Tudor and Merry (2006: 98) define the 19 propositions as ‘the group of statements which, together, constitute a person-centred theory of personality and behaviour’.
Origins of the Term (First Use of the Term)
The 19 propositions are one of the three pillars of the person-centred approach, the other two being the seven stages of process and the six necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic personality change. First presented in 1951 in Carl Rogers’ book Client-Centered Therapy, the 19 propositions are based on phenomenology.
In developing this part of his theory, Rogers drew on the work of other psychologists and on his own experience of counselling clients: ‘Taken as a whole, the series of propositions presents a theory of behavior which attempts to account for the phenomena previously known, and also for the facts regarding personality and behavior which have more recently been observed in therapy’ (Rogers, 1951: 482)
The 19 Propositions in Plain English
The 19 propositions are complex to read and understand, being written in 1950s’ philosophical language. They can be decoded as follows:
- I make sense of myself, others and my world based on my own consistently changing experience.
- My sense of reality is unique, formed out of what I experience, and out of how I process and understand my experience.
- My entire way of being and doing arises out of my personal sense of reality.
- Part of my reality is my sense of self.
- My sense of self arises from my experiences and perceptions, especially from comparing myself with others, and from the opinions and judgements of others as I perceive them. My sense of self is fluid but includes consistent perceptions. I attach values to these perceptions.
- I have an innate impulse to care for myself, heal and grow. This includes seeking to keep myself safe and intact, and to realise my inner potential, becoming who I am capable of being.
- You can adequately understand my behaviour only through understanding how I see myself and others in the world.
- I behave as I do in order to meet my needs, as I experience and perceive them, and as I experience and perceive reality.
- I am emotionally present in my behaviour. My feelings are part of how I attempt to get my perceived needs met. What I feel now strongly depends on how important the need is.
- The values I attach to my experiences and how I value myself are based on my own experience but also include values taken and absorbed from others. I may be unaware of some of my values derived from others.
There are a number of ways I can meet my experiences. I can make personal some of the meanings and integrate them into my view of the world. Or I can ignore them because they do not fit with how I see myself or the world.
- I usually behave in ways that are consistent with how I see myself. So if I believe that I have little value, I will behave as if this is true.
- Underlying needs and experiences that I deny or distort – or have not managed to make sense of – will tend to leak through in my behaviour. This behaviour may be less consistent with how I see myself. I am not likely to own this behaviour.
- When I am connected to my authentic being, I am able to be open to my actual experience – its immediacy and totality – and to integrate this into the world.
- When I disconnect from my own self, I will deny my awareness of my own experience, so it will be very difficult for me to make sense of the world and other people. This causes unease and tension (sometimes known as ‘incongruence’).
- I may find the experience threatening if it is inconsistent with how I see myself in the world. The more experiences I find threatening, the more rigid my sense of self becomes, and the more tightly I cling to my viewpoint.
- If I feel accepted and understood, I may be able to look at experiences I had previously denied. When there is this lack of threat, I can begin to make sense of myself. In this way, I am healing myself.
- When I am able to hold in awareness and integrate all my actual embodied experiencing, I am inevitably more understanding and tolerant of others, and more able to understand the value of others and to accept them as separate beings.
- When I am able to reshape my view of the world and myself, and include previously denied experiences, I begin to reshape my values. I can let go of introjected values and become a fully functioning person, trusting in myself and my own experience.
How We Can Use the 19 Propositions
Merry (2014: 34) writes: ‘The nineteen propositions repay careful reading because together they provide us with an elegant theory of how and under what circumstances people change, and why certain qualities of relationship promote that change.’ Thus, they are of value to us as counsellors both in working with clients and in developing ourselves, since ‘part of the counselling journey, specifically in PD [personal development] groups, is about encouraging those elements of our personality that are invisible to us – perhaps not-for-growth elements of ourselves – to come into our awareness, challenging us to look at them’ (Kelly, 2017: 51).
Kelly K (2017) Basic Counselling Skills: A Student Guide
Merry T (2014) Learning and Being in Person-Centred Counselling, PCCS Books
Rogers C (1951) Client-Centered Therapy, Constable
Tudor K and Merry T (2006) Dictionary of Person-Centred Psychology, PCCS Books