Carl Rogers' Core Conditions
The ‘core conditions’ are basically attitudes that the counsellor displays that show acceptance of the client, valuing them as a human being of worth.
The first condition is called empathy, sometimes referred to as a frame of reference. Try this experiment: with a friend, look at the same object, or the view out of the window. Do you see the same thing?
Probably not; the reason is that we all have our own perception of the world. The counsellor tries to understand the thoughts and the feelings as the client experiences them , sometimes referred to as ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’.
The second condition is known as congruence; this means the counsellor is genuine and real. This condition is important as it allows the client to build a trusting relationship with the counsellor. Let’s face it, would you want to talk your problems over with someone acting falsely? No, I thought not.
The counsellor’s congruence also has another use. It can help defeat negative attitudes or conditions of worth that others may have placed on the client. For example, perhaps someone has said to them that they are ugly, fat or stupid. The counsellor’s warm and genuine approach allows the client to feel valued, which in turn builds self-esteem and trust in their own judgement.
Unconditional Positive Regard
The third and final condition is known as UPR, which is short for unconditional positive regard. For a client, it can be a relief to talk about their problems without someone saying, ‘Why did you do this?' or 'Do think that was a good idea?'.
UPR allows the client to open up and speak about their difficulties without a fear of being criticised or judged.
All counsellors – even those who don’t practise person-centred therapy use the ‘core conditions’ as a base for their practice.
Importance of the Core Conditions
So why are Rogers’ ideas about the six necessary and sufficient conditions so important? To answer this, we need to turn back to the 1930s and 1940s, when psychoanalysis was the predominant therapy.
Unlike person-centred therapy, psychoanalysis relied on the therapist being a blank slate, distancing themselves from the client, and not getting involved on a personal level – in other words, revealing little or nothing of their own personality in therapy. adopting a veil of expertise, and acting like the expert. They even had terms for the two roles in the world of psychoanalysis: ‘analyst’ and ‘analysand’. Also, psychoanalysis focused strongly on the past rather than on the here and now.
Rogers challenged this view, and decided to find another way of therapy. Abraham Maslow termed Rogers’ approach – humanism – the ‘third force’ in psychology (psychoanalysis being the first, and behaviourism the second). This was pioneered by Rogers, Maslow, Rollo May and other psychologists.
For humanism to work, the therapist had to be – you’ve guessed it – a human being! In other words, they had to be real, genuine and active in the therapeutic relationship. Rogers believed that one of the reasons that people struggled in their lives was they were working to conditions of worth and introjected values. That is, they were living life on other people’s terms – and they were withholding, muting or pushing down their own organismic valuing process. The people they wanted to be were being pushed away by themselves to please others.
Rogers believed that by using the core conditions of empathy, congruence and UPR, the client would feel safe enough to access their own potential. They would be able to move towards self-actualisation, as Maslow called it, to be able to find the answers in themselves.
Carl Rogers' Hidden Conditions
The three core conditions – empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard (UPR) – are sometimes referred to as the ‘facilitative conditions’ or the ‘client’s conditions’. In other words, they are the conditions that the client needs for the therapy to work: they need to be transmitted from the therapist to the client. This enables the client to look at self, and to be able to make appropriate changes.
The remaining three conditions are sometimes known as the ‘hidden conditions’ or the ‘therapist’s conditions’:
- ‘Psychological contact’ refers to the therapist and client being on the same page psychologically. So if a client is going through a very difficult psychotic episode or is under the influence of medication, street drugs or alcohol, this might make it very difficult for the therapist to get into their frame of reference – in other words, to be ‘on the same page’ psychologically.
- As well as the therapist transmitting UPR and empathy, the client also needs to understand and accept that the therapist is there as a genuine person trying to help them. They must accept and feel at some level the UPR and empathy.
- Finally, there needs to be client incongruence (i.e. the client has an issue to bring to therapy). In other words, the client needs to be in some kind of psychological distress.
An Ethical Dimension
In his book Learning and Being (PCCS Books, 2002), Tony Merry makes the point that there’s an ethical dimension to these core conditions – because they allow the therapist to form a view on whether therapy can take place. If psychological contact isn’t present, then clearly therapy cannot take place. If, for some reason, the client just doesn’t trust the counsellor and won’t accept the chance to be helped, then it’s clearly going to be difficult to form a therapeutic relationship. And, finally, if someone turns up and says, ‘Well, really I’ve got nothing to discuss. I’ve not got any problems,’ then again it’s very difficult to form a therapeutic alliance.
Putting It All Together
If the six conditions are present, then – by default, according to Rogers’ theory – therapy will take place. Over the years, many people have criticised person-centred therapy, asking, ‘’How is it possible for a therapist to offer those conditions consistently in the therapy room?’ And to be fair, it can be difficult. We’re all human beings, and sometimes our ‘volume control’ on the core conditions can turn up and down. But if it is our genuine intention to offer them, then almost certainly our clients will benefit.
It’s not unusual for people who train in person-centred therapy to take those conditions of empathy, congruence and UPR into their own daily lives, using them in their interactions with people other than clients. So while we aim to set our volume control to full-on in the therapy room, we might turn it down a little in everyday life, because not everybody wants therapy – as well as there being many reasons why it’s not a good idea to counsel friends or relatives.