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Summary Chart: Person-Centered Theory

Human Nature

The person-centered theory emphasizes a highly positive view of human nature in which people can be trusted to be continually seeking productive directions toward maximum self-actualization. Perceiving unconditional positive regard from their environment supports this development, whereas conditions of worth inhibit it and produce nonactualizing thoughts and behaviors.

Major Constructs

Clients have psychological and sociological difficulties to the degree that their phenomenological worlds do not match their true positive nature (incongruent) and its use in their everyday lives. Empathic understanding of the clients' world is essential in helping clients find a more congruent match between their phenomenological world and their actions, feelings, thoughts, and responses from others.


Clients work to get in closer touch with essential positive elements of themselves that have been hidden or distorted. Less distortion and more congruence lead to greater trust that their organisms can be relied on for effective reactions to people and situations. This added trust results in reduced feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, fewer behaviors driven by stereotypes, and more productive, creative, and flexible decision making.

Change Process

The change process is stimulated when counselors provide the core conditions of genuineness, acceptance and caring, and empathic understanding. Change takes place as clients perceive these conditions and begin exploring and testing new thoughts and behaviors that are more in line with their positive, growth-oriented nature. This exploration, testing, and learning leads to increasing trust in their organism's ability to think and act in a wider variety of circumstances.


This theory is marked by a minimum of specific intervention techniques, as counselors are asked to be genuine in a relationship rather than to perform a rigid set of actions. Interacting in the immediacy of the situation and then evaluating the results with the use of active listening, reflection of content and feelings, appropriate self-disclosure, and other personally, professionally, and situationally responsive interactions are essential.


Success depends on counselors maintaining high trust in the feelings and actions of the client and themselves. Lack of trust often causes practitioners to fall back on safe, passive reflection responses. These are necessary early on but become increasingly inadequate as the need for a more comprehensive therapeutic relationship develops, one that includes directness that comes with additional culturally, situationally, and personally relevant feelings and interactions.

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