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The Philosophy of Person Centred Counselling

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The Philosophy of Person Centred Counselling

The person centred approach to counselling was initiated by Carl Rogers ( and has probably made the greatest contribution to counselling. Rogers approach is based on the theory that people tend naturally towards “self-actualisation” that is being spontaneous, open, trusting and trustworthy, accepting of self and others and towards achieving the full potential.

What is Person Centred Counselling

Counselling is the skilled and principled use of a relationship to facilitate self-knowledge, emotional acceptance and growth, and the optimal development of personal resources. The overall aim is to provide an opportunity to work towards living more satisfyingly and resourcefully. Counselling relationships will vary according to need but maybe concerned with developmental issues, addressing and resolving specific problems, making decisions, coping with crisis, developing personal insights and knowledge, working through feelings of inner conflict or improving relationships with others.

The counsellors role is to facilitate the client work in ways that respect the clients values, personal resources and capacity for self-determination.

The Core Conditions of Effective Counselling

Rogers identified three “core conditions” which he considered essential to the development of a successful counselling relationship. They are Congruence (or genuineness), unconditional positive regard, and empathy.

Congruence (or Genuineness)

The counsellor is ‘congruent’ when they are openly being what they are in response to the client – when the way they are behaving is perfectly reflective of what they are feeling inside – when their response to the client is what they feel and is not pretence or acting.

Why is congruence important?:

Trust: when the counsellor is open, honest and real the client can begin to trust the counsellor and trust the process.

Self-acceptance: clients become more accepting of their feelings and responses when the counsellor is able to be open and honest about their feelings and responses even when this means owning being confused, helpless, mistaken and so on. An important aim of person centred counselling is for the client become more congruent and this is less likely to occur if the counsellor is unable to be real and genuine themselves.

Response: the counsellors congruent responses enable the client to see how their behaviour affects another human being. In other words, how they are being responded to.

Guidelines for congruence

The focus for the counsellor is always on the needs of the client, which includes the need to be accepted and the need for empathy as well as the need for genuineness in the counsellor. Recognising this, counsellors are often wary about being congruent, rightly wishing to ensure that they are responding to their client rather than the need to ‘sound off’. The counsellor is using congruence appropriately when;

a) Responding to those feelings which relate directly to the client experience;

b) Their responses are relevant to the immediate concerns of the client;

c) They are noticing persistent feelings in themselves and sharing them with the client.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional positive regard is the ability to make a caring response, without judging, arguing or criticising.

It is sometimes also called respect, non-judging, acceptance and prizing.

We spend a lot of our lives being taught to behave in a particular way to be acceptable, frequently by people who care for us. Often it is our perceived faults, errors and omissions which become the focus of attention, and we may be very hurt and become so anxious and frightened that we put up barriers and convince ourselves that we are not acceptable.

You may think of times when you have had messages about what you did or do wrong. For example that is the umpteenth time I’ve had to tell you to do that. The message is clear that you are lazy stupid careless a nuisance or a burden.

If the listener can offer warmth and non-judging acceptance the speaker begins to experience themselves as worthy of attention and can begin to explore themselves and their experiences in a non threatening way.

In thinking about acceptance, it should be remembered that acceptance is largely dependent upon accepting ourselves.


Empathy is the ability of one person to sense the feelings and personal meanings which another person is experiencing, as they seem to that person, and to be able to communicate something of that understanding. It is being able to ‘stand in another person’s shoes’, as if you are that other person’. The ‘as if’ is important, for it is no help if you get lost in another person’s world of feelings; but it is helpful if you can communicate that you do understand something of how that person feels however, different it is from your own experience.

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