The Client-Centred Model – An Analysis

In this essay I shall be defining the Rogerian and Egan’s 3-stage model of counselling and discussing how the counselling alliance is established in each. Boundary issues will also be examined with a focus on what needs to be considered within the therapeutic relationship. Particular attention will be paid to the similarities and differences between them and the situations in which they may be utilised.

Humanistic approaches in psychology emphasise the human capacity for integrity, creativity and autonomy. Originally developed by Carl Rogers, client-centred, or Rogerian psychotherapy has been one of the most influential humanistic approaches in psychology (Sheldon, 2001). Underlying Roger’s approach is the assumption that organisms have a fundamental desire to improve themselves: to self-actualise. Self-actualisation is an organism’s inherent drive to develop its capabilities in order to function well and progress (Meador & Rogers, 1984). Rogers (1982) examined the person’s capacity for change within the therapeutic relationship and found that psychological dysfunction occurs when individuals are prevented from efforts toward achieving self-actualisation; to realise who and what they truly are.

Rogers (1957) outlined that in order for effective personality change to occur and for a truly therapeutic relationship to exist between the client and therapist, it is necessary that the therapist and the client are in psychological contact, that the client is in a state of incongruence, that the therapist is congruent and integrated in the relationship, that the therapist experiences unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding for the client, and that there is an attempt and also some degree of achievement in communicating this understanding to the client. Of these criteria the three most fundamental ‘core’ conditions the therapist must aim to achieve are congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy (Rogers, 1978).

Central to Rogers model is the premise that the potential psychological development of an individual can be unlocked through a relationship where the therapist feels and conveys genuine caring, sensitivity and non-judgemental understanding in a non-directive manner towards a client (Meador & Rogers, 1984). Rogers model is considered non-directive, as unlike directive approaches, where information is collected and presented, Rogerian counselling sees information conveyed from client to therapist and explicit directions from the therapist are avoided (Rogers, 1982).

During a counselling session the client is encouraged to express and explore self-directed inner feelings. The counsellor responds through reflection and through paraphrasing the emotional content, helping the client consider the meaning of their inner experiences (Meador & Rogers, 1984). The therapist accepts the client’s statements without judgement or interpretation attempting to understand them as the client would.

Genuineness, or congruence requires an absence of defensiveness and openness to experience and is essential in the interactions of both the therapist and client in effective client-centred therapy (Rogers, 1978). The counsellor’s congruent attitude conveys to the client a genuine concern to understand the world from the client’s perspective.

A main objective of client-centred therapy is to bring a client’s experience and awareness back into congruence (Rogers, 1982). The better the congruence of experience and understanding for the therapist and the client, the greater the likelihood of reciprocal communication (Rogers, 1982). Once this transpires it is hoped that the client can recount their experiences openly and accurately.

Congruence and empathy are closely related factors in client-centred psychotherapy (Meador & Rogers, 1984). Therapists need an empathic appreciation of the client to see the world from their perspective. Rogers (1978) believes that the therapist needs to accurately perceive and feel the client’s feelings, then convey this empathy to assist the client in achieving greater comprehension and control over their behaviour and circumstances.

An acceptance of the person’s individuality and diversity is required for empathy to be achieved in what Rogers (1978) calls unconditional positive regard. For therapeutic change to occur, therapists must present unconditional positive regard, communicating to the client that they are worthy people (Rogers, 1966). As the client becomes more aware of the therapist’s acceptance through unconditional positive regard, an opportunity is presented for the client to relax conscious and unconscious defence mechanisms and to confront issues.

Client-centred theory takes these core conditions discussed above as both necessary and sufficient for therapeutic movement to occur. i.e., that if these core conditions are provided, then the client will experience therapeutic change (Rogers, 1957).

In such a model where the therapist is expected to adhere to conditions that require the use of the self, the issue of boundaries must be given due consideration. Boundaries are a crucial element in any client-therapist interaction. They set a structure for the relationship and provide a consistent reliable and predictable frame for the process. There are basic boundaries that should be kept in all therapeutic relationships such as a client being able to count on a particular appointment time and a set fee for sessions.

In the client-centred counselling relationship the requirement that the therapist is genuine in his experience during the session gives rise to questions as to how open a therapist should be and how boundaries can operate in order to ensure that the counselling relationship serves the client’s therapeutic interests. Any such interactions must not threaten that goal.

Rogers (1966) responds by saying that therapists should not put on a facade and should openly allow the flow of their feelings and attitudes during the meeting with the client. In order for the therapist to achieve this he must be aware of his own feelings. Rogers (1966) warns that this must not be interpreted as the therapist burdening the client with an expression of all of his feelings, but that the therapist does not deny himself what he is feeling and is willing to be transparent regarding the persisting feelings that exist in the relationship. This definition denotes that there is an inner and an outer side of genuineness. This inner side being the therapists experience of his own flow of emotions, the outer side being the extent to which the therapist is prepared to be transparent in the expression of his inner feelings (Brazier, 1995).

How much therapists should reveal about their own lives is one of the most difficult boundary dilemmas. Rogers (1962) gives the impression that the therapist must use his own expertise to decide when such suitable times arise. However, the general accepted criterion is that the therapist must decide whether the self-revelation aids the clients growth process (Yalom, 1980). When confronted with a client asking questions about the therapists own values client-centred therapists do not look favourably to giving an answer as the client should be working towards finding his or her own values.

Egan (1994) considers his problem management model to be humanistic, flexible and broadly based. Egan’s 3-stage model is directive and focuses on goals. However, Egan (1994) regards his model as client-centred as the client’s needs are the starting point. With the help of the therapist the client is aided to explore what they want and determine what they need to do to achieve what they want.

It is important that the therapist establishes a therapeutic relationship in order for the client to be able to trust them. If clients find it difficult to be open about their struggles the amount of change they will be able to achieve will be limited. Egan (1994) believes that the relationship between the therapist and the client should be subservient and instrumental in achieving the goals that have been set out to be achieved and that there should not be too much focus on the quality of the relationship.

Egan (1994) expects therapists to respect and value diversity and individuality, withhold judgements, act in a way that expresses that that they care for the client in a down-to-earth way, show warmth (as described by Gazda (1973) to be the physical expression of understanding and caring such as gestures and facial expression), keep the client focused and help them through painful situations.

The therapists’ values are considered an important aspect in the helping process as they can influence clients values. Therefore the therapist must be aware of his or her own values as they can influence criteria for making decisions (Vachon & Argesti, 1992). Therapists also need to be genuine in that they are comfortable and can be themselves in any situation. This should not however be interpreted that therapists be spontaneous all of the time but that they do not always weigh up what they say when talking about their own lives. If negative feelings occur, therapists also need to be willing to consider the cause of a clients negative attitudes towards them and be willing to continue working with them in order to avoid being defensive (Egan, 1994).

There are guidelines regarding communication skills. For example the therapist is expected to show that they are being attentive with their body language by facing the client, adopting an open posture, leaning towards the client, maintaining eye contact and being relaxed and natural whilst adopting these behaviours. Being aware of bodily reactions should also be utilised to aid an awareness of psychological reaction (Egan, 1994).

Egan (1994) encourages the use of active listening and expresses that listening involves observing the clients nonverbal behaviour, understanding the clients verbal messages, listening to the context of what the client is saying and also listening out for things that the client says which may need to be challenged.

Egan (1994) emphasises that being empathic within the therapeutic relationship is important but that it need not be the only method of being in a therapeutic relationship, and that empathic responses need to take into account the clients words, non-verbal behaviour and the context of what is said. Therapists may also adopt the method of selective responding in order to emphasise certain feelings, experiences or behaviours (Egan, 1994).

Therapists using this model must have good communication skills, the ability to establish a working relationship, help clients challenge themselves, be able to clarify problems, set goals, develop action plans, implement plans and also evaluate the situation (Egan, 1994).

The therapist helps the client explore their current situation (the issues they should be working on (Stage 1)), their preferred situation (what they need to get what they want (Stage 2 )), their strategies (what they need to do to get what they want) and the action stage (how they will start making it happen (Stage 3)) (Egan, 1994).

During Stage 1 clients tell their story in order to explore their current situation. Clients identify their problems and recognise missed opportunities. As a part of Stage 1 the client needs to identify and clarify blind spots in order to see different perspectives on their problems. Egan (1994) believes that we all have our unique perspectives on life based on our personal experiences and knowledge which can shape our beliefs about ourselves. Our perspectives can sometimes hinder a development process as they are so ingrained that we no longer challenge them. In order to help the client see new perspectives the therapist must adopt the use of challenging; whereby the therapist encourages the client to examine internal and external behaviours that are self-defeating, harmful to others, or both, and then work on changing that behaviour (Egan, 1994). Following this the therapist needs to identify the problems or opportunities that will make a difference to their situation, enable the client to focus on them, and prioritise the order in which they need to be dealt with (Egan, 1994). The therapist must help the client to avoid struggling with too many issues at once and search for some leverage by tackling one problem that will contribute to resolving some of the other problems e.g. taking a up a course may have a knock-on effect on other issues such as higher qualification, better job prospects and higher pay.

In Stage 2 the clients aim is to discover their preferred situation. The role of the therapist is to help clients develop goals, objectives or agendas based on an action oriented understanding of the problem situation (Egan, 1994). Having established what the problem is, the client must begin to explore new avenues of what is possible and consider how they would want to make their present situation better. Egan points out that new scenarios should not be far-fetched, idealistic an unrealistic but merely how things would look if the current situation was improved (Egan, 1994)

Following this the client and the therapist put together an agenda of how the client can go about turning the preferred situation possibilities into something concrete to work with. Egan (1994) notes that the agenda must be viable, realistic, stated in terms of clear and specific outcomes and be a thorough answer to the presenting problem whilst being in line with the client’s values and capabilities (Egan, 1994). The therapist must recognise that implementing change is never easy and must ensure that the client has the necessary incentives to keep them engaged and willing in the process.

In Stage 3, the action stage, clients are helped to develop action strategies for accomplishing the goals they have set themselves in order to get from their current situation to their preferred scenario (Egan, 1994). Firstly the client must spend time brainstorming some strategies for action. As there is usually more than one method for achieving the defined goals the therapist must encourage the client to explore all possible options. Egan (1994) points out that one reason for people failing to reach their goals is that they do not investigate the different ways in which their goal can be accomplished and then they try one way of resolution, and if they don’t succeed conclude that their goal is unachievable (Egan, 1994). Overall goals can also be broken down into smaller goals in order to make them more manageable.

Once the possible options have been explored clients review which ones suit their personal circumstances and are most realistic. At this stage therapists need to be aware that clients who have not been very confident in the past may go for a strategy that does not take them as close to their goal as other strategies. Alternatively, in order to stretch themselves other clients may choose a strategy that carries the risk of failure. In this situation the counsellor must help the client challenge and review their choices.

Finally, the chosen strategies need to be drawn up into a detailed plan of action. The goal is to develop a step-by-step procedure of accomplishing each goal in the preferred scenario within a specified time frame (Egan, 1994). Of course the counselling sessions must not end at this stage as the decided plan must be constantly evaluated and reviewed in order to be flexible to cater for changing needs (Egan, 1994).

When it comes to the issue of boundaries in the use of Egan’s 3-Stage model the matter of self-disclosure arises. In Egan’s (1994) view it is a skill to be able to effectively utilise ones own feelings and experiences with the client. Murphy and Strong (1972) assert that self-disclosure is inappropriate if it is too frequent and that this may lead to the client suspecting that the therapist has ulterior motives. Egan’s (1994) approach is that disclosures should be appropriate, made with an aim to facilitate the clients goals, and be well-timed. They should not be exhibitionistic and distract the client from what needs to be discussed.

Both models discussed above are humanistic and regard themselves as client-centred as the needs of the client are the starting point. Both models aim to discover what it is that is troubling the client and make a start to resolve any issues.

The counselling session using the Rogerian model will be unstructured and the client will be free to talk about anything that they want to whilst Egan’s 3-stage model is directive and with a focus on making and working towards particular goals. Unlike the client-centred approach Egan’s (1994) 3-stage model presents to the therapist a formula for how the counselling work can be carried out. Egan (1994) refers to his helping model like a map in which the different stages and sub-stages are utilised and which can guide the therapist on where they are in the process of the therapy and what they need to do next.

Although both models consider the therapeutic relationship to be significant Egan (1994) purports that it is not essential to place too much emphasis on it. Both models expect their practitioners to respect and value diversity and individuality although Rogers’ model places greater emphasis on the importance of feeling a deeper level of empathy. Egan (1994) holds that empathic understanding is not sufficient and that it is necessary to challenge clients in order for them to learn new ways of coping and for the client to examine internal and external maladaptive behaviours. Challenging is considered fundamental in helping clients translate the new perspectives that they have gained and turn them in to constructive action.

Both models emphasise being genuine in the therapeutic relationship and that the practitioner should be prepared to confront any issues that arise for them and also try to be congruent in their experience of the therapeutic relationship. Both models emphasise the importance of active listening

In terms of boundaries it seems that both models assert that it is something that needs to be given due consideration and that whether it will be of benefit to the clients progress must be considered. The client-centred model does not look favourably at the therapist disclosing ones own values in therapeutic relationship whereas Egan’s (1994) model emphasises that the therapist needs to be aware of their own values in case they influence decision-making.

The client-centred model is a functional counselling tool for those from all walks of life and especially useful when the client is not fully aware of what is troubling them or making them dissatisfied with life. Clients who have a strong urge in the direction of exploring themselves and their feelings may be particularly attracted to the client-centred approach. The client-centred method has the potential to empower people. Clients can be guided to find their own solutions, which can be a very powerful and positive influence on the marginalised or oppressed (e.g. domestic violence victims) (Okun, 2002). Additionally, with the inclusion of concepts such as empathy and unconditional positive regard this approach strongly reflects the importance of being open-minded to different forms of diversity in people, which is a fundamental aspect of effective counselling (Corey, 2001; Okun, 2002).

Those who would like a counsellor to offer them extensive advice and help them find particular solutions and modes of action would probably find the client-centred approach less helpful and find Egan’s 3-Stage directive model more beneficial. For example Egan’s 3-stage model may be useful for those who are unhappy with their current choice of University course or career and would like to come to a decision about what to do next. The 3-stage model could be utilised to enable the client to think about what they like and dislike about the choice they have made and how they would like to go about implementing changes. A goal in such a session might be to go to different open days and read prospectuses in order to collect more information about the desired course of action.