The Theory of Psychotherapy

The Theory of Psychotherapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships (Rogers, 1959, pp. 213)

A. Conditions of the Therapeutic Process 

For therapy to occur it is necessary that these conditions exist.

  1. That two persons are in contact.
  2. That the first person, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable, or anxious.
  3. That the second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent in the relationship.
  4. That the therapist is experiencing unconditional positive regard toward the client.
  5. That the therapist is experiencing an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference.
  6. That the client perceives, at least to a minimal degree, conditions 4 and 5, the unconditional positive regard of the therapist for him, and the empathic understanding of the therapist.

Comment. These seem to be the necessary conditions of therapy, though other elements are often or usually present. The process is more likely to get under way if the client is anxious, rather than merely vulnerable. Often it is necessary for the contact or relationship to be of some duration before the therapeutic process begins. Usually the em­pathic understanding is to some degree expressed verbally, as well as experienced. But the process often commences with only these minimal conditions, and it is hypothesized that it never commences without these conditions being met.

The point which is most likely to be misunderstood is the omission of any statement that the therapist communicates his empathic under­standing and his unconditional positive regard to the client. Such a state­ment has been omitted only after much consideration, for these reasons. It is not enough for the therapist to communicate, since the communica­tion must be received, as pointed out in condition 6, to be effective. It is not essential that the therapist intend such communication, since often it is by some casual remark, or involuntary facial expression, that the communication is actually achieved. However, if one wishes to stress the communicative aspect which is certainly a vital part of the living experience, then condition 6 might be worded in this fashion:

6. That the communication to the client of the therapist's empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is, at least to a minimal degree, achieved.

The element which will be most surprising to conventional therapists is that the same conditions are regarded as sufficient for therapy, regard­less of the particular characteristics of the client.