The Myth of Rogers ‘Core Conditions ‘

Carl-Rogers

Ask anyone who has studied counselling, what psychologist Carl Rogers is best known for, 9 times out of 10 the reply will be “ The Core Conditions”, which is interesting if we consider that Rogers never used the term.

What Rogers did promote was the ‘ Six Necessary and Sufficient Conditions’ of which three are, Empathy ,Congruence and Unconditional Positive Regard.

So why have these conditions become separated and popularised , while the other three conditions have become ‘lost’ or ‘hidden’ ?

The answer may lie in how counselling theory is taught, and popular misinterpretations of Rogers work, which has contributed to a dilution of the theory.

Also, when Rogers work was brought to the UK in the late 1970’s ,some practitioners, theorists and trainers ‘reinterpreted’ the model for a UK audience, hence the term ‘Core Conditions’ slipped in to the lexicon of language used in the British Person Centred movement.

So what are these lost conditions ?, Are they important ? Can we practice without fully understanding them?

Like with any theory, if we are not equipped with all the information, and an understanding of it’s importance, our understanding and application of it becomes compromised , perhaps arguably unethical.

So if Rogers did not use the term ‘Core Conditions’ what did he state was the formula for a therapeutic relationship to be of any benefit to clients ?

One reference can be found in the ‘Journal of Consulting Psychology’ 1957 ,in a paper written by Rogers entitled :

The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change

In it he described the Six Conditions as:

1. Two persons are in psychological contact.

2. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.

3. The second person, whom we shall term 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 endeavours 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 goes on to state :

No other conditions are necessary. If these six conditions exist, and continue over a period of time, this is sufficient. The process of constructive personality change will follow. “

If we remove conditions 3, Congruence, 4, Unconditional positive regard, and 5 , Empathy.

Which could be described as the ‘Clients conditions,’ those that ensure the client is heard and valued in the therapeutic relationship.

We are left with three others which could be deemed as the therapists conditions, and most importantly, those which ask the therapist to assess if Person Centred Therapy would be useful or ethically applicable for a client.

Lets look at the ‘hidden’ or ‘lost, conditions to find out why ;

1. Two persons are in psychological contact.

Is your client able to understand what they are embarking on , can they give informed consent ?

Barriers to this could be severe mental health issues such as active psychosis , severe learning difficulties or attending under the influence of prescribed medication or mental incapacity due to the use of drugs or alcohol.

If psychological contact cannot be made , then there is an ethical issue around autonomy , the ability for the client to make an informed choice in contracting with the therapist.

2. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.

Does the client have issues to deal with , can they identify what they would like to look at in therapy?

Sometimes clients, come to therapy for other reasons such as “making friends” or issues which therapy cannot help with such as debt or legal advice.

It could be that a client is not ready for change, blaming others for their misfortune or not taking responsibility for their actions, Rogers himself said the PCT was a growth model.

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

This last condition boils down to trust, if for some reason the client does or will not trust you, then it is very unlikely that they will feel safe enough to discuss what is really on their worried mind.

This condition is perhaps the toughest one to work with as it asks two things , the first is to give enough time for the client to build that trust ,the second is to be congruent enough in the relationship to explore with the client if you feel they are reluctant to fully engage with you.

Finally, it is incumbent on us as therapists to have a functional understanding of the therapy we practice, if we don’t ,are we really offering the best possible service to our clients?

Reference

Carl Rogers. (1957).The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change .Available: http://www.shoreline.edu/dchris/psych236/Documents/Rogers.pdf. Last accessed 10th of May 2015.