In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies: From Carl Rogers to Contemporary Practice

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Carl Rogers (b. 1902–d. 1987), Founder of Person-Centered Therapy
  • Philosophical Fundamentals
  • Personality and Developmental Theory
  • Theory of Disorder and Health
  • Theory of Therapy
  • Sub-Orientations and Offshoots
  • Practice, Methods, and Techniques
  • Client- and Process-Specific Aspects
  • Diversity
  • Work with Groups, Couples, Families, and Young People
  • Outcome and Process Research

Psychology Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies: From Carl Rogers to Contemporary Practice
Colin Lago, Michael Behr, Divine Charura, David Murphy, Gerhard Stumm
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0199


The foundations of this humanistic approach to counselling and psychotherapy were laid down in the 1940s by Carl Rogers in the United States. While this approach has seen the evolution of names ascribed to it (e.g., non-directive counseling, client-centered therapy, person-centered therapy, etc.), the essential guiding philosophy has been based upon a deep trust in each individual’s capacity for resilience and growth within the context of a “helping” relationship (where both persons are in psychological contact). Such a relationship was characterized by particular attitudinal elements of the therapist (unconditional positive regard, authenticity, and empathic understanding) and the client’s psychological processes (current in-authenticity causing vulnerability or anxiety and their perception of the therapist’s intentions). Rogers recognized the importance of client experience as a reliable referent in personal change and development. His publication of several key texts in the 1950s proved influential within the field of counseling and psychotherapy and helped to disseminate the core philosophy, theoretical ideas, and emerging research outcomes emanating from the practice of client-centered therapy (as it was then known). As a theory grounded within the context of interpersonal relationships, Rogers later expanded his theory building to the settings of family relationships, education, small group and large group work, and to groups in conflict. From early in his career Rogers was a keen researcher, and such research activity expanded considerably upon his move into the university sector where he stimulated innovative approaches and vigorous research programs into the counseling/psychotherapy process, frequently involving other colleagues who went on to develop specific applications of this relational approach that included play therapy, conflict resolution, student-centered teaching, and group-centered leadership and administration. Person-centered therapy has continued to grow and develop in the intervening decades with the addition of a wide range of theoretical and clinical postulates, with the development of differing named “tribes” of theoretical practice sharing common values and the re-invigoration of impressive research activity. The following sections also demonstrate clearly that this field of professional psychotherapeutic practice continues to grow apace around the world as evidenced by the publication of many new books, chapters, and articles.

General Overviews

A considerable number of fine texts in different languages provide a detailed overview of the development of person-centered therapy from the early days of Carl Rogers to the 21st-century emergence of differing therapeutic ideas and orientations contained within the “family” of person-centered and experiential psychotherapies. Cain 2010 builds upon theory with sections dedicated to elucidating practice and citing research outcomes. Cooper, et al. 2013 additionally addresses therapeutic practice with specific client groups, while Lago and Charura 2016 features a historical and developmental overview and addresses issues of diversity in practice. Texts in different languages include, in Flemish, Lietaer, et al. 2008, and in Spanish, Segrera, et al. 2014. While a deeper exploration of Rogers’s complete canon of work will reveal his attention to both the development of personality and psychopathology (as well as to the unfolding of the therapeutic process), it is probably the latter that he has become more popularly known for. Barrett-Lennard 1998 is a detailed and nuanced appreciation of the therapeutic and wider implications of the approach. Embleton-Tudor, et al. 2004 and Wood 2008 provide overarching and detailed views of the clinical applications and theoretical developments of the person-centered approach spanning Rogers’s lifetime. Although some of both texts are dedicated to the elucidation of psychotherapy theory and practice, they also include sections on the wider applications of this philosophy. Rogers grounds his theoretical statements on the premise of the “actualising tendency” as the sole driving force for personal change and development. This is a localized manifestation of the formative tendency of the universe, and Rogers asserts that it tends toward the maintenance, enhancement, and well-being of the experiencing organism (e.g., the individual) (Sanders 2006). A range of terms and philosophic influences has variously been used to describe person-centered theory, including phenomenological, existential, perceptual, humanistic, holistic, growth oriented, and a clinical philosophy. Sanders 2012 describes the emerging schools of therapy related to this approach (see also Sub-Orientations and Offshoots for further details).

  • Barrett-Lennard G. 1998. Carl Rogers’ helping system. Journey & Substance. London: SAGE.

    Twenty years in the making, this book is by a former student and colleague of Rogers and constitutes a detailed account of the historical development of the Person Centered Approach within its wider social and political context. Key figures are referenced as is the inclusion of sections dedicated to theory, therapeutic process, and research.

  • Cain, David J. 2010. Person-centered Psychotherapies. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Offers a concise overview. The theory part includes key concepts and developments of the therapeutic approach. The practical section outlines attitudes of the therapist, including guidelines for transparency of the therapist, different forms of empathy, exemplified by short responses of therapists, and a case example, supplemented by research results. This homogenous piece has an introductory character with an advanced touch.

  • Cooper, Mick, Maureen O’Hara, Peter F. Schmid, and Gill Wyatt, eds. 2013. The handbook of person-centred psychotherapy and counselling. 2d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This book covers a wide terrain from the theoretical, historical, and philosophical foundations of person-centered therapy through to current therapeutic practice, the consideration of working with specific client groups, and how these align with professional issues.

  • Embleton-Tudor, Louise, Keemar Keemar, Keith Tudor, Joanna Valentine, and Mike Worrall. 2004. The Person-centred approach: A contemporary introduction. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-04678-9

    Spanning individual therapy, group work, education and work within community, this text provides the reader with a wider appreciation of the application of the person-centered approach beyond one-to-one therapy relationships.

  • Lago, Colin, and Divine Charura, eds. 2016. The person-centred psychotherapy and counselling handbook: Origins, developments and current applications. Maidenhead, UK: Open Univ. Press.

    This edited book is divided into five sections charting the extensive developments within person-centered therapy from the early days of Rogers through to the development of theory and to arenas of contemporary application and practice.

  • Lietaer, Germain, Greet Vanaerschot, Hans Snijders, and Roelf Takens, eds. 2008. Handboek gesprekstherapie. De persoonsgerichte experiëntiële benadering. Utrecht, The Netherlands: De Tijdstroom.

    This is a classical comprehensive handbook covering all aspects of person-centered and experiential psychotherapies. It is especially strong in including experiential methods and in focusing on special client groups. Mainly written from a Flemish-Dutch viewpoint, but the book also includes original chapters from international authors that have been translated into Flemish.

  • Sanders, Pete. 2006. The person-centered counselling primer. Ross-On-Wye, UK: PCCS.

    Described as a concise, accessible, comprehensive introduction, this short and immensely readable book written by a key author and publisher in the field addresses the vital elements of person-centered theory and practice.

  • Sanders, Pete, ed. 2012. The tribes of the person-centred nation: An introduction to the schools of therapy associated with the person-centred approach. 2d ed. Ross-On-Wye, UK: PCCS.

    Presented in such a creative way, the written text of this book is paralleled in a second column with occasional references and reflective notes pertinent to the descriptive prose. Written from a perspective of celebrating difference yet recognizing similarity in therapeutic styles, this book provides accounts of the different “tribes” within person-centered and experiential therapy.

  • Segrera, Alberto, Jeffrey H. Cornelius-White, Michael Behr, and Silvia Lombardi, eds. 2014. Consultorias y psicoterapias centradas en la persona y experienciales. Fundamentos, perspectivas y aplicaciones. Buenos Aires: Gran Aldea Editores.

    A collection of twenty-two influential papers from all aspects of person-centered and experiential work that had not been previously translated into Spanish, including basic theoretical papers, perspectives on extensions of the approach, and papers on practical applications. This book offers a comprehensive view and a gateway into person-centered and experiential work for Spanish-only readers.

  • Wood, John K. 2008. Carl Rogers’ person-centered approach: Towards an understanding of its implications. Ross-On-Wye, UK: PCCS.

    This excellent and thought-provoking book challenges the reader to consider deeply the full implications of the person-centered approach and to appreciate the differences there are for practitioners in living and behaving these values within the different settings, from individual conversations right through to large group facilitation.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.