makes to all these fields in a fresh and relevant way. Specific reference is often made to UK laws, government, education, the National Health Service, etc. It is divided into four parts: First Principles, The Person, Implications and Applications, and Beyond the Individual, Beyond Therapy. The self is never spoken about as if it were isolated from social contexts and situations of various kinds, including oppressive ones.

For me, showing my therapist bias, the most challenging and exciting part of the book is the first section, in which the philosophical and historical roots and contexts of the approach are dealt with freshly and concisely, and Rogers’ theory of optimal conditions for growth is investigated, bringing all six conditions to full attention rather than concentrating on the three ‘therapist-provided’ ones of empathy, acceptance and congruence, and suggesting that the sixth, the client’s perception of the other conditions, is the most crucial. It is hard to fault their logic.

The authors work rigorously in all areas of the theory against the reification of concepts such as the ‘organismic self’, ‘actualising tendency’ and ‘fully functioning person’, clearly dividing ‘the organism’ from the self, returning a missing sense of agency to ‘the tendency to actualise’, and referring to the fully functioning person as ‘a theoretical possibility only, dependent on receiving consistent and optimal conditions which are simply not humanly possible. We prefer to think that the organism is always functioning as fully as it possibly can given the conditions within it and around it” (p. 48).

The concept of the organism, as distinct from the self, is particularly illuminating. Rogers (1954/1967)[1] argued that “one of the fundamental directions taken by the process of therapy is the free experiencing of the actual sensory and visceral reactions of the organism without too much attempt to relate these experiences to the self” (p. 80). The clarity of this, and the creative directions it suggests for therapy and for living, have been too often lost with the concept of the “organismic self” muddying the waters.

Stress is also laid on the person as citizen, a “person of tomorrow” (Rogers, 1980[2]), a free flowing, engaged, authentic, empathic, anti-institutional, non materialistic and political individual who is also sceptical about any attempt to use science and technology in order to “conquer the world of nature and to control the world’s people” (p. 350). The book brings across the need for such individuals on all levels from local to international. This breaks decisively with a popular idea that ‘personal growth’ or healing lead only to personal well being, and are a luxury for the self-obsessed. The approach is then related to various fields, with the emphasis on practical application.

The authors’ integrity in following through the implications of their understanding is impressive — e.g., in considering a course for ‘training person centred counsellors’ to be a contradiction in terms. Instead they offer training which itself is person centred, and therefore ‘produces’ counsellors who will take directions that they could not have predicted in advance.

Hearteningly, the book reminds us that, rather than people in the possession of different selves, real or false, we are simply and yet radically, organisms, living in our environments and interacting with them, using, whenever we can, our tendency to actualise. Furthermore it incites us to use our responsibility to ourselves and others to do so, with awareness and empathy, as citizens of today and tomorrow.

[1] Rogers, C.R. (1967) Some hypotheses regarding the facilitation of personal growth. In On Becoming a Person (pp. 31-8). London: Constable. (Original work published 1954).

[2] Rogers, C.R. (1980) The world of tomorrow, and the person of tomorrow. In A Way of Being (pp.339-56). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

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