Client-centered therapy, also known as person-centered therapy or the Rogerian style of therapy, was developed more than 70 years ago by Carl Rogers, whom many therapists consider the most influential psychotherapist in history. In client-centered therapy, the therapist conveys empathy, acceptance, respect, and unconditional support rather than providing specific interpretations or guidance. This allows the patient to feel empowered and capable of finding solutions to his or her own problems.

The method is based on research that shows an accepting, empathic relationship between therapist and patient helps the patient become self-aware and self-reliant. The therapy is designed to be adapted to each patient instead of being a one-size-fits-all approach.

How Client-Centered Therapy Works

Rather than analyzing what is wrong with the patient and subjecting the patient’s feelings and behaviors to analytical interpretation, the therapist is a companion on a patient’s journey to cope with and find solutions to life’s problems.

“You’re focused on being empathically in tune with patients’ objective experience and helping them in a fairly non-direct way to get more in touch with their emotional subjective experience,” explains Jeffrey L. Binder, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Argosy University in Atlanta.

In client-centered therapy, the therapist honors and respects the patient’s autonomy, choices, and values rather than trying to change the person. Because the therapist is focused on creating an atmosphere of acceptance and safety, the patient is better able to play an active role in the therapeutic process.

In client-centered therapy, patients are viewed as being capable of taking responsibility and finding their own solutions to problems. The therapist expects the patient to take the initiative in several ways, by:

  • choosing the topics to be discussed during each session
  • navigating and finding solutions to problems
  • deciding how often to meet and when to stop therapy.

Client-centered therapy is typically conducted in one-on-one, hour-long weekly sessions. But in some cases, client-centered group therapy sessions are also possible as long as an atmosphere of empathy and trust can be created. Insurance may cover some of the treatments.

Other Disorders Treated by Client-Centered Therapy

In addition to depression, client-centered therapy can be used to help with the following conditions or situations:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • low self-esteem
  • interpersonal relationship problems
  • unhappiness in work or home
  • physical or sexual abuse 

What the Expert Says

With client-centered therapy, “you mirror back with what the patients says,” says Jaine L. Darwin, Psy.D., a psychologist and psychoanalyst in Cambridge, Mass. “I think part of the reason it works well is because by mirroring back what the patient says, the therapist conveys an understanding of what the patient is going through. It’s based on the premise that the more someone feels understood, the more they tell you. And if someone is depressed and you’re paying attention to them, they’re going to, in some way, feel better. You tend to isolate yourself with depression. This gives you a message of having some self-worth.”