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Carl Rogers' Person-Centered Approach

Non-directive, client-centered, person-centered... what's the difference?

Non-directive, client-centered, and person-centered. These are terms used to describe the therapeutic approach developed by Carl Rogers.

It can be quite confusing what the difference is between these three terms. The way I see it is that they represent a historical development of the approach.

It was in 1942 that Carl Rogers published Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer concepts in practice. It was here that he introduced the idea of non-directive therapy.

Rogers described it as non-directive therapy because it was the therapist’s task to follow the client’s lead. Rather than the therapist directing the course of therapy by using interpretative methods or reinforcement schedules to derive solutions for the patient, Rogers’ turned the notion of the therapist as the expert upside down. The therapist followed the client, helping them to uncover their own solutions. This idea of non-directive therapy was a direct challenge to the then dominant therapist-directed approaches of psychoanalysis and behaviorism.

Almost a decade after his 1942 book on counseling and psychotherapy, in 1951 Rogers published Client-Centered Therapy, in which he presented his more refined ideas. Most notably, Rogers had had replaced the term non-directive with the term client-centered.

Essentially, the terms non-directive and client-centered refer to opposite sides of the same coin. But whereas non-directive refers to what it is the therapist aspires not to do, that is to challenge the client’s agency over their own feelings and perceptions, the term client-centered refers to what the therapist aspires to do, which is to support the agency of the client and go with their direction in terms of understanding what hurts and what is needed.

Over the subsequent years, Rogers’ began to apply his ideas derived from client-centered therapy in other contexts, such as education, conflict resolution, and encounter groups. In order to recognize the broader applicability of his approach the term person-centered came to replace the term client-centered, as the term client would not be fitting for many of these other contexts. As such, person-centered is the term widely used today to describe the applications of the approach.


Rogers, C. R. (1942). Counseling and psychotherapy: Newer concepts in practice. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centred therapy: It’s current practice, implications and theory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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