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Individually Perceived World

The person-centered view recognizes that events will be perceived differently by different people (Rogers, 1961). Two countries go to war, two adults argue, two cultures clash, and relationships often break down because each side perceives what is right to be different from the other side's perception. The person-centered view of these examples is that individuals or groups relate to the world and their own actions from a unique context or phenomenological perspective. Therefore, words, behaviors, feelings, and beliefs are selected to match the specialized view of the world held by each individual.

The idea that no two people perceive the world in exactly the same way explains much of the variation seen in the preceding concepts. Cultural background and environmental factors play major parts in how individuals' perceptions and reactions can become very different. Our troubled girl surely does not perceive the world as the safe and kind place that another person who is successful in school, feels culturally accepted, and has a comfortable family life does. Neither will she perceive it as the rational world that the counselor is likely to see. This girl may be stealing, in part, because of a different perception of the world. She sees stealing as the only available option to help feed herself, her mother, and her infant sister. Person-centered counselors must recognize these differently perceived worlds, work unendingly to understand them, and seek to help clients grow through their personally perceived world rather than through the world as it is perceived by the counselor, therapist, or others.

Interaction With External Factors

A person-centered view of human development gives attention to external factors that affect psychological development in addition to critical internal forces. Even as infants, people make choices that induce growth and actualize potential. They reject experiences that are perceived as contrary to their well-being. However, these naturalistic ways of making choices become confused as the developing person recognizes that other individuals may provide or withhold love on the basis of how well the person assimilates values and behaviors set by others. This recognition can move individuals away from using their own best judgment to make personal choices and promote an alternative method that requires taking actions based on the presumed desires of others. The two theoretical concepts used to explain this aspect of development are unconditional positive regard and conditions of worth (Rogers, 1959).

Individuals who are given unconditional positive regard by significant people in their lives receive recognition of their positive nature, including their motivation and ability to become increasingly effective human beings. The worth and value of the individual are not questioned in this case, although specific behaviors or beliefs can be rejected as inappropriate. A parent might say to the young woman we have been following, "You are a good person and I know you want the best for us, but the stealing was wrong and there is a punishment that follows."

Individuals who are given and can recognize unconditional positive regard feel permitted to continue trusting themselves as positive human beings. The belief is conveyed that while they will make errors of judgment and behavior, they will also strive to examine themselves continually and be able to take actions for their own improvement because they are good people. Recognizing unconditional positive regard helps individuals continue seeking their own development with the confidence that they will become increasingly effective human beings.

There are often strings attached to the regard and love offered by others, as would be the case if the girl who stole had been told, "You're just a common criminal and no daughter of mine!" Children faced with this type of conditioned love based only on what a significant other wants and where differences or mistakes are unacceptable can come to believe that they are only good, loved, cared for, fed, or valued if they do just as others believe they should. These conditions of worth pressure developing persons to devalue their inherent potential for choice making and growth. They begin looking for directions and decisions that originate from external sources instead of trusting their more natural internal reactions to their environment. This process moves individuals away from confidence in the ability to run their own lives and toward seeking validation based on the lives and expectations of others.

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