Feltham and Dryden (1993: 181) refer to the seven stages of process as one model of stages of change: ‘the marked phases which clients (or people attempting self-change) pass through … Rogers’ (1961) “stages of process” runs from 1 (“remoteness from experiencing”) to 7 (“experiencing effective choices of new ways of being”)’.
Origins of the Term
The seven stages of process are one of the three pillars of the person-centred approach, the other two being the 19 propositions (Carl Rogers’ theory of personality) and the six necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic personality change. In his book On Becoming a Person, Rogers (1961: 131) writes:
Individuals move, I began to see, not from a fixity or homeostasis through change to a new fixity, though such a process is indeed possible. But much the more significant continuum is from fixity to changingness, from rigid structure to flow, from stasis to process.
How Can We Use This Theory?
This theory provides a valuable common language with which to discuss clients in both supervision and case studies. They describe an organic process and should not be used as a framework to ‘push’ clients: ‘There are no direct interventions that can be made or should be made in an attempt to move the client from one stage to the next to speed up the process’ (Merry, 2014: 59).
People will not speak about feelings openly, and tend to blame others for causing their pain, rather than take responsibility for themselves: ‘If only my friend would stop doing that, I’d feel better.’ It is rare to see a client at this stage: ‘The individual in this stage of fixity and remoteness of experience is not likely to come voluntarily for counselling’ (Rogers, 1961: 132).
There is slightly less rigidity, with a small movement towards wondering whether responsibility should be taken by self, but not actually doing so: ‘It’s not my fault; it’s theirs – isn’t it?’ It may be possible to start working with a client at this stage, through offering the core conditions, trusting the client’s process, and so allowing the client to find their own way forward.
The person is beginning to consider accepting responsibility for self, but generalises, and focuses more on past than present feelings: ‘I felt angry, but then everyone does, don’t they?’ This is quite a common stage to enter therapy; it is important to use unconditional positive regard to accept the client just as they are, supporting them to feel safe to explore their feelings.
The client begins to describe their own here-and-now feelings, but tends to be critical of self for having these: ‘I feel guilty about that, but I shouldn’t really.’ While the client is willing and actively seeks involvement in the therapeutic relationship, they may lack trust in the counsellor. The counsellor also needs to take care not to collude with a client’s use of humour to distance themselves from the full impact of here-and-now feelings.
Clients express that they are seeing things more clearly, and take ownership of their situation, being prepared to take action: ‘I’m not surprised I’m angry with my boss after what I’ve been through. So I’ve quit my job.’ This is a very productive stage in therapy, as the client can express present emotions and begin to rely on their own decision-making abilities. The counsellor is likely to see the client taking action in their life.
The client recognises their own and others’ process towards self-actualisation: ‘I accept that pain within me, and what I and others did. I feel a warmth and compassion towards myself and them for where I am at.’ Once at this stage, the client is unlikely to regress. They may choose not to continue with therapy, now being able to treat themselves with self-care and love.
We are likely to see a fluid, self-accepting person who is open to the changes that life presents: ‘After the profound and irreversible experiences of stage six, there is going only to be growth, and it is unlikely the client will feel they need a counsellor to facilitate this’ (Kelly, 2017: 72).
Movement between Stages
Rogers identified that the journey between stages is not linear (with people moving both ways): ‘… it is rare to find someone who shows signs of being in only one “stage” at a time. At some points, a client might even seem to the counsellor to have “gone backwards”’ (Tolan, 2003: 112). By stage 6, progress is more secure, and that self-growth is able to continue without the counsellor.
Feltham C and Dryden W (1993) Dictionary of Counselling, Whurr Publishers
Kelly K (2017) Basic Counselling Skills: A Student Guide
Merry T (2014) Learning and Being in Person-Centred Counselling, PCCS Books
Rogers C (1961) On Becoming a Person, Constable
Tolan J (2003) Skills in Person-Centred Counselling & Psychotherapy, Sage