Also by Pauline Connolly


An Ethical way of Being


The 'as if' quality of empathy


The Here and Now in Gestalt therapy




A belief/trust in the actualizing tendency and the sufficiency of the core conditions: Implications for person-centred therapy


Pauline Connolly


Rogers (1957) proposed six psychological conditions,[1] necessary and sufficient for therapeutic personality change (see Appendix). He hypothesized that when present in a relationship, these conditions or therapeutic attitudes are sufficient (i.e. no other conditions are necessary) to foster growth; and further, “the more fully and consistently the therapeutic attitudes are provided by the therapist and perceived by the client, the greater the constructive movement that will occur in the client” (Bozarth, 2001, p.5). Described as congruence, empathic understanding of the client’s frame of reference, and unconditional positive regard (the latter two necessarily being perceived by the client to some degree), the conditions, or therapists’ ‘way of being’, is essentially the social environment that facilitates the actualizing tendency of the client (Joseph, 2003).

The cornerstone of person-centred therapy is the actualizing tendency. It is conceived as the sole motivating force in individuals resulting in self-regulation and development; and the ‘mainspring of life’ and tendency upon which therapy depends (Schmid, 2001). This growth directed process, which can ‘work’/become active in facilitative relationships, includes movement toward autonomy, maturity, socialization, realization of individual potentialities, etc (Schmid, 2000). As Rogers (1963, p.6, cited by Joseph, 2003, p.304) states: “…I would affirm…my belief that there is one central source of energy in the human organism…that is best conceptualized as a tendency toward fulfillment…actualization…maintenance and enhancement of the organism”.

While many consider the core conditions to be necessary (but probably not sufficient!), they are viewed “only as preparatory design of relations meant to establish a certain climate or rapport, as…human preconditions…upon which actual therapeutic work still has to be constructed” (Schmid, 2000, p.9)[2]. From a person-centred stance, however, the realization of the basic attitudes (- principled nondirectiveness[3]) does not need to be supplemented/complemented by techniques; but rather “…represents the help which needs no supplementation by specific methods and techniques reserved for the expert. ‘Expertism’…lies in the ability to resist the temptation of behaving like an expert (even against the client’s wishes) – that means, solving problems with the help of techniques rather than facing them as persons” (ibid p.8).

As an expression of trust in the client’s organismic self-determination and authority, principled nondirectiveness is an attitude[4] that offers a ‘space’ for growth (as defined by the client), and an experience of “…being humbled before the mystery of others and wishing only to acknowledge and respect them…an almost aesthetic appreciation for the uniqueness and otherness of the client” (Grant, 1989, p.5). It is not a stance that is forced/artificial, but a consequence of ‘living the attitudes’. That is, a belief in the sufficiency of the conditions and the client as “the ultimate authority in choosing his own path” (Natiello, 2001, p.4) presuppose therapist nondirectivity. As Rogers (1951, cited by Patterson, 2000, p.33) notes, the therapist “who operates on the premise that the core conditions are necessary and sufficient is inherently non-directive”.

According to Bozarth (1998), conceptions of the appropriately intervening (even ‘instrumentally nondirective’) therapist, dismiss the actualizing tendency and self-authority of the client as unreliable; i.e. they fail to fully accept the client’s subjective reality and self-expertise; and ultimately subscribe to “Rogers’ revolutionary stance that identifies the client as his best expert about his life” (ibid, p.4).

Serving only a ‘catalytic function’, and allowing the locus of decision-making and responsibility to remain with the client (Rogers, 1947), directiveness regarding the client’s internal (and external) processes, is considered “…a presumption and encroachment upon the autonomy of the client which undermines the client’s experience of the validity of his own internal frame of reference” (Wilkins, 2000, p.26).

For the person-centred therapist, his sole directive is to enter the client’s world ‘as

if’[5] it were his own (simultaneously aware of the client-therapist boundary); and relinquishing his position of power (Natiello, 2001), relate to the client as an independent  equal and self-authority. In so doing he attempts to grasp, as best as possible, the accurate meaning of the client’s immediate experiencing and communicate this to him. Adopting the client’s phenomenological experience (perceived reality) as a basis for dialogue, the therapist engages in a process of attempting to make sense, not only of what is said, or expressed non-verbally, but also of what the client wants/is trying to share; including subtle meanings that lie at the edge of his awareness (Barrett-Lennard, 1993). Reflecting the deeper truth, or ‘full flavour’ (Rogers & Farson, 1987) of the client’s dimly perceived and/or articulated meanings, help him to symbolize/articulate his experiencing and empower him to proceed with his process (of exploring, hearing his meaning and then reappraising/re-evaluating it himself; Joseph, 2004)[6].

Rogerian empathy implies a respect for the client’s voice (frame of reference) and excludes interpretation, judgement, identification; any notion of the therapist as expert on the client/his problems; as well as, any preconceived use of methods/techniques – “…not rooted in the immediate experience of the relationship” (Schmid, 2000, p.8).

As an attitude towards and experience of the client, it is an interpersonal process “integrally intertwined with congruence and unconditional positive regard” (Bozarth, 1998, p, 51). Empathic responses, particularly as the therapeutic process unfolds, may involve ‘advanced empathy’ (Egan, 1994); ‘depth reflection’ (Thorne, 1991), or what Kohut (1959, cited by Natiello, 2001) calls ‘a higher form of empathy’ - “the process of weaving together the fragments and threads of the client’s experiences over a period of time” (p.10); as well as, immediacy, therapist self-disclosure, questions, challenging, goal setting, etc. Therapist parrot-like responses often associated with the approach, as Natiello (2001, p.10) illustrates, “have very little to do with the delicate process of hearing the barely articulated threads of experience…of the client’s life.”

In order to be instrumental however, such responses must be perceived by the client[7] (as genuine). As Patterson (1984, p.189) notes, “…these conditions must not only be provided by the therapist; they must also be perceived by the person to whom they are offered”. It is the ‘received’ therapist attitudes, (by the client) that encourage self-empathy and acceptance; support and facilitate self-exploration, awareness and dialogue (Barrett-Lennard, 1993).

Clients’ experience of a free/non-judgemental (‘I-Thou’) relationship redresses low self-esteem and incongruence, and fosters psychological adjustment. Therapists’ commitment “to going with the client’s direction, at the client’s pace and in the client’s unique way”  facilitate self-ownership and empower him to rely more on his internal locus of evaluation; act upon his organismic valuing system (taking self-initiated decisions/ actions; Joseph, 2004) and thus respond according to the needs of his ‘real’ self. In other words, grow towards “…living with increasing openness to experience and trust in organismic wisdom” (Natiello, 2001, p.22).

“With a professional humility and willingness to learn from the client” (Rogers, 1946, p?), the therapist, through empathic validation of feelings/needs, offers a safe, growth-promoting environment which provides the client with an enhanced value of his phenomenological experience and consequently an increased sense of self-worth.

Without subtly intervening/guiding, with intentions ‘to get the client somewhere’ (Bozarth, 1998), therapists, respectful of clients’ internal directive and integrity “…can not be up to other things, have other intentions without violating the essence of person-centred therapy. To be up to other things – whatever that might be – is a ‘yes, but’ reaction to the essence of the approach” (ibid, p11-12).

Experiencing this ‘personal encounter’ (Schmid, 2000) clients are assumed to have the ability and desire to use their resources constructively; and through self-awareness/ understanding, live healthier/happier relationships.[8]  In practice therefore, the client is his own best expert[9]; the therapist, a sensitive companion and equal (Schmid, 2000). Remaining in the responsive mode, the therapist’s demonstration of an accepting understanding of the client’s experiential world and self-reliance, fosters a sense of confidence, self-agency and hope. In the absence of a belief in the actualizing tendency, however, the rationale for the client as expert (and all it implies) is untenable (Joseph, 2003).

An essential trust in the actualizing tendency and its centrality for therapy is a pre-requisite for true person-centred practice. ‘Doing’ person-centred communication (e.g. reflection/mirroring) without relying on than the client’s inherent drive to become mature, socially adjusted, autonomous, etc (Rogers, 1946) – but relying on one’s own strength as a therapist – is not ‘being’ person-centred. Similarly, as Joseph (2003, p.305) writes, “…it would be a nonsense for therapists to claim to practice client-centred psychotherapy just because they endeavour to accept their clients unconditionally if they do not hold in the first place that there is an actualizing tendency”.

Therapy (of the kind described herein) releases deep strengths in the client (Rogers, 1946); immobilizing his ‘natural’ recuperative capabilities for healthy functioning (including resolution of specific problems, regardless of psychological classification, e.g. neurotic, depressive, etc; ibid). “It is not a matter of doing something to the individual, or inducing him to do something about himself. It is a matter of freeing him for normal growth and development” (Rogers, 1942, cited by Bozarth, 1998, p.28).

For Brodley (1987) these ‘change processes’, e.g. insight, healthier ways of relating, in and outside therapy, are a direct result of clients experiencing the conditions. “The mechanism is the process of adoption, by the client, of the attitudinal conditions in him/herself and toward him/herself…frees and enhances the capabilities and energies of the client…brings out the client’s wisdom about himself and arouses potentialities to be realized more fully in his/her life” (ibid, p.2).

Absorbing the attitudes initiates and supports a ‘releasing therapeutic experience’ (Rogers, 1964) which serves to enhance positive self-regard (self-acceptance) and enable clients to connect/ ‘get in touch’ with their actualizing tendency (Wilkins, 2000). As Bozarth (1998, p.84) notes: “The individual’s return to unconditional positive regard is the crux of psychological growth…it…reunifies the self with the actualizing tendency.” As, “…an antidote to the conditions of worth that have diminished the clients’ self-concept and confidence in their ability to grow in healthy ways” (Natiello, 2001, p.8), the experience of being ‘prized’ undermines conditions of worth[10], enhances congruence, and (with behaviour increasingly guided/determined by the organismic valuing process) results in a process of ‘self-liberation’ (Grant, 1989), and/or movement towards ‘full functionality’[11] (Joseph, 2003).

Without having a priori goal for clients (other than, perhaps helping them realize their own goals), the person-centred therapist’s a priori and immediate/constant goal for self, is to genuinely[12] live the core conditions in the relationship (Brodley, 1987). Besides an ethical response-ability (Schmid, 2000), this is, as Rogers and Sanford (1984, p.138, cited by Bozarth, 1998, p.32) claim, “…a radical stance…which advocates complete trust in individual growth and development under certain circumstances”. And, one which further implies a rejection of the assumption that there are specific treatments for specific problems, and thus the need to routinely take case histories, assess or diagnose clients (including the need for treatment plans/strategies; Joseph, 2003).

“The therapist must lay aside preoccupation with diagnosis and his diagnostic shrewdness, must discard his tendency to make professional evaluations, must cease his endeavours to formulate an accurate prognosis, must give up the temptation subtly to guide the individual, and must concentrate on one purpose only; that of providing deep understanding and acceptance of the attitudes consciously held at this moment by the client…” (Rogers, 1946, p.219).

According to theory, clients experiencing emotional problems (or ‘psychological maladjustment’, due to internalizing conditions of worth) are greatly helped when their own ‘inborn capacities for self-healing’ (Grant, 1989, p.8) are supported. Such ‘help’ comes in the form of a therapist willing of offer clients his full attention, compassion (love or agape) and “…to go with them in their own separate feelings as a separate person” (Rogers & Segel, 1955 [Film], ibid). In offering a “warm and permissive atmosphere in which the individual is free to bring out any attitudes and feelings which he may have, no matter how unconventional, absurd, or contradictory…” (Rogers, 1946, p.416)[13], therapists maximize the freedom of client exploration; permitting deeper expression (acceptance and assimilation) of feelings /attitudes previously denied. As perceptions of self and reality change, behavior alters.[14] This perceptual reorganization and concomitant redirection of behaviour, toward “greater psychological growth and maturity”, consequently lead to an “inner peace which constitutes adjustment … congruence”(ibid, p.419).

Rogers’ (1946) case for the ‘predictable process of client-centred therapy’, (which he himself accepted, may ‘sound too good to be true’; p.418) was based on the ‘discovery’ of great ego-integrative forces residing within each individual. And indeed supported by research and years of clinical observation/experience (Rogers, 1947). 

In client-centred therapy “…there is no standard or inevitable way in which the therapeutic conditions are lived out or expressed…” (Brodley, 1986, p.4)[15]. Thus, providing therapists maintain an ‘uncontaminated dedication’[16]to the client’s perspective and a belief that ‘he knows best’, behaviour will differ according to the idiosyncrasies of the individual therapist, client and unique relationship (Bozarth, 1998). (Differences in therapist behaviour, however, are in communication of, not commitment to, the attitudes; ibid). Even a technique conventionally conceived as having ‘basically no value’[17] in person-centred practice (Rogers 1957, p.234) may (in context) become a ‘channel’ for communicating the conditions. Nevertheless, “…just as these techniques may communicate the elements that are essential for therapy…”, Rogers (1957) adds, “…so any one of them may communicate attitudes and experiences sharply contradictory to the hypothesized conditions of therapy” (p.245).

Essentially then, techniques may be used when/if they are compatible with the basic attitudes, i.e. employment, experience and communication of empathy and/or acceptance are simultaneous. The point is that the interpersonal conditions “exist as an attitudinal embodiment” (Bozarth, 1998, p.107) in the therapist’s internal experience and need not be conveyed in a particular way.[18]

“We are not behaving according to a method or formula, nor are we responding with any systematic intention except to empathically understand whatever the client intends to express…” (Schmid, 2000, p.5). Necessarily emergent from the client’s internal referent and respect for his self-determination, the latitude of valid client-centred therapist responses is great (ibid). Indeed, since personal development and (unplanned) implementation of the attitudes, and each client-therapist relationship is unique, there is “as much variation as there are persons” (Wilkins, 2000, p. 26) in the ways therapists interact.

Thus, authentic attunement to the client as a whole person makes for an active therapeutic involvement, or presence, that can be expressed in multi-faceted, idiosyncratic ways;  involving ‘unsystematic’ application of techniques and/or other activities [19] (see Raskin’s 1988 conceptualization of systematic v unsystematic implementation, in Bozarth, 1998; Grant, 1989).

While Bozarth (1998) maintains that any ethical response decided upon by the client, and arising from his frame of reference and/or dialogue, constitutes a ‘viable and congruent’ activity; his response, similar to Rogers and others, is a cautious ‘yes, but…’ to the question of using techniques and remaining person-centred. Integrating other methods/ techniques is always a matter of compatibility with the basic principles. While conscientious therapists are encouraged to develop “new and more subtle ways of implementing [the] client-centred hypothesis” (Rogers, 1951, p.25, cited by Grant, 1989, p.6), the scope for genuine person-centred work, does not mean, as Schmid, (2000, p.4) affirms, “…that whatever someone does is person-centred as long as he/she calls it ‘person-centred’, or as long as he/she is convinced of being person-centred.”

Generally, techniques are solution focused and/or therapist-driven (expert-orientated); and unless they arise from ‘the dance between client and therapist’ (Bohart, 1994, cited by Bozarth, 1998), and a therapist in whom the attitudes are deeply ingrained, they distract (‘contaminate’) the therapeutic process (ibid).[20] 



“We are admitted freely into the backstage of the person’s living where we can observe from within some of the dramas of internal change, which are far more compelling and moving than a drama which is presented on the stage viewed by the public. Only a novelist or a poet could do justice to the deep struggles which we are permitted to observe from within the client’s own world of reality” (Rogers, 1947, p.2).

These words of Rogers encapsulate much of my experience of achieving, at least partially, the internal frame of reference of another.

Engaging in the process of empathic understanding of clients, continues to teach me, that given an accepting, respectful and honest space to explore and share the issues/aspects of one’s life, including self, that have, and/or continue to cause suffering, individuals (including those experiencing much grief/loss, intense anger, depression, anxiety, etc) are capable of achieving a more accurate perception of self and reality; experience enhanced self-esteem, confidence, acceptance; and in their individual healing/growth processes, lead more fulfilling, enriched lives.

In my experience, I feel that the core conditions and a belief in the client’s innate tendency/motivation, is both necessary and sufficient to bring about a change of (heart) perception and behaviour; that is indicative of Rogers ‘fully functioning person’. I do nevertheless, also believe that similar personal development can come about through a variety of ‘vehicles of change’ (Joseph, 2003), (e.g. from religious/spiritual to traumatic experiences); and thus, concordant with Bozarth (1998), the conditions may not necessarily be necessary. However, when present and/or experienced, I believe they are sufficient to facilitate growth.

Fortunately, the organization I work for adopt a person-centred, harm-reduction philosophy,[21]enabling me to freely – to the extent I am able – implement the principles in my own personal way. This does not however, mean that endeavouring to be congruent and unconditionally accepting is without its tensions and/or, even ‘always’ possible. Genuinely holding clients in unconditional positive regard is ‘sometimes very difficult’ (Rogers quoted in Wilkins, 2000, p.34); and as a considerable challenge[22] “…requires nothing less than the whole complete personality” (Rogers, 1946, p.421).

My (privileged) work with clients has afforded me a profound, invaluable learning experience. While I remain committed to becoming a counsellor, and enthusiastic and passionate about Rogers’ principles - his ‘way of being with’ clients, there are aspects of theory that I struggle to accept; and occasions/individuals which cause me to question the actualizing tendency, and the potency/efficacy of the conditions in releasing it. That is not to imply, however, that I consider communication of the conditions to be limiting, unvaried or ineffective.[23] As a trainee counsellor, any limits/shortcomings lie with me (my limited ability to offer the attitudes; lack of experience/competence, etc) and not the person-centred approach per se.

As Rogers’ observations proved his hypothesis, I too, hope my clinical experience will continue to confirm without doubt that not only does the client centred approach really ‘work’ -  as my experience thus far leads me to believe, but further, that its therapeutic benefits for clients, far exceed that of other (more directive) orientations. While I wish to remain as open-minded as possible, about ways of implementing the hypothesis, and/or other ways of working. I will, in my therapeutic relationships, endeavour to continue to consistently offer the conditions to clients (until my experience leads me to believe ‘something else’ is needed). And, thus hopefully be able to wholeheartedly, without reserve, share Rogers’ conviction; that present in all humans is a tendency toward self-actualization; and that, “Only one condition is necessary for all these forces to be released, and that is the proper psychological atmosphere between client and therapist” (Rogers, 1946, p.259).


Bristol: 2007


© Pauline Connolly





[1]Rogers’ (1957) integrative statement regards all therapies/interpersonal relationships aspiring to constructive personality change.

[2] Schmid (2000), Patterson (2000), etc, argue that that reference to the conditions as preparation for therapist ‘interventions’ demonstrates a failure and/or unwillingness to understand/accept Rogers’ principles.

[3] ‘Principled’ (not instrumental) nondirectiveness, is essential to client-centred therapy (Brodley, 1987).

[4] An attitude (not necessarily determined by response alone) informed by the client’s autonomy and absence of therapist intentions to assist clients in pre-determined directions (Bozarth, 2000).

[5] The ‘as if’ quality represents a respect for the client’s uniqueness, and an ethical/professional responsibility.

[6] As a primary means of implementing the conditions, Brodley (1987) espouses the ‘Empathic understanding response process’ (EURP): an inherently nondirective process, enabling therapists to express and check their experiential understanding of the client.

[7] Very disturbed individuals may have lost almost complete contact with experiencing their internal directive/organismic self. Where ‘psychological contact’ (the pre-condition) is difficult/improbable, grounding/pre-therapy techniques may be employed (Thorne, 1991).

[8] Implicit here is a more accepting relationship with self. Self-acceptance is crucial, since “we cannot change…move away from what we are, until we thoroughly ‘accept’ what we are” (Roger, 1944, p.2).

[9] As Rogers (1979, cited by Bozarth, (1998, p.93) advocates: “…it is the client who knows best what hurts, what direction to go, what problems are crucial…I would do better to rely upon the client for direction of movement in the process…”.

[10] I.e. introjected values/messages from significant others, about how one is to be in order to be accepted/valued.

[11] The major psychological dimensions indicative of Rogers’ ‘fully functioning person’ are: an increasing openness to experience - including existential living, and trust in one’s organismic self (Bozarth, 1998).

[12] Therapists must genuinely adopt this stance if the (‘I-Thou’) relationship is to exist; “To be effective, it must be genuine” (Rogers, 1946, p.219).

[13] This includes the freedom to ‘withhold’ expression of feelings.

[14] This reformulation of self structure involves the translation of more realistic insights into behavior; i.e. living in accord with the newly organized self-concept (Rogers, 1947).

[15] The conditions say nothing about how client-therapist communication should develop; verbal communication is not preferred to other ways of interacting, e.g. drama, play, art therapy (Rogers, 1946).

[16] ‘Contamination’ (Bozarth, 1998, p.100) results from a wavering/inconsistent adherence to the principles.

[17] E.g. dream analysis, free association, hypnosis, etc – techniques ordinarily viewed as antithetical to the approach (Rogers, 1957).

[18] A communicated empathic understanding of the client’s frame of reference is, however, the usual and for Bozarth, Brodley, etc, the purest form of communicating unconditional positive regard.

[19] Such ‘flexibility’ rebuts claims that (passive) practitioners are limited/constrained by Rogerian principles; and that there is generally little variation in their behaviour. Nevertheless, it is recommended that trainee and developing therapists, generally do exercise self-restraint/containment (see Brodley, 1991).

[20] The rationale for emergent techniques includes prevalent contexts as: client requests, setting/organizational context; and ‘clearing’/preparing oneself to better offer the conditions (become fully present), so that the potency of trusting the client’s self-direction/reliance can be realized (Bozarth, 1998, p.102).

[21] Treatment plans/goals and reappraisals thereof are not essential unless specified by the client, and/or the individual counsellor. (I personally have, as yet, not needed to use them). Further, clients, depending on staff availability, can decide the frequency, number and termination of sessions.

[22] Regular clinical supervision (peer and individual) help with ‘the working through of’ any challenges, uncertainties, questions, etc.

[23] Without employing (cognitive/behavioural) techniques – due to a lack of competence and perceived need – interaction with each client in each session is unique and fairly flexible.