Person-Centred Counselling and Psychotherapy Books and Articles

The person-centred approach to counselling and psychotherapy enjoys a long and rich history, beginning with the pioneering work of Carl Rogers in the 1940s.

Person-Centred Counselling

Barrett-Lennard, G.T. (1998) Carl Rogers' Helping System: Journey and Substance. London: Sage. [Amazon UK-hardcover | Amazon UK-paperback | Amazon US-hardcover | Amazon US-paperback]

In a field within which many textbooks seem to say the same things over and over, just using slightly different words, this book stands out as something different. Its treatment of the historical context surrounding the development of the person-centred approach might have placed it in the History section, but this book, written by a student and colleague of Carl Rogers, is vastly more than that: covering the theory, practice and research sides of person-centred counselling, Barrett-Lennard provides one of the most thorough and sholarly treatments of the field I have encountered. It is a rich source of references for following up individual discussions, and students will find the chapter on human nature and personality a great help in navigating the ideas at the core of person-centred personality theory. Like Rogers (1961), this book is an excellent antidote to the relatively cursory explorations offered by so many popular textbooks.

Bowen, M. (1986) 'Personality Differences and Person-Centered Supervision', Person-Centered Review 1(3): 291-309.

While ostensibly focusing specifically on the counsellor-supervisor relationship, this article has much to offer on the general distinction between 'form-oriented' approaches to person-centred psychotherapy, which stress the original method articulated by Rogers in the 1940s and the 1950s, and 'philosophy-of-life-oriented' approaches, which stress the importance of developing a basic philosophy of being, as articulated by Rogers in the 1960s through the 1980s. Bowen suggests that form-oriented approaches value forms over pragmatism. The author goes on to explore several aspects of the counsellor-supervisor relationship before formulating a useful distinction between two different types of empathic responses. 'Supportive responses', she suggests, serve primarily to communicate understanding to the client. By contrast, 'integrative impressions' act to help clients "integrate fragmented and confusing parts of their experience into a higher order of coherence and understanding" (p. 303).

Bowen, M. (1996) 'The Myth of Nondirectiveness: The Case of Jill', in Farber et al. (1996), pp. 84-94.

Commenting on a demonstration session which Rogers held with a client named Jill just three years before his death, Bowen highlights the change and development which took place in Rogers as a therapist over the more than four decades that passed since his publication of Counseling and Psychotherapy in 1942. Rogers adopts a very directive style throughout the session, making many interpretations which even today might seem surprising to some person-centred theorists. Bowen, however, suggests that "nondirectiveness is an illusion, except where therapists are overly passive, have such a slow reaction time that to identify what is going on within themselves and with the client is difficult, or are technique-bound" (pp. 89-90); she goes on, "therapists are constantly making choices...as to which aspect of what the client is saying they are going to respond" (p. 90). Interestingly, she also explores Rogers's tendency to systematically "ally himself with the healthy side of the person" (p. 91) and the fact that in this session, "Rogers consistently chooses to avoid the exploration of the negative" (p. 93).

Bowen, M. (1999) 'Psychotherapy: The Process, The Therapist, The Learning', in Fairhurst (1999).

Bowen introduces a beautiful metaphor of the therapist as sherpa and explores the characteristics of good therapists in light of the metaphor. She concludes with thoughts on good training programmes, advocating (with her characteristically broad-minded attitude) a balance between cognitive and experiential knowledge.

Brodley, B.T. (1996) 'Uncharacteristic Directiveness: Rogers and the "Anger and Hurt" Client", in Farber et al. (1996), pp. 310-21.

This interesting commentary explores the extent to which Carl Rogers attempted to influence his 'anger and hurt' client in a systematically directive way, a session in which "Rogers seemd to have specific objectives for the client, instead of the nondirective goals he espoused, of experiencing and implementing the therapeutic attitudes" (p. 312). The role of Rogers in this session -- which, frankly, I found altogether irritating! -- Brodley sums up by saying that "Rogers was not entirely himself in the session with this client".

Buchanan, L. and R. Hughes, eds. (2000) Experiences of Person-Centred Counselling Training. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books. [Amazon UK]

This book is well-organised for its target market of individuals considering counselling training. Split into 25 topic areas covering a wide range of the counselling training experience, the book includes extracts (some 250 in total) written by dozens of contributors who had recently completed counselling training. While referred to as 'case studies', these extracts are rarely longer than a paragraph or two, and this, combined with the otherwise helpful topical organisation, will probably make the book less attractive to readers other than prospective trainees: it is difficult to form a picture of individuals and their respective experiences, as opposed to snippets of individual experiences. Nonetheless, for the many reflections on the training experience, the book probably merits attention from trainers as well as prospective applicants.

Fairhurst, I., ed. (1999) Women Writing in the Person-Centered Approach. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books. [Amazon UK | Amazon US]

Farber, B.A.; D.D. Brink and P.M. Raskin, eds. (1996) The Psychotherapy of Carl Rogers: Cases and Commentary. New York: Guilford Press. [Amazon UK-hardcover | Amazon UK-paperback | Amazon US-hardcover | Amazon US-paperback]

Ten different transcripts (or in some cases, summaries) of Carl Rogers's sessions with clients are discussed and critiqued, five from within the person-centred tradition, and five from the perspectives of other therapeutic approaches. This book is a tremendous learning tool, both for the glimpse it offers into real, verbatim interactions between Carl Rogers and his clients, and for the illuminating and often insightful commentaries. The variety of the sessions is also very striking, including the beautiful examples of basic human respect and empathy in the interview with Loretta as well as some which are striking for their departure from what might be considered the person-centred 'norm' (such as that with Gloria, commented on by Zimring (1996) and that with the "anger and hurt" client, commented on by Brodley (1996)).

Farber's introduction is, in my view, less satisfactory, dwelling for some time on the politics of who has been given credit for what in psychotherapy and bemoaning the fact that Rogers's work hasn't been "accorded the respect it deserves" (p. 8). Worse for me is Farber's take on empirical studies of therapeutic outcome and efficacy (a take which is, unfortunately, widely shared in the field): while referring to well-established empirical support for the importance of the therapeutic relationship (fair enough), he also insists on focusing on the importance of the therapist's abilities and attitudes as central to the effectiveness of therapy. This is, in a couple of words, just plain wrong: see Hubble et al. (1999).

Galgut, C. (1999) 'Does Peson-Centred Always Equal Lesbian-Centred?', Person-Centred Practice 7(2): 91-4.

The author reflects on the statistics of a survey indicating that 1) fewer person-centred therapists than other therapists ask about a client's sexuality unless the client brings up the topic, and 2) fewer person-centred therapists than other therapists report having worked with signficant numbers of lesbian clients. Astonishingly, while the bulk of the article is taken up with speculations motivated by the question of whether the person-centred relationship is "unintentionally oppressive and silencing of the lesbian client" (p. 92), the author never addresses the most obvious factor which might have accounted for her results: namely, that person-centred contact with lesbian clients is under-reported for the simple reason that lesbian clients don't feel a compelling need to disclose their sexual orientation to their therapists when not asked for that information. (The author cites an entirely different healthcare study which "seems to indicate that lesbians do want to disclose their sexuality" (p. 92), but of course this does not bear directly on the author's survey at all!) This methodological flaw is so distracting as to compromise the whole message of the paper. The speculations are intriguing and worthwhile food for thought, and it is a pity they are not simply explored and argued on their own merits, rather than following a quasi-quantitative discussion with which they do not sit at all comfortably.

Greenberg, L.; R. Elliott and G. Lietaer (1994) 'Research on Experiential Psychotherapies', in Bergin and Garfield (1994), pp. 509-39.

Of note to peson-centred theorists who take the view that the 'core conditions' are both necessary and sufficient for therapeutic movement: "This review clearly suggests that the relational conditions or the facilitative working environment is only one factor in experiential therapy. Numerous other client and therapist processes facilitate change." (p. 532). Also along cautionary lines, the authors list 'insufficient therapist direction' as one of the factors which can impede the therapeutic process. Most interesting in my view however, is what the authors describe as the "obvious trend...away from the practice of offering a uniform treatment to all clients and toward adapting...to specific disorders or problems...by varying parameters, such as therapist process directiveness, or applying different aspects or tasks...to different clients and in different situations... One possibility is to provide a balance of directive and nondirective elements individualized for each client" (pp. 532-33). This should dampen the depressing dogma one sometimes encounters that the person-centred therapist really need only focus on delivering the core conditions, and all will be well.

Hayes, A.M. and M.R. Goldfried (1996) 'Carl Rogers' Work With Mark: An Empirical Analysis and Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective', in Farber et al. (1996), pp. 357-73.

This fascinating commentary on Carl Rogers's interview with Mark, a white South African struggling with racist views, provides a quantitative breakdown of Rogers's replies in terms of a system developed by the authors to enable transtheoretical analysis of therapy sessions. As they put it, "we do not study the reactions of the client in therapy, or the attitudes of the client-centere therapist, but rather what the therapist actually does in his or her session with the client" (p. 371). While some person-centred proponents might immediately balk at the language of the paper, which repeatedly refers for instance to the therapist's directing of the client's attention by virtue of his selective responses, nonetheless it is difficult to deny that this is actually happening, whatever the theoretical framework in operation behind the scenes. Overall, the piece provides a rare opportunity to glimpse the person-centred tradition through the eyes of CBT and will be especially useful to practitioners and theorists (including myself!) interested in the relationship between the two.

Kirschenbaum, H. and V.L. Henderson, eds. (1990a) The Carl Rogers Reader. London: Constable. [Amazon UK | Amazon US]

This collection brings together in one volume 33 of Rogers's most influential and insightful papers covering a span of 45 years, from 1942 to 1987. Divided into nine sections, including those on the therapeutic process, on theory and research, and on the philosophy of persons, this book is indispensable for any reader with an interest in the leading exponent of person-centred counselling, the man whom the book's introduction justifiably refers to as "the most influential psychologist in American history".

Levant, R.F. and J.M. Shlien, eds. (1984) Client-Centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach: New Directions in Theory, Research, and Practice. New York: Praeger. [Amazon UK | Amazon US]

This provocative edited collection is divided into four main parts covering developments in theory and research, developments in practice, wider applications, and 'another necessary condition'. Sections within these four include papers on, among other things, the core conditions, focusing, the relationship with cognitive and psychoanalytic theories, clinical supervision, and an historical postcript by Carl Rogers on his interview with Gloria (Rogers 1984). It also includes Shlien's (1984) famous attack on the theory of transference and its place in psychoanalysis.

Lietaer, G. (1984) 'Unconditional Positive Regard: A Controversial Basic Attitude in Client-Centered Therapy', in Levant and Shlien (1984), pp. 41-58.

In this refreshingly undogmatic look at one of the 'core conditions' of person-centred therapy, Germain Lietaer both clarifies the meaning of unconditional positive regard and pushes out the boundaries of more common ways of understanding its operation within therapeutic contexts. Lietaer motivates the re-examination of what unconditionality means in part through a brief review of criticisms of the notion, referring for instance to research which indicates that Carl Rogers did reinforce client behaviour selectively (cited on p. 46) as well as to Rogers's own writing that in work with seriously disturbed clients, unconditionality may be experienced as indifference and that a more conditional and demanding attitude is probably more effective in building up a relationship (Lietaer cites Rogers on this on p. 46). In re-examining unconditionality, Lietaer explicitly separates acceptance of the client as a person from the client's behaviour, observing that the former need not imply the latter. The discussion continues with an exploration of limitations on unconditionality, including the therapist's own vulnerabilities or incongruencies and conflicts of interests. Most interestingly (to me!), the article concludes with observations about confrontation and unconditionality and argues that confrontation has an important place within person-centred therapy, that the therapist may indeed step out of the client's frame of reference when giving feedback, and even that "using clinical concepts, giving 'homework,' bringing in auxiliary techniques...all...can be done in a client-centered manner" (p. 56). No 'person-centred thought police' here!

Lietaer, G.; J. Rombauts and R. Van Balen, eds. (1990) Client-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy in the Nineties. Leuven: Leuven University Press. [Amazon UK | Amazon US]

Mearns, D. (1994a) Developing Person-Centred Counselling. London: Sage. [Amazon UK-hardcover | Amazon UK-paperback | Amazon US-hardcover | Amazon US-paperback]

Although not strictly an edited volume, this eminently practical volume also contains short contributions from Elke Lambers, Brian Thorne, and Dion Van Werde. The thirty short chapters address six sections: extending the therapeutic conditions, the development of the counsellor, the therapeutic alliance, the therapeutic process, and person-centred approaches to psychopathology. A second edition became available in the UK at the end of 2002 and in the US shortly therafter. A few particular chapters by Mearns and others are listed separately in this bibliography.

Mearns, D. (1994b) 'Personal Therapy is Not Enough', in Mearns (1994a), pp. 34-36.

This short chapter argues that, at least in person-centred counselling training, personal therapy is no substitute for personal development; Mearns strongly warns against the notion that simply undergoing a period (even several years) of personal therapy is in any way adequate for meeting the personal development needs of a person-centred counsellor.

Mearns, D. (1994c) 'You Do Not Need to Be an "Expert" on the Client Group or Issue to Work Expertly With the Client', in Mearns (1994a), pp. 51-53.

Another short chapter in Mearns (1994a), here Mearns argues that "In learning how to use theory on client groups and client issues, the first important step is to realise that this body of knowledge tells the counsellor precisely nothing about her client...theoretical knowledge gleaned from an averaging of human experience is no tpredictive of the experience of any one person" (p 52). Instead, Mearns suggests, knowledge of specific client groups or issues helps the counsellor to understand particular client experiences or behaviours if those experiences or behaviours are consistent with the knowledge.

Mearns, D. (1994d) 'Be Aware of and Beware the Dynamics of Self-Concept Change', in Mearns (1994a), pp. 88-93.

While ultimately unsatisfying as a piece of theory -- because it is more descriptive than explicative -- this chapter is nonetheless important as a reminder of the complexity of the dynamics which can simmer away under the therapeutic process and the confusion for both counsellor and client which can arise from periods of apparent 'stuckness' or regresssion. Mearns rightly flags this as one of the most important areas for research in person-centred counselling.

Mearns, D. and B. Thorne (1999) Person-Centred Counselling in Action, 2nd Edition. London: Sage. [Amazon UK-hardcover | Amazon UK-paperback | Amazon US-hardcover | Amazon US-paperback]

A fine introduction for readers new to the field, the book explores the 'core conditions' of person-centred counselling as well as the different stages of the therapeutic process. Readers seeking more depth may prefer books like Rogers (1961) or Barrett-Lennard (1998).

Prouty, G.F. (1976) 'Pre-therapy, A Method of Treating Pre-expressive Psychotic and Retarded Patients', Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 13(3): 290-5.

This article introduces the notion of 'pre-therapy' as a method for developing psychological contact with 'contact reflections', 'contact functions', and 'contact behaviour' -- the approach is summarised neatly in the pair of short articles by Dion Van Werde (1994a and 1994b) included in the Mearns (1994) volume.

Rice, L.N. (1984) 'Client Tasks in Client-Centered Therapy', in Levant and Shlien (1984), pp. 182-202

Undogmatic and open-minded in a way similar to Lietaer (1984), this article explores different kinds of 'task-relevant relationship factors' which facilitate different kinds of 'cognitive-affective reprocessing tasks', suggesting that "successful client-centered therapy involves the resolution of a series of cognitive-affective reprocessing tasks, and that therapists can become much more effective facilitators of these reprocessing functions if they can recognize and understand some of the different classes of tasks that clients undertake in productive psychotherapy" (p. 183). She suggests that contrary to what some might view as standard person-centred dogma, "In my experience...the selective use of different therapist responses to facilitate particular reprocessing tasks need not be inconsistent with the primary relationship conditions. The client will still be the expert on his or her own experience while the therapist will still be the expert on process. In other words, the therapist will be somewhat process-directive, but the 'track' that is being followed will be the client's own" (p. 183). In what will be welcome to many (including myself) but anathema to person-centred traditionalists, Rice goes on to indicate that "I have found it productive to use the concepts and language of cognitive information-processing theory to describe and attempt to understand some of the important tasks in client-centered therapy. This seems to be the most relevant body of psychological theory and research for attempting to describe and explicate the internal client operations that are essential mechanisms of change" (p. 187). She follows up (pp. 187-8) by suggesting exactly why perceptual-cognitive theory makes a natural fit with the person-centred approach and showing how Rogers's own work anticipated many key aspects of cognitive theory, suggesting that the two are altogether consistent. (If only I had encountered this paper before being required to write many thousands of extra words as a student to defend my own assertions along exactly these lines in a clinical case study that had been met with disapproval by a person-centred tutor -- perhaps I could have saved myself a little time.)

Rogers, C.R. (1957) 'The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change', Journal of Consulting Psychology 21(2): 95-103.

This concise statement of Rogers's original six core conditions which he believed were both necessary and sufficient for constructive personality change to occur also contains several other notable points which sometimes receive less attention. For example, Rogers specifically clarifies that he is not suggesting psychotherapy is a special kind of relationship and notes that many good friendships will, momentarily at least, fulfil the core conditions. At the end of the article, it also becomes clear that Rogers is not at all opposed to the use of therapeutic 'techniques', but that he simply values their instrumental value in communicating the essential core conditions, rather than finding essential value in the techniques themselves. The paper is published more accessibly in Kirschenbaum and Henderson (1990a), pp. 219-35.

Rogers, C.R. (1959) 'A Theory of Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships, as Developed in the Client-centered Framework', in Koch (1959), pp. 181-256.

In many ways, this paper, Carl Rogers's seminal statement of personality theory within the person-centred framework, has never been superseded, either by Rogers or by other person-centred theorists. It is not cited as frequently as one might expect, given its centrality to the tradition. It is published more accessibly in Kirschenbaum and Henderson (1990a), pp. 236-57. Also see Rogers (1957).

Rogers, C.R. (1961/1967) On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable. [Amazon UK | Amazon US]

Although most of the papers here had been available elsewhere at the time of its publication and have been re-published in other collections since, this book nonetheless remains a valuable resource for followers of the person-centred approach. Covering the foundations of person-centred counselling, Rogers's philosophy of persons, the role of research, and implications for ordinary living, the book's greatest drawback is simply that it is necessarily chronologically limited and doesn't include any of Rogers's later work featured in newer monographs and edited collections. This does not in any way detract from the value and importance of what is included, however! For readers who find books like Mearns and Thorne (1999) leave them yearning for more depth and subtlety, this is an excellent remedy. (For another excellent remedy, see Barrett-Lennard (1998).)

Rogers, C.R. (1978) Carl Rogers on Personal Power: Inner Strength and Its Revolutionary Impact. London: Constable.

This book explores the broader relevance of Rogers's work in the political and social spheres, resting upon the simple insight that, as the book's back cover puts it, "influence is gained as power is shared, and control is more constructive when it is self-control".

Rogers, C.R. (1984) 'Gloria--A Historical Note', in Levant and Shlien (1984), pp. 423-5.

In this brief afterword to the excellent Levant and Shlien (1984) collection, Rogers offers a few follow-up comments on his relationship with Gloria, spanning 15 years after his famous interview with her, until the time of her untimely death. Of particular note is Rogers's account of Gloria's heated reaction against her interview with Fritz Perls, more than a year after the three interviews (the other being Albert Ellis) were filmed. Although at the time she had commented favourably on the Perls interview, it was clear that her evaluation changed radically with the passage of time.

Rogers, C.R. (1986) 'A Client-centered/Person-centered Approach to Therapy', in Kutash and Wolf (1986), pp. 197-208.

This concise article introduces Rogers's thought on the basic formulation of the person-centred approach, along with large excerpts from the case of 'Jan'. Here Rogers comments on 'one more characteristic' of the therapeutic relationship, transcendence, which has greatly exercised many subsequent authors. Rogers links his developing thought (regrettably, in my view) to "some of the more advanced thinkers in physics and chemistry" (p. 138 in Kirschenbaum and Henderson (1990a)) such as Capra. The article is published more accessibly in Kirschenbaum and Henderson (1990a), pp. 135-152.

Sachse, R. (1990) 'Concrete Interventions are Crucial: The Influence of the Therapist's Processing Proposals on the Client's Intrapersonal Exploration in Client-Centered Therapy', in Lietaer et al. (1990), pp. 295-308. [available online]

This study indicates that the more deeply clients are exploring, the more influenced they are by the therapist's interventions, and the more crucial the quality of these interventions become in terms of promoting the client's further exploration. This is a strong argument in favour of being concrete; from the conclusion of the article: "Therapists must have effective therapeutic rules at their disposal, allowing appropriate interventions. General attitudes are not sufficient."

Van Belle, H. (1980) Basic Intent and Therapeutic Approach of Carl Rogers. Toronto: Radix. [out of print]

This is one which I need to spend more time with, particularly to explore Van Belle's contention that the core conditions of person-centred therapy may, rather than empowering the client, actually induce significant dependency. Van Belle's view of the good therapeutic relationship as necessarily cooperative rather than facilitative seems entirely consistent with the later work of Rogers and certainly deserves careful attention.

Van Werde, D. (1994a) 'An Introduction to Client-Centred Pre-Therapy', in Mearns (1994a), pp. 121-125.

See Van Werde (1994b) for comments.

Van Werde, D. (1994b) 'Dealing With the Possibility of Psychotic Content in a Seemingly Congruent Communication', in Mearns (1994a), pp. 125-125-128.

These two articles (Van Werde 1994a and Van Werde 1994b) provide, respectively, a very brief introduction to Prouty's (1976) ideas about pre-therapy and a case study illustrating the approach in use. While very short, the ideas are nonetheless very clearly described and serve as a good starting point for practitioners exploring how to interact concretely with psychotic individuals.

Zimring, F. (1996) 'Rogers and Gloria: The Effects of Meeting Some, But Not All, of the "Necessary and Sufficient" Conditions', in Farber et al. (1996), pp. 65-73.

When I first saw the film of Rogers's session with Gloria, I was hugely disappointed. I felt that Rogers repeatedly displayed a surprising failure of empathy, neglecting to respond to what Gloria actually said, speaking instead from his own frame of reference and often even talking right over the top of Gloria's attempts to speak. I recall feeling stifled and almost relegated to another planet when the 20 or so other people I watched the film with all seemed relatively positive about it (external locus of evaluation kicking in there, I suppose theorists would say!). So when I finally came upon this article a couple of months later, I felt relieved to be back on the planet again. Zimring analyzes the Gloria session in detail, pointing out Rogers's repeated failures to empathize with his client and the effects it has on her when he speaks instead about his own values and views about life. It is notable that the editors did not receive permission to reprint the entirety of the Gloria transcript, which at the end, after the session, includes Rogers speculating on Gloria's choice of men being intended as "slapping your father in the face" by "going out with those who are quite unlike the ones you'd really want" (quoted by Zimring, p. 71 from another source) -- speculations which Zimring describes as "very different from his usual therapy responses" (p. 71).

Zimring comments that "This case is a good example of what happens when we do and do not respond to the client's subjective world, to his or her internal frame of reference. When Rogers was driven by his ideas about what is good for a person to do, like taking risks, and so was not attending to Gloria's internal frame of reference, her attention remained focused on externals... When Rogers was empathic, when his attention was focused on her internal frame of reference, her subjective landscape became richer." (pp. 72-73).

   

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This page was last reviewed by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Saturday, 11 November 2017.