Client-centred Theory

Carl Rogers 1942 & 1951 – C.H. Patterson 1964


In a client-centred model the client takes an active role in their support. The practitioner is non-directive and non-judgmental and their role is one of support. The client is in control of the intervention and determines the direction of the consultation. The practitioner facilitates self-understanding for the client and the client comes to a conclusion based on this. A key concept within client-centred work is ‘genuineness’ or authenticity on the part of the practitioner. The relationship between the client and the practitioner are central, rather then therapeutic techniques. The career practitioner’s task is to create a facilitative environment. Client-centred Theory of careers by Carl Rogers and representation of the traditional learning environment and a facilitative learning environment.

This requires specific attitudes, skills and awareness on the part of the practitioner, apart from constant self-monitoring to sustain the nature of the client-centred intervention. This supports client engagement (not being told but finding out), empowerment and ownership of their goal for progression.


Let’s have a further look into how this can work:

This is what the theory can look like graphically. Central is the client’s actualisation and their responsibility to decide on where the intervention goes. This is surrounded by particular practitioner sensibilities. The theory’s key perspective is that the practitioner is a facilitator, rather than a specialist and that the practitioner has a position equal to that of the client, rather than someone who steers the intervention according to a specific therapeutic theory or framework.

Why the triangle in the middle? When you look closely you’ll see a strong reference to Maslow’s pyramid of needs.

Client-centred Theory of careers by Carl Rogers and Patterson.

The basis for client-centred practice is based on respecting:

  • the client as individual,
  • their integrity and
  • the autonomy of the client, their ability for the individual to live their own lives, their ability to work through their own problems and make their own decisions.

Client-centred interventions rely on the following facilitative conditions or attitudes you have towards your clients:

  1. Empathic understanding: and understanding of the client for their internal frame of reference, instead of from an external one based on an objective point of view. It’s impossible to empathise fully but it needs to be the intention of the practitioner to come as close as possible. Try and walk in their shoes, as it were.
  2. Acceptance and unconditional positive regard: unconditional means just that, the practitioner has to approach the client with warmth and respect without attaching conditions to these.
  3. Practitioner congruence or authenticity: Patterson feels it would be important to call it ‘therapeutic genuineness’ (Myers & Hyers, 1994, p. 50).

Patterson argues that there is another, fourth condition (Myers & Hyers, 1994, p. 50):

  1. Specificity or concreteness. The practitioner has to:
    • encourage the client to be as specific as possible
    • stick to the specifics the client is telling them and not derive abstractions or generalisations from these, nor judge the client or stereotype them.

In addition to these conditions, the client also has to bring two things to the consultation:

  • Motivation – the client needs to want to be helped (client-centred practice is derived from and grounded in counselling practice/psychotherapy)
  • The client (not the practitioner!) has to have a willingness and ability to engage in a process or self-exploration

Below is an example excerpt of a Rogerian interview linked to career guidance. (A bit contrived but it gives you an example of how this could work in a career context from the man himself). Listen to how he starts the interview (without an agenda) and the tools he uses (reflecting back, asking open questions, listening skills, constructive silences, being with the client’s uncertainty and unease,…) Can you pick out any more?:

There are some other excellent interviews online with Rogers as the interviewer, for those who would like to have a further look into this. The quality of them isn’t great since they were recorded decades ago, which is obvious once you watch them. Especially the ‘Gloria’ interviews are very interesting to watch. If you do want to watch these, it pays to pay particular attention to Rogers’ techniques and his questioning and reflecting back. Pay attention to what kind of questions he asks and how and when. Also notice how he reflects back and when as well as how he uses constructive silence.

C.H. Patterson, another theorist supporting the client-centred approach, strongly believes that these conditions are universally applicable in all counselling work, the client-centred approach and its pre-conditions. The conditions above should not differ from those applied to non-mainstream groups, minorities and gender based groups. This puts him at odds with other practices such as ‘Underserved Populations Theory’ and other theories that posit that a different approach should be taken with different groups in society. He feels, however, that any differences, cultural or otherwise, and the practitioner’s attitude towards these, is included in the first condition, empathic understanding.


What do you think?

This is obviously a theory which is very strongly rooted in psychotherapy and counselling. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be used in career guidance, quite the contrary. In other countries career guidance is called career counselling for a reason. However, this indicates there may be a difference between how career guidance is viewed and practiced there with how it’s practiced and viewed in the UK and England specifically. Do you have any awareness of this? And if so, what could those differences be in perspective and/or practice?

  • How would this work in your practice and what do you need to do this well?
  • Would this work with all your clients?
  • Remember that career guidance in the UK is described by the letters CIAG, where does the client- centred approach fit in? – Are you sure? Could this perspective be used even when someone ‘just wants information’?
  • Can you think of any practices, models or theories which are not client-centred? How do they compare in their weaknesses and strengths with the client-centred approach?
  • This approach puts the client very much at the centre of the conversation. Are there theories that take a different approach? What can you say about them?


Useful links, videos and references:


An interview with Karl Rogers:

Carl Rogers in 10 minutes:


  • Myers, J. & Hyers, D., 1994. The philosophy and practice of client-centered therapy with older persons: An interview with C.H. Patterson. The Person-Centered Journal, 1(2), pp. 49-54.