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Why Is Unconditional Positive Regard Helpful in Therapy?

Unconditional positive regard leads to unconditional positive self-regard.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

The above quote is from the psychologist Carl Rogers who recognized that a great barrier to living a happy life is when we don’t accept ourselves for who we are. Unconditional positive self-regard is the term Rogers used to describe the state in which a person has respect, liking, and warmth toward themselves but in a way that is not conditional on meeting the expectations of others.

What Rogers had noticed in his many years of working as a therapist was that people seeking help were often those whose regard for themselves was conditional – conditional on other people’s approval — such that they could only feel themselves to be of value insofar as they lived up to these expectations. Conditional regard is how we become derailed from being ourselves.

What Rogers developed was a form of therapy – Client-Centered Therapy — in which the task of the therapist was to offer the client an unconditionally regarding the relationship. If we spend time with a therapist who offers us a relationship in which we don’t need to say things or do things to please them then we can learn to be unconditional toward ourselves.

It is such a powerful idea of Rogers's that therapy is not about doing something to the other person, but about providing them with the freedom to be able to learn to do it for themselves.

Rogers's theory was that if, when people experience unconditional positive regard in their relationships, they will develop unconditional positive self-regard, which in turn leads them to develop what he called an internal locus of evaluation and a trust in their organismic valuing.

By internal locus of evaluation he meant the ability of a person to evaluate their experiences in the world from their own frame of reference, that is to say, not clouded by their conditions of worth. By organismic valuing he meant the ability of people to trust in themselves what is right for them and what direction to move in life — like the idea of trusting your gut feeling when you meet someone, or have a decision to make. When a person is unconditionally accepting of themselves, they are free to grow and develop as persons.

References

Joseph, S. (2016). Authentic. How to be yourself and why it matters. London. Little, Brown.

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