Updated: Jun 21
In this article, I'm going to share with you the key features of person centered coaching. Together, we will look at the theoretical underpinnings and how a person centered approach can be applied in a coaching setting.
In addition, we will consider the characteristics of how to create a healthy relationship with a person centered approach. Equipped with these insights, you will start to grow your confidence in using this powerful approach.
What is person centered coaching?
The person centered approach (PCA) was first coined by Psychologist Carl Rogers in the late 1950s in response to an opposing school of thought known as 'behaviourism'. Behaviourism, also referred to as behaviour psychology, mainly focuses on observable and measurable behaviours rather than the internal experiences such as emotions.
Rogers believed that the behaviourist stance didn’t consider the subjective experience of the individual and that behaviour could only be understood through the individual’s perception of experiences and phenomenological world.
Rogers took a non-directive approach with the client being at the centre of the work with the notion that individuals are the expert at supporting change and self-healing. Bozarth & Brodley (1986) went on to state that growth and fulfilment will be stunted in a suboptimal environment, whereas the PCA attempts to create an optimal psychological climate to support change.
Coaching the client toward self-actualisation
At the core of PCA strives to support the individual towards self-actualising while increasing congruence between the self and experience. To support movement towards self-actualising the environment needs to feel physically and emotionally free from threat, where one feels understood, accepted and valued. A congruent practitioner who provides unconditional positive regard and empathy helps to stimulate change, allowing the individual to become a creative, responsible and developing individual.
Congruence = psychological adjustment
Incongruence = psychological maladjustment
The person-centred approach has many applications within the helping professions including coaching. The Coaching Psychologist using this approach wishes to understand an individual’s subjective lived experience. The coach would positively value all aspects of the coachee ensuring to be genuine and open. This helps the coachee to connect with their sense of worth and values allowing them to find a way forward. As Joseph & Bryant-Jefferies (2019) aptly states in the Handbook of Coaching Psychology.
‘What the coach has to do is provide the right social conditions for change.’
Person centered coaching | Theory and concepts
Carl Rogers believed that humans 'harbour' or are 'guided' by one driving motive - that is, the desire for self-actualisation: the process by which a person strives to reach their best possible self. 'As no one else can know how we perceive,' he wrote, 'we are the best experts on ourselves.'
In the seminal book On Becoming a Person, Rogers outlines what he considered to be the core characteristic of the process towards self-actualisation. These core characteristics are what Rogers has identified throughout his career as a Practitioner.
The four key characteristics of self-actualisation
Increasing openness to experience: Moving towards an openness of experience from defensiveness includes the recognition of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and behaviours that before he has been unable to ‘own’ as part of himself (Rogers, p.187).
Increasingly existential living: A second characteristic of process includes the increasing ability to live fully within the moment, moving away from a rigid, inflexible place to one where an individual can be a ‘participant in and an observer of the ongoing process of organismic experience rather than being in control of it,’ (Rogers p.189).
Increase trust in his organism: Beginning to increase trust within themselves and doing what feels right as opposed to being guided by the judgement of others. For this to be available, the individual must expand their openness to experience. This requires a combination of corrective emotional experience and consciousness-raising.
The core conditions: Most Psychologists will be familiar with Roger’s ‘three core conditions’ known as congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy. However, to understand them at a much deeper level, the core conditions go beyond the above three in support of personality change.
Creating the core conditions for growth
Two persons are in psychological contact.
The first, whom we shall call the coachee, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
The second person, whom we shall call the coaching psychologist, is congruent or integrated into the relationship.
The coaching psychologist experiences unconditional positive regard for the coachee.
The coaching psychologist experiences an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference and endeavours to communicate this experience to the coachee.
The communication of the coachee of the coaching psychologist empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved.
Adapted for coaching (Rogers, 1957, p.96)
Person centered Coaching | Role of Coaching Psychologist
Now that we've considered the theoretical foundations of person centered coaching, we need to identify how a Coaching Psychologist provides the right environment to the coachee to self-actualise. In addition, the Coaching Psychologist must be aware of the characteristics of a healthy relationship in order for self-actualisation to occur.
What is the best environment to promote self actualisation in PCA?
Accepting the coachee as they are and what they present with
To understand the coachees lived experience
To be in congruence
No approval needed for all of the coachees behaviour
Unconditional positive regard
For the coachee to feel like a valuable person, given acceptance and genuine care
The Coaching Psychologist to control the process but not the content
Focus on personality change, not the structure of personality
Characteristics of Healthy Relationship in PCA
The Coaching Psychologist is open about her purposes
The Coaching Psychologist is responsible to her coachee and not for him
The Coaching Psychologist does not manipulate her coachee but is prepared to be manipulate
The Coaching Psychologist does not profess to know what is ‘good’ for the coachee
The Coaching Psychologist is not concerned with success
The Coaching Psychologist is clear about what she is willing to offer the coachee at every stage
The Coaching Psychologist is committed to the coachee and will ‘fight’ for the relationship
The Coaching Psychologist is prepared to invest herself in the relationship without strings attached
The Coaching Psychologist desires the coachee’s freedom to himself
Taken from Rogers p.34, adapted for coaching psychology.
If this article has done its job, you will now know the key characteristics of person centred coaching. In addition, you will have a grounded understanding of the theoretical foundations of the person centred approach. Furthermore, you will be able to apply this knowledge effectively as a Coaching Psychologist.
Bozarth, J. D., & Brodley, B. T. (1986). Client-centered psychotherapy: A statement. Person-Centered Review, 1(3), 262–271.
Mearns, D., & Thorne, B. (1988). Person-centred counselling in action. Sage Publications, Inc.
Rogers, C. R. (1995). On becoming a person (2nd ed.). Houghton Mifflin (Trade).