Facilitative conditions are those conditions or counselor attitudes that enhance the therapeutic relationship and are conducive to successful outcomes in counseling and psychotherapy. The three primary facilitative conditions were first suggested by Carl R. Rogers in his 1951 publication on the person-centered counseling approach. These conditions are unconditional positive regard, genuineness, and empathy. According to Rogers, if counselors express these core conditions, those being helped will become less defensive and more open to themselves and their world, and will tend to behave in more prosocial and constructive ways. Rogers believed that these three conditions were both necessary and sufficient for positive outcomes in the counseling process. Other theorists have argued that although these conditions may be necessary, they are not sufficient for positive therapeutic outcomes. Current discussions of common factors related to positive therapeutic outcome identify the therapeutic relationship as essential to client progress. The facilitative conditions are key to the establishment of a positive therapeutic relationship.
Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional positive regard is the therapist’s unqualified attitude of acceptance and a nonpossessive caring toward the client and toward the client’s feelings and experiences. This involves a valuing of the client as a worthy human being regardless of his or her past choices, problems, or issues and a warm acceptance of each aspect of the client’s present experience as it unfolds in the here-and-now of the counseling context. The client’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are not evaluated by the counselor as good or bad. This facilitative condition, in which clients are unconditionally accepted, provides clients with a therapeutic context in which they are given the freedom to be themselves and experience their own being, thoughts, and feelings without any outside conditions or demands. This freedom gives the clients a safe, accepting context in which to express and explore the many deeper hidden dimensions of themselves and the freedom to self-reflect and consider new choices and options.
Having unconditional positive regard for the client does not mean condoning all the client’s actions. For example, a counselor working with a mass murderer would have unconditional positive regard for the client. The counselor would have an acceptance of the anger the client is expressing at being charged with murder. The counselor does not necessarily agree with the client’s choice to have committed murder, but does have unconditional positive regard for the client as a person and the client’s experience of the emotion of anger. The counselor accepts the client as a fellow human and values the client as such, regardless of the client’s choices. A second example is a counselor working with a person who has issues surrounding addiction. The counselor would have unconditional positive regard for the client and his or her experience of addiction. The counselor’s liking the client would not be conditionally based on the client’s stopping use of drugs or alcohol. The counselor would value the client as another person. However, Rogers understood that not all counselors could have unconditional positive regard for all clients. In these instances, referral to another counselor is the best option.
Genuineness, which has also been called congruence, realness, and transparency, is the state or condition in which the counselors are themselves in the context of the counseling relationship. Rather than adopting the role of expert or a facade of detached objectivity, the counselors openly and honestly expresses themselves as “real” and “transparent” people to the client. In this congruent state, the counselors are aware of their own feelings and reactions to what is happening in the present (here-and-now), aware of their attitudes toward the client, and able to honestly express their awareness to the client, as appropriate.
There is a close match or congruence between the internal experience of the counselor and what is outwardly expressed to the client. The facilitative condition of genuineness enhances the sense of realness, immediacy, and openness in the therapeutic relationship and creates a context of safety and sharing. It diminishes the sense of professional distance between the counselor and client. The counselor’s self-awareness, honesty, and openness about moment-to-moment feelings and attitudes provide a model for the client’s own therapeutic work and life. In the case of a client discussing the death of a parent with little or no emotion, an example of counselor genuineness would be the counselors saying to the client, “I’m feeling a great sense of sadness about the death of your father.” At this point, most clients would then respond in some way regarding the father’s death and their previously unexpressed sadness. In the case of a client who expresses a desire to attend college yet continually takes actions that sabotage this goal—even after promising the counselor to change some of the sabotaging behaviors—the counselor might say, “I am feeling frustrated with how you say you want to go to college on the one hand, and on the other you make some choices that damage your chances of going to college. I wonder if on some level you’re not sure you want to go to college.”
Empathy or empathic understanding involves a deep, accurate awareness of the client’s emotional and cognitive world. It is the ability of the counselor to see deeply into the subjective experience of the client and to sense the client’s private world. Empathy is an active and ongoing understanding and reflection of feeling and meaning that occurs in the here and now of the therapeutic session. This includes the ability of the counselor to sense the clients’ moment-to-moment feelings and understand the clients’ worldviews, structures of meaning, and interpretations of events. Furthermore, the counselor is able to effectively and accurately communicate this understanding to the clients in a way that clarifies the clients’ comprehension of their own experiences. The facilitative condition of empathy allows clients to feel understood, acknowledged, and accepted in a way that can greatly enhance the therapeutic relationship and allow for a deepening of therapeutic insight. Advanced empathy is a state where the counselor is so deeply aware of the client’s world and emotions that the counselor is aware of things that the client has yet to become aware of in that world. For example, in the case of a person going through divorce, the client may be angry with his spouse. The empathic counselor acknowledges the client’s obvious anger at his wife, but with advanced empathy senses the client’s underlying anger at himself for how he contributed to the breakup of the marriage.
- Bozarth, J. D., Zimring, F. M., & Tausch, R. (2002). Research in client-centered therapy: The evolution of a revolution. In D. J. Cain & J. Seeman (Eds.), Humanistic psychotherapies: Handbook of research and practice (pp. 147-188). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Greenberg, L. S., Rice, L. N., & Elliott, R. (1996) Facilitating emotional change: The moment-by-moment process. New York: Guilford Press.
- Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21, 95-103.
- Rogers, C. (1977). Carl Rogers on personal power: Inner strength and its revolutionary impact. New York: Delacorte Press.
- Watson, J. C., Goldman, R. N., & Warner, M. S. (2002). Client-centered and experiential psychotherapy in the 21st century: Advances in theory, research and practice. Herefordshire, UK: PCCS Books.