A person-centered approach is more like a conversation between friends, even though it’s not, says Bennett-Heinz. In reality, the therapist uses the following three essential techniques:
Authenticity and Congruence
There should be congruence (agreement) between what the person-centered therapist feels and what they show clients, Bennett-Heinz says. An example of lack of congruence would be if a client experiences a win at work and the therapist just sits there expressionless. One of the goals of this type of therapy is for therapists to model congruence for clients, so that clients learn to be congruent in what they show others regarding their emotions.
Authenticity is another important element of person-centered therapy because authenticity and congruence increase trust and comfort in the relationship between client and therapist.
“If I were to be bored in a session, I would never say, ‘Hey, I’m bored,'” says Peter H. Addy, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon. “But I could say, ‘I’m having trouble following what you’re saying. Do you also have trouble following your thoughts? Or ask if the person sometimes finds it hard to relate to other people when they [the therapist] seem to have trouble following what the customer is saying.
Giving another example, Dr Addy says that if a depressed client is having trouble sharing anything, they might say, “We’ve been sitting in silence for 10 minutes now. I don’t know what to do with it; what do you think we should do?”
Unconditional positive regard
It is important for person-centered therapists to be non-judgmental and a constant source of positive reinforcement. “We can separate a person’s choices and behavior from their value as a person and not judge them for it,” says Bennett-Heinz. “It’s not my role to judge your choices or to tell you [that] you did something wrong. I am a partner in this journey of your life.
A third important factor is that people-centered therapists express their understanding of what the client is going through and feeling, which requires empathy. Therapists reflect clients’ emotions and express their understanding of their thoughts and feelings, Bennett-Heinz says.
These techniques, or elements, of person-centered therapy help clients develop their relationship with themselves over time, allowing them to change their behavior through self-direction, she adds. Although clients in person-centered therapy lead or lead the sessions, a therapist can bring something to the client from time to time, especially once the relationship has been established.
Clients in person-centered therapy have a responsibility to say, for example, that they don’t know where to start or what to talk about in their sessions. It is then the therapist’s job to help them understand, according to Bennett-Heinz. For example, a therapist might say, “Let’s learn some language to start,” or ask, “Would it help if I brought up a topic?” Or just ask “how are you?”
“It’s not like as a person-centered therapist, you can never stop and ask a question,” she says. “But you’re not directing the subject. You’re not going to bring up the client’s mother or say something like, “This has everything to do with your childhood trauma.”