Article Psychotherapy  

Peter F. Schmid

From knowledge to acknowledgement
Challenges of and for the Person-Centered Approach from a dialogical and ethical perspective at the beginning of the 21st century

revised version of a lecture given at the conference 'Le Centenaire de Carl Rogers. Actualité de son message personnaliste', Paris, January 27, 2002De connaître à reconnaître. Défis pour l'Approche centrée sur la personne au commencement di 21ème siècle d'un point de vue dialogique et éthique »)

published in the French language in: Carriérologie. Revue Francophone Internationale, Canada, 9,3&4 (2004) 401-421

French version | L'article en français


1. ‘Person’ and ‘encounter’
Two fundamental concepts in a dialogical perspective

    1.1 ‘Person’: the human being in his or her independence and interdependence
    1.2 ‘Encounter’: to meet the unexpected
        To meet face to face: the importance of ‘being counter’
      To be kept awake by an enigma: the challenge of encounter

2. Presence
The ‘core conditions’ in a dialogical perspective

    2.1 Presence’— psychophysical ‘being with’ and ‘being counter’
   2.2 Authenticity, comprehension and acknowledgement

3. To be addressed to respond
The ethical and epistemological paradigm change of Carl Rogers

   Psychotherapy as an ethical discipline and profession

4. Paradigmatic challenges
Some perspectives for the future of the approach

   Towards a paradigm shift within the person-centered approach


With this paper[1] I intend to go in depth into the foundations of the Person-Centered Approach, with the focus on psychotherapy and counseling. It is thought to stimulate an exchange about the challenges of and for the Person-Centered Approach at the beginning of the 21st century from an encounter philosophical, dialogical, epistemological and ethical perspective.

I am convinced that this is a way of celebrating the one hundredth anniversary Carl Rogers himself would have liked very much: not only to name and enumerate his merits but, in his spirit, to proceed with the understanding of what his revolution — and it was a revolution indeed — means today and what challenges are ahead for tomorrow: within and outside of our community, ‘domestic and foreign politics’ so to speak. In other words: what tasks are ahead if we try to carry his intentions forward.

To start I would like to invite you to a little fantasy: Imagine, you will end up, due to whatever circumstances, on a remote island and you will have to start a completely new life: without anybody whom you knew so far, in the middle of a strange culture, completely anew. Would you develop as a different person than you were before? Or would you be quite the same with some external differences, but in the core the same person as you were. How do you think about yourself? What is it that makes you the person you are: what you brought with you, what was given to you from the very beginning and what in the course of time grew out of your inner? Or what you developed through the important relationships of your life and thus will keep on changing in new relationships? What is it that makes you be you?

And please don’t too quickly say: both. Everybody has a deep and often implicit, not reflected theory about him- or herself; and if it really matters, he or she thinks: ‘I can handle that from out of my inner strength’, or is convinced that he or she is dependent on the relationships he is in. — What is your conviction about yourself?

For a Person–Centered Approach it is of decisive significance to reflect in a fundamental way on which conception of the human being its theory and practice should be based and thus to establish a basic anthropological stance. It goes without saying that this cannot be done without trying to understand oneself. Therapists and counselors should know what they think of themselves in order to be open to their clients’ self-understanding on their remote island.

The name of the approach contains the term ‘person’, which is reason enough to ask what this actually means. Even if the name may first have originated for pragmatic reasons (that is, to find a comprehensive term for possible new fields of application beyond clients), Rogers also deliberately chose it because of its essential meaning (cf. Kirschenbaum 1979, p. 424). For, unlike other psychotherapeutic and social­psychological interpretations, the Person–Centered Approach takes a radical look at the human being as a person and thus represents a radical shift of paradigms in philosophy, psychology and psychotherapy. What Carl Rogers did was not more nor less than link psychotherapy and related fields to the great occidental tradition of looking at the human being as a person instead of treating him or her like an object, analyzing them like a machine, as the ‘apparatus of the psyche’, or reducing them to their behavior and ‘output’ – and, in later developments of the last century, degrade the persons to functions of systems.


1. 'Person' and 'encounter'
Two fundamental concepts in a dialogical perspective

1.1 ‘Person’: the human being in his or her independence and interdependence

The term ‘person’ denotes a specific view of the human being thoroughly developed and elaborated in the Jewish-Christian tradition and hence in occidental theology and philosophy. It combines two unrenounceable dimensions of human existence: the substantial or individual aspect of being a person and the relational or transcendent or dialogical aspect of becoming a person. I have been working on this in detail (Schmid 1991; 1998a; 2001d) and will give a brief overview as a starting point.

The substantialistic (or individualistic) conception of the person was first defined by Boëthius (480–525 AD): ‘Persona est rationalis naturae individua substantia [the person is the indivisible substance of a rational being].’ Substance derives from ‘sub–stare’ which literally means ‘achieving a standing position from below’. Hence it means standing by oneself, being based upon oneself and thus implies autonomy and independence.

Therefore, whoever associates person with independence and uniqueness, freedom and dignity, unity, sovereignty and self–determination, responsibility, human rights etc., sees himself or herself in the tradition of such an individualistic conception of the person. That is what is meant when the human being is defined as a person, starting from the moment of conception and regardless of his physical or mental health and development. Being a person therefore means being–from–oneself [in German: Aus–sich–Sein] and being–for–oneself [Für–sich–Sein].

This conception of the person is especially influential in the (early) period in Carl Rogers' thinking during which, based on the actualizing tendency, he mainly understands the human from the individualistic point of view and consequently sees therapy as a process of the development of personality with its emphasis on confidence in the organism, a realistic Self and, above all, positive regard and empathy as beneficial conditions. As an ideal notion of the mature human being Rogers coins the phrase ‘fully functioning person’. 

The relationalistic notion of what it means to be a person was defined by Richard of St. Victor († 1173 AD) in the tradition of patristic theology: He understood the person as ‘naturae intellectualis exsistentia incommunicabilis [incommunicable existence of an intellectual nature]’. Here, person is not conceived as a sub–sistence, but as an ek–sistence, as coming into being from outside [‘ex’], through others, as standing opposite to others. Therefore, a person is he or she who has become himself or herself precisely through others, which implies interdependence, solidarity and responsibility.

So, whoever understands the person through relationship, through dialogue, through partnership, through connection with the world, through the condition of being dependent on others, through interconnectedness, whoever sees him or her in the totality of the community, as basically unavailable, whoever emphasizes that a man or woman is a person as far as they have a relationship with others, follows the tradition of the relationalistic conception of ‘person’. Being a person thus means being–from–and–in–relationship [in German: Aus– und In–Beziehung–Sein], being through others.

This conception of the human being as a person particularly characterizes Rogers' later work, where he understands them as being relational, in a group and in community, as ‘person to person’, because of their interconnectedness. Consequently, mutual encounter is a decisive element in therapy and personal development, and Rogers now considers genuineness as a pre–eminent facilitative condition.

Both of these ways of understanding the human being are contrary, even conflicting, yet it is exactly this tension of autonomy and interconnectedness, independence and interdependence, self–reliance and commitment, sovereignty and solidarity, which uniquely characterizes the human. Also it can clearly be shown that the meaning of the term ‘person’ in the original and genuine person-centered context precisely refers to these two dimensions which may be characterized by the catchwords ‘actualizing tendency’ and ‘fully functioning person’ on the one hand and ‘relationship’ and ‘encounter’ on the other hand. Furthermore this anthropological stance, well elaborated by phenomenology and personalistic (or dialogic or encounter) philosophy, is the distinctive characteristic of person-centered understanding, thinking and action. Only in the dialectic of both interpretations, not in an ‘either–or’, but in a ‘both–and’ does the mystery of the person become accessible to whoever allows himself or herself to become involved in a relationship from person to person. A conception gained from these two perspectives of the person contrasts with an privatistic conception of the human being just as it does with a collectivistic one.

For many years Rogers himself dealt more with the individual aspect of the person in a theoretical sense emphasizing the person as a unique and not-to-be-directed individual in therapy. It was only later that he concentrated more and more on the relational dimension. Furthermore, he did not document this in the structured way he wrote about the substantial aspect of the individual in the therapeutic relationship in his earlier writing. Nevertheless, contact and relationship were a central category of his anthropology from the very beginning (cf. Schmid, 2001c), and the formulation of the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change’ could never have taken place without it. Already here the first condition refers to contact — a relational foundation.

It is certainly no coincidence that Rogers repeatedly referred to two philosophers explicitly (for example Rogers, 1961, p.199) to whom the history of the conception of the person has always accorded a position of prime importance: Kierkegaard, who considers the misery of the individual, and Buber, who points out the opportunities implied by dialogue.

To sum it up: The dialectic basic axiom in person–centered anthropology is the actualizing tendency as the force of the individual embedded in the interconnectedness, the social nature of the person. Both strands of the axiom form the foundations of the understanding of personalisation — of authentically ‘becoming a person’ (Rogers 1961).

1.2 ‘Encounter’: to meet the unexpected

To meet face to face: the importance of ‘being counter’

One of the consequences of viewing the human being as a person is the realization that accepting another person means to truly acknowledge him or her as an Other in the sense of dialogical or encounter philosophy. He or she is no alter ego, no close friend a priori, no identifiable person. He or she is an entirely different person. Only when fully appreciating this fact of fundamental difference do encounter and community become possible. To en–counter another person first of all means to take into consideration that the Other really ‘stands counter’, because he or she is essentially different from me. (Cf. Schmid 1998b)

The German philosopher and Catholic theologian Romano Guardini (1885–1968) understands encounter as an amazing meeting with the reality of the Other. According to Guardini (1955), encounter means that one is touched by the essence of the opposite. To let this happen, a non–purpose–oriented openness, a distance which leads to amazement and the initiative of man in freedom are indispensable conditions. In interpersonal encounter affinity and alienation can be experienced at the same time. Encounter is an adventure which contains a creative seed, a breakthrough to something new. The relationship ‘centers in the Other’.

The great Protestant theologian Paul Tillich (1886–1965), with whom Rogers entered into an open dialogue (Rogers/Tillich 1966), pointed out that the person emerges from the resistance in the encounter of the Other: if the person ‘were not to encounter the resistance of other selves, then every self would try to take itself as absolute. [...] An individual can conquer the entire world of objects, but he cannot conquer another person without destroying him as a person. The individual discovers himself through this resistance. If he does not want to destroy the other person, then he has to enter into a community with him. It is through the resistance of the other person that the person is born.’ (Tillich 1956, p. 208)

‘Being counter’, according to Martin Buber (1878-1965) is the foundation for meeting face to face. To be opposite to the Other offers the possibility to face and to acknowledge him or her. Being a person consists in the event of encounter or dialogue, of communicating oneself. He defines encounter as the immediacy of the I-Thou-relationship, an event in which one becomes presence to the Other. The I is not constituted until such an encounter relationship: ‘The I becomes through the Thou. Becoming an I, I say Thou.’ (Buber, 1923, p. 18) ‘All real life is encounter.’ (Ibid.) Therefore encounter is where dialogue happens.

The ‘counter’ notion of encounter can be easily understood by thinking of standing aside and making a step towards each other: It starts with a step to bring oneself opposite to the other. However, such a seemingly simple step is fundamental: to make a step away and face the other person, thus standing opposite or ‘counter’ to him or her. This ‘position’ appreciates the Other as somebody independent, as an autonomous individual, different and separated from me, worthy of being dealt with —otherwise one would turn away. In being counter the otherness of the Other is appreciated. Standing face to face avoids both, identification and objectification. It enables encounter. The step to stand opposite and face the Other is — literally — the turning point: I turn towards the Other.

To stand counter also means to give room to each other and to share a common room. It expresses respect. In facing the Other I can see him or her and acknowledge their uniqueness and qualities. In facing them I do not think what I could know about them, but I am ready to accept what they are going to disclose.

To take such a step is not an insignificant action, no harmless, risk–free or ‘soft’ action. To stand counter always implies ‘confrontation’ (the Latin word ‘frons’ means ‘forehead’), it might even imply conflict. Thus it is essential for the understanding of encounter and acknowledgement to deal with aggression which is often avoided among person-centered people (cf. Schmid, 1996, pp. 469-486; 2001c, pp. 57-58).

To be kept awake by an enigma: the challenge of encounter

The French existential philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973) emphasizes that the Other has always been there in advance (1935).

Similarly Emmanuel Levinas (1905–1995)[2] lays emphasis on the truth, which can be observed phenomenologically and developmental psychologically, that the Other always comes first, and shows that this is a fundamental ethical issue (Levinas 1961; 1974; 1983).

Levinas points out that all of the occidental philosophy has remained ‘egology’ (and this also applies to psychology as its ‘daughter’ and to psychotherapy as its ‘grand–daughter’, including its so–called humanistic orientation in the 20th century). This fixation on the I is clearly predominant in the terminology of those forms of humanistic psychology who are only concentrated on self–development (note the numerous self–terms employed). Despite all positioning against an objectification and instrumentalisation, it finally indicates a reduction of the Other, of what the Other means to me. In this connection, even the well–known sentence by Martin Buber (1923, p. 18) ‘I become through the Thou’ suddenly sounds quite different: even here, as is to be suspected, everything is still focused on me. This, however, presents the ideals of the humanistic movement in a new light. According to Levinas: What once seemed to be a distinctive human quality, the absolute desire to determine and realize oneself, ‘self–determination’ and ‘self–realization’, has proved the reason of violence against the other human being in the history of the 20th century.’ (Waldschütz 1993)

In his main work ‘Totalité et infini’ Levinas (1961) points out that to exist means to be entangled in oneself, caught in the totality of one’s own world. According to Levinas the first alienation of the human being is not being able to get rid of oneself. Wrongly the intention of a simplistic moral goes toward being one’s own master. But the awakening from the totality of the being–caught–in–oneself does not happen through ‘being independent’. Rather, the Other is the power which liberates the I from oneself. The foundation of self–confidence is not the reflection on oneself, but the relationship to the Other. This overcomes the limits of the self and opens up in–finity. The self is born in the relationship to another person.

The Other — who is absolutely different, not an alter ego, thus not to be seen from my perspective — is the one coming towards me, approaching me. The Other ‘enters’ the relationship — what Levinas calls a ‘visitation’.[3] He uses the metaphor of ‘visage [face]’: My look is touched by the look of the visage. Hence the Other is not in my view, but I am in the view of the Other. The movement goes from the Thou to the I. Also from a developmental perspective the movement always originates from the Thou: it is the call, the addressing of another human being, which evokes a response, confronts with freedom and risk. Encounter happens to a human being long before he or she can aim at obtaining such an experience.

Thus, encounter in dialogue turns out to be a condition for self–consciousness, to be an in–finity, to be a common transcendence of the (totalitarian) status quo, to be a start without return: Abraham, who starts his journey to an unknown country without return, and not Ulysses, who at the end returns to his starting–point, is to be seen as the symbolic character.[4]

In other words, encounter is always a challenge: ‘Encountering a human being means being kept awake by an enigma’ states Levinas (1983, p. 120).[5]

2. Presence
The ‘core conditions’ in a dialogical perspective

The existential pre-condition for encounter, for this ‘being together by being counter’ is to be there, to be ‘present’.

2.1 Presence’— psychophysical ‘being with’ and ‘being counter’


Rogers’ (1986) description of the therapeutic relationship as being present to the Other seems to be, more than he himself noticed, a basic and comprehensive depiction of a therapeutic encounter relationship. Together, authenticity, unconditional positive regard and empathy constitute one human attitude, one fundamental way of being, relating and acting, truly characterized as psychophysical presence.

It is well known and quite often quoted that Carl Rogers (e.g. ibid.) in his late years described a phenomenon in therapeutic relationships which he called ‘presence’. On close examination of the phenomenon, I became convinced that ‘presence’ is the existential foundation of the basic attitudes of congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy. From a personalistic view this is not a fourth or even additional core condition. The concept rather comprehensively depicts the basic attitudes in an existential way. What Carl Rogers described as authenticity, unconditional positive regard and empathy corresponds with presence as understood on a deeper, dialogical–personal level. Presence [in German: ‘Gegenwärtigkeit’] in the sense of encounter philosophy is the existential core of the attitudes. It is further explained by the description of the conditions which themselves were always understood holistically by Rogers, interrelated, intrinsically connected, a ‘trias variable’. Each one of the conditions makes no therapeutic sense without the others.

Presence can thus be regarded, in a dialectical sense, as what Hegel calls an ‘Aufhebung’ of the basic attitudes. The German word ‘aufheben’ means (1) to preserve, (2) to abolish and dissolve and (3) to supersede, transcend and give new meaning on a higher level. If one takes these meanings together at one and the same time, ‘presence’ can be understood as an ‘Aufhebung’ of the basic attitudes: They are preserved as well as dissolved by being superseded and transcended. Hence, presence in the encounter is ‘more than the variables’. What is essential in the understanding and realization of the person–centered relationship is the transcendence of the single basic attitudes to form a fundamental and extensive, full way of being with each other: Thus the source and the goal of person–centered action is personal encounter. Then, presence is not only to be regarded as an altered, transcending state of consciousness, as Rogers (ibid.) writes, but as a way of being, as ‘being in encounter’. (Schmid, 1994; 1996; 2001a)

Hence, presence is an expression of authenticity, as it is related to the immediately present flow of experiencing. It reflects congruence and difference between a person’s experiencing and symbolization and between his or her symbolization and communication. Presence is an expression of empathy, because, in existential wonderment, it is related to what the Other is experiencing. And presence is an expression of positive regard without conditions, as acceptance of myself and personal acknowledgement of the Other, of whatever immediately present feelings he or she is experiencing.

Presence — deriving from the Latin word ‘esse’ which means ‘to be’ — means to be authentically as a person; fully myself and fully open; whole; fully living the individual I am; fully living the relationships I am in and the relationships I am. (We are not only in relationships, we are relationships.) The challenge is at one and the same time to be oneself and in relationship. Being able to be touched, impressed, surprised, changed, altered, growing and also being able to stick to my own experiences and symbolizations (instead of taking the experiences, interpretations and stances of the others), to value from within (without judging the person of the other), to have one’s own point of view. This is what being present means. This is what being authentic means. This is what being a person means.

In the ‘way of being with’ characterized by the term ‘presence’, being and acting coincide completely (as opposite to ‘making’). The person is his or her experiences, the person does what he or she is and is what he or she does — a living congruence of profound impact to those the person relates to.

2.2 Authenticity, comprehension and acknowledgement

If one takes a closer look on the well-known so called core conditions and sheds light on them from a dialogical and encounter philosophical perspective[6] one not only will find new aspects in and about these well-known attitudes but foremost the overall consequence of this phenomenological and epistemological view on the image of the human being — namely a new answer to the old question what psychotherapy itself is.

1. Authenticity — genuineness — means that the person (the therapists as well as the clients) is regarded and trusted as his or her own author. An authentic person, therefore, is his or her own ‘author’ in the relationship to themselves and to the others. Being authentic is a precondition to enter dialogue — the way of communicating between persons where the other is truly acknowledged as an Other (in the above mentioned sense of encounter philosophy), who is opening up, revealing him- or herself. Thus, in an epistemological perspective, authenticity is the foundation of personal and facilitative communication.

To be authentic is a particular challenge, if we take account of the idea that in practice there is not one (idealistic) ‘I-Thou-relationship’, but rather that relationships are always embedded in groups, and in society as a whole. This also implies the need for applying judgement to find one’s own stance and at the same time acknowledging each as an autonomous being. In this way, the ‘We-perspective’ of encounter, and presence in the dialectical play of ‘being-with’ and ‘being-counter’, is opened up with profound therapeutic, social and political consequences.

2. The underlying philosophical idea of unconditional positive regard is acknowledgement. Acknowledgement is more than the absence of judgements. It is an active and pro–active way of deliberately saying yes to the Other as a person. It means the person as such is ‘ap–preciat–ed’ in his or her worth and dignity — esteemed as a ‘precious’ being. It aims towards a mutual ac–know–ledgement as persons instead of knowledge about another. Taking the relational notion of the person into consideration, acknowledgement points to the challenge of responding.

From a developmental perspective we enter the world by con–ception, by being conceived. In this very moment we enter into a relationship and are ac–cepted. Under normal circumstances being born means being awaited and received. Thus from the first moment of our existence there are Others and we are born into the relationships to them. The Other or the Others are here ‘before’ us, as stated above. They both expect and welcome us and they are strange and surprising to us. In this view the Other always is seen as a call and a ‘pro-vocation’. The fellow being is the one strange to me, who surprises me, and who I find myself opposed to, who I have to face — neither monopolising nor rejecting him or her — face to face. The presence of the Other, who always ‘comes first’, is a call for a response, from which I cannot escape, because nobody can respond in my place. We are obliged and responsible to the Other and owe him or her an answer — making the ‘priority’ of the Other.

Therefore, in every personal encounter there lies the response to a call. And the response grows out of a response–ability. Thus, the ethical dimension of encounter is denoted: The Other is an appeal and a provocation and the relationship to him in principle is asymmetrical. The person in need represents a demand. Out of the being addressed by the Other grows a fundamental responsibility (called ‘diakonia [service]’ by Levinas), which is grounded in the fact that nobody else can respond instead of me. That’s why by responding to the Other we only fulfil our duty.

3. While acknowledgement describes psychotherapy as an art of responding as a person, comprehension, usually termed empathic understanding, points to psychotherapy as the art of not-knowing. From a personal perspective to be empathic generally means to expose oneself to the presence of the Other: to be open to being touched existentially by another person’s reality and to touch his or her reality. Thus, there is always the readiness and the risk to change oneself.

The Other: similar to me and yet different, neighbour and opponent, friend and enemy, mirror and enigma. Empathy is the ability, the challenge and the attempt to enter a solidary relationship to the Other, acknowledging diversity and yet trying to understand and to become aware of him or her. To be empathic means building a bridge to an unknown land. Empathy bridges the gap between differences, between persons — without removing the gap, without ignoring the differences; it does not pretend identity of the two, nor does it give up at the sight of diversity; it does not mix up what is different nor does it surrender in view of the depths of otherness — it bridges.

In expecting the unexpected, empathy is the epistemological foundation of person-centered therapy.

3. To be addressed to respond
The ethical and epistemological paradigm change of Carl Rogers

In summarizing and drawing the consequences of these considerations a new view on psychotherapy and counseling evolves.

Justice to the Other can only be done by carrying out the shift from per–cept–ion to ac–cept–ance, from knowledge to acknowledgement, the personal way of realizing. — an epistemological paradigm change of tremendous importance for the understanding of psychotherapy and human relationships in general.

As a person, the Other breaks the limits of our knowledge, of what we can perceive. Instead of (factual) knowledge, acknowledgement is required. We cannot comprehend him or her (which originally means ‘surround’ or ‘encircle’ somebody). It is the Other who is opening up, revealing him– or herself. Being truly an Other he or she can never be known or recognized by somebody else but has to be respected in his or her uniqueness. To become acquainted with the Other requires that we are open to what the Other is going to make known, what he or she is showing, disclosing, revealing.

With knowledge comes judgement, whereas with acknowledgement comes belief. Encounter does not aim at the certainty of knowledge, but it is a belief: acknowledgement equals love in the sense of ‘agape’, as Rogers himself wrote.[7] (As in the old meaning of the word ‘to know’ in the sense of sexual contact, this meaning of ‘acknowledging’ implies an intimate and intensive form of human communication).[8]

The Other is the one who cannot be comprehended but can be empathized with. Being aware of the fundamental otherness of the Other, we can facilitate their process of opening–up but in no way direct or guide it.

Epistemologically speaking this reverses the order of usual communication: The direction goes from the Other to me, not from me to the Other. It denotes a Thou–I–relationship. We do not try to understand the Other by making analogies from us to them, by estimating how and who they are. Rather we try to understand the Other by opening up to whatever they show, experience, communicate or reveal.

And, as stated above, acknowledging them we are able (and urged) to respond, a fundamental responsibility out of our response-ability. That is why, to authentically respond to another person, whether it be in therapy, or in any personal relationship, is the ethical challenge.

Psychotherapy as an ethical discipline and profession

Whatever psychotherapy might be else – where it is understood in a personal way, it is an ethical enterprise, an ethical discipline and profession. (This must not be misunderstood in a moralistic way. Ethics denotes moral philosophy, not casuistry or moralizing. It is, as I tried to show, not a moral conclusion or concept derived from theoretical or philosophical premises, but the ‘first philosophy’, derived from experience in encounter. Cf. Schmid, 2001d; 2002b)

By doing psychotherapy and by reflecting this theoretically, a decision is made to respond to the misery, to the grief, to the life of another person, to share their joys and sorrows. It derives from being addressed by the other, from being touched, from being asked, being called, from being appealed to. This means that the need of the other is there first and that psychotherapy is responding, is answering to a demand. Thus all psychotherapy takes its origin at the Other. It sees him or her as a call.

What happens in psychotherapy, if it is understood as an encounter relationship, is that the client is opening up and revealing him- or herself. The task of the therapist then is not to try to get knowledge about the client but to acknowledge the person who is showing him- or herself. From this view of relationships in general, psychotherapy in particular also follows a new — non–individualistic — understanding of self–realization as realization in and out of the relations, in which the individual lives. Self–realization is never possible without the realization of the Other. In therapy this applies to both, client and therapist.

The point is: Especially starting from a phenomenological consideration, as Carl Rogers did (and not out of morals) psychotherapy must be regarded as an ethical phenomenon.

The art of not-knowing is a way of relating towards each other we are obliged to provide for each other as persons, and to provide for ourselves. It is a humble attitude towards the unknown (Grant 1990), a humble attitude at the sight of the uniqueness of the Other.

In the interpersonal encounter, which we call therapy, addressed and asked to respond, we assume a deep responsibility, an obligation in which our fellow man expects us to render the service we owe to each other and thus to fulfil our duty. What we owe each other is nothing else but love.

4. Paradigmatic challenges
Some perspectives for the future of the approach

Rogers gave such a decisive impulse and left us such a rich legacy that a concrete realization of a number of consequences is yet to come. If the approach is taken seriously as an ‘approach’ (and not as a ready–made doctrine), and if we take the implications seriously — which are a consequence of the understanding of the human being as person within society and the responsibility of encounter, a range of necessary and far–reaching changes in the sense of further developments of the approach regarding the image of man and the practice crowd into our mind.

Hence at the end I am going to name explicitly some issues which I consider to be essential for further developing the approach, particularly in the field of counseling and therapy (without claiming to be complete). They might give a taste what kind of challenges the approach is going to face and to provide.[9]

Towards a paradigm shift within the person-centered approach

From the above mentioned basic thoughts derives the necessity of a theoretical and practical reorientation of the approach — faithful to its own tradition. Obviously a paradigm shift within the approach announces itself in all that. The person–centered approach may well face a turning–point of its self–understanding. In respect to the above outlined ethically founded anthropology the step from the individual to the person, from relation to encounter will be made as a step from the view of the person–centered relationship as an I–Thou–relationship to a view as a We–relationship and therefore finally towards a ‘social therapy’. Then the I will not only be found as a respond to a Thou, which always comes first, but the I will be an respond to a We which comes first. Sociotherapy besides psychotherapy will be ranked highly in the frame of an overall therapeutic point of view implying the communities man lives in. Thus the political significance will become obvious.

On the other hand the person–centered approach must not become one–sided and overlook the individual. It lives through the tension between We and I, group and person, relationality and substantiality, encounter and self–reflection, i.e. from the dialectic connectedness of communicative relativeness and individual development. The connecting link is the understanding of the person in both his or her individuality and his or her relationality. Therefore it is still true what Carl Rogers (1989, p. 106) pointed out towards the end of his life: ‘I’m willing to stand by valuing the person above anything else.’

Then the person–centered approach will become a truly personal, truly dialogic and anthropological approach, a fully person–centered approach, and person–centered therapy will become a dialogic, personal, anthropological therapy. Thus the person–centered relationship is to be regarded as a process providing room valuing spontaneity and creativity, a process in which both, client(s) and therapist(s) develop aiming at personal encounter.


[1] Revised version of a paper given at the anniversary conference « Le Centenaire de Carl Rogers. Actualité de son message personnaliste », Paris, January 27, 2002. For the whole article cf. Schmid 2000; 2001a; b; c; e; f; g; 2002b. In these papers some of the challenges mentioned here are explained in detail.

[2] I consider the Lithuanian Jewish encounter philosopher and professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, who lost his whole family in the holocaust, to be a thinker of tremendous importance for a person–centred approach.

[3] This reminds of the Greek origin of the Latin word ‘person’: ‘proswpon [prósopon]’ which means ‘face’.

[4] More on encounter as a basic category for the person–centered approach: Schmid 1991; 1994; 1998b; 2002a.

[5] Among other Levinas relied on the personalism of Emmanuel Mounier  (1949). For the relevance of Mounier’s work for the person-centered approach cf. Priels 2000.

[6]  This is described in detail in my chapters in the four books of the series on the therapeutic conditions (Schmid 2001a; b, c; 2002a) edited by G. Wyatt.

[7] He wrote that unconditional positive regard as love, ‘easily misunderstood though it may be’ (Rogers 1951, p. 159), and stressed its importance as a therapeutic agent, when he writes that ‘the client moves from the experiencing of him– or herself as an unworthy, unacceptable, and unlovable person to the realization that he is accepted, respected, and loved, in this limited relationship with the therapist. “Loved” has here perhaps its deepest and most general meaning — that of being deeply understood and deeply accepted.’ (Ibid. 160) Positive regard ‘means a kind of love for the client as he is, providing we understand the word love equivalent to the theologian’s term agape, and not in its usual romantic and possessive meanings. What I am describing is a feeling which is not paternalistic, nor sentimental, nor superficially social and agreeable. It respects the other person as a separate individual, and does not possess him. It is a kind of liking which has strength, and which is not demanding. We have termed it positive regard.’ (Rogers 1962, p. 94)

8] Gabriel Marcel (1978) shows the parallels of ‘acknowledgement’ and ‘awareness’ in the sense of an ‘inner becoming aware of’ which cannot take place without the body — itself seen not as an instrument but as the gestalt for the relationship with others.

[9] Cf. Schmid 1998c; 2000; 2001i; 2002b; 2002c.

[10] Network of the European Associations for Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapy and Counselling ( and World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and Counseling (


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Priels, J.-M. (2000) Carl Rogers et Emmanuel Mounier. Perspectives personnalistes et revolutionnaires pour l'avènement de la personne nouvelle. Paper given at the symposium ‘The Connection’, Népjóléti Képzési Központ, Salgótarján, Hungary; also: Le Journal de’l A.F.P.C. 2000,2 pp.18-36.

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– (2001g) Personzentrierte Persönlichkeits- und Beziehungstheorie. In: Frenzel, P., Keil, W. W., Schmid, P, F. and Stölzl, N. (Eds.) Klienten-/Person­zentrierte Psychotherapie: Kontexte, Konzepte, Konkretisierungen. Vienna: WUV, pp. 57-95.

– (2001h) Personzentrierte Gruppenpsychotherapie. In: Frenzel, P., Keil, W. W., Schmid, P, F. and Stölzl, N. (Eds.) Klienten-/Person­zentrierte Psychotherapie: Kontexte, Konzepte, Konkretisierungen. Vienna: WUV, pp. 294-323.

– (2001i) Herausforderungen. Neun Vignetten zum Stand eines Syntagmenwechsels. PERSON 2, in press.

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Peter F. Schmid, Univ. Doz. HSProf. Mag. Dr.
Born in 1950; Associate Professor at the University of Graz, Styria; teaches at European universities; person–centered psychotherapist, practical theologian and pastoral psychologist; founder of person-centered training and further training in Austria, co-director of the Academy for Counselling and Psychotherapy of the Austrian ‘Institute for Person–Centred Studies (IPS of APG)’. Board Member of both, the World Association (WAPCEPC) and the European Network (NEAPCCP). Many books and articles about anthropology and further developments of the Person–Centered Approach.

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