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The Man Behind Unconditional Positive Regard

Carl Rogers' approach was unstructured but also nondirective, driven by empathy.

Key points

  • Carl Rogers' approach was unstructured like psychoanalysis and non-directive, driven by empathy rather than rote methodology.
  • Rogers' research indicated consistently moving clients from being out of touch with their emotions and more rigid to being open and flexible.
  • Rogers had an influence on mid-century shifts toward more humanistic paradigms within the field of psychology.

By the end of the 1920s and in his late twenties, Carl Rogers entered the helping professions during his doctoral work through a position working with children and families in Rochester, New York.

At that time, such clinics generally advised parents to interpret the family dynamics affecting the child. Rogers found these practices ineffective and wished to eliminate interpretation and advice and offer an approach that honored the autonomy and individuality of each child and family, rooted in warmth, acceptance, and empathy.

Rogers’ approach was unstructured like psychoanalysis but non-directive, driven by empathy rather than rote methodology, with the therapist as a facilitator rather than the expert. The therapeutic relationship is the therapeutic crux, rather than interpretation, advice, or behavior modification through external conditioning.

Didius/Wikimedia Commons
Sketch of Carl Ransom Rogers
Source: Didius/Wikimedia Commons

Over several years, he developed this “non-directive” therapy—soon branded “client-centered.” He then moved to Ohio State around 1940, and that’s where he further developed what was eventually known as person-centered therapy.

Later at the University of Chicago, Rogers actively shaped new standards of psychotherapy practice, supervision, and research–many of which have stood the test of time. Rogers and his contemporaries provided a vision for a reformation, challenged conventions, engaged in qualitative research never before tried in the field, established much-needed new ethical guidelines, and inspired multiple generations who are now leading the front.

Eventually, Rogers came up with this very famous formulation of the six conditions that bring about client change (1957):

1. Two persons are in psychological contact.

2. The first is in a state of some degree of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.

3. The second, the therapist, is congruent or integrated in the relationship.

4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client.

5. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference and endeavors to communicate this experience to the client.

6. The communication to the client of the therapist’s empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved.

He described conditions that his research indicated consistently move clients from being out of touch with their emotions and more rigid to being open, flexible, and more fully functioning.

Rogers’s person-centered approach fundamentally shifted the balance of power to clients. Even modern psychoanalytic and behavioral methodologies are now quite person-centered. Some within those movements have credited Carl Rogers with a heavy influence on mid-century shifts toward more humanistic paradigms within the field.


Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. R. (1957, April). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21(2), 95–103.

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