Article Psychotherapy  

Peter F. Schmid

The ongoing challenge of becoming person-centered

Further writings

While goal- and skill-oriented approaches in counseling, psychotherapy, education and similar professions are en vogue mainly because of socio-political claims for efficiency, open and holistic concepts and a relationship-orientated understanding are becoming more important in our society. I am convinced that the essence of a genuine person–centered approach as developed by Carl Rogers and his colleagues has not yet been sounded out by far, let alone has it been put into effect, in its radicalism, its profound humanism and in its critical potential, a potential towards emancipation. Although the approach in a quantity of areas somewhat went out of fashion, Carl Rogers’ positions and visions are not at all outdated: they have not even been caught up with. Without doubt it is a valuable merit of the approach that today, sixty years later, even behavior therapists, psychoanalysts and systemic therapists encounter the importance of the personal and actual relationship, the core conditions („without which nothing works“, as these therapies now also agree, thus instrumentalizing the person-to-person-relationship) and promote and push as new positions what the person-centered approach had already made the obvious focus of interest in the middle of the last century — e.g. the respect of the person, the importance of relationship and presence, the centrality of encounter and dialogue. But even if others adopt some of these positions, they have by no means yet got at the core of the approach, whose name is its program: to be centered on the person of the human being.

In a radical paradigm change Carl Rogers focussed on the human being as a person and on the art of encounter. Thus this approach commits itself to an image of the human being rooted in the rich occidental, Jewish-Christian tradition, where person, ethically founded, is conceptualized as response in a communication into which men and women are born, from where his or her respons-ability evolves: instead of gaining knowledge the task is to acknowledge; instead of supporting an expert-oriented health system, educational system, political system etc., the challenge lies in facilitating the persons’ authorships of their lives by authentic persons; instead of refining only our cognitive abilities for social perspective taking the future lies in empathic persons, groups and nations. Such a claim still has to be met in theory and practice of a genuine person-centered approach in spite of tendencies towards eclectically watering down or underrating it.

The undertaking truly is an ethical one: Therapy is the response to a suffering person’s need. The therapist is addressed to give a personal answer to what the client reveals of his person. His enterprise is to dare to trust the client and always anew to ‘be kept awake by an enigma’ (Emmanuel Levinas) instead of playing a safe game of doing the therapeutic ‘business as usual’.

Rogers focussed the client as actually being an Other in the sense of encounter philosophy, which makes of the therapist not only an alter ego but a partner in the encounter. Therapy became a mutual experience of encounter proceeding from the enclosed »I-Thou« to the open »We«. In this perspective the importance of the group and of group therapy at the interface between person and society becomes obvious and still waits for being discovered in its richness and potential.

What do we need? We need to take part in the academic world, by a world wide association, an international high quality journal, discussions with other orientations etc. We need creativity to further develop our theory. We need solid qualitative and quantitative research based on an adequate theory of science which still has to be developed, emerging from a genuine understanding of the nature of person-centered theory and practice. We need to develop a genuine person-centered epistemology. We need to deal with the postmodern challenge of ‘anything goes’. We need to stick to the humanistic convictions. We need intensive between the suborientations. We have to intensify the exchange between language groups (a duty for the English speaking world!). We need a discussion with different sciences and arts. We need to understand ourselves as artists in the ‘art of not-knowing’. We need humility. We need self confidence.

Further writings

Schmid, P. F. (1994) Personzentrierte Gruppenpsychotherapie: Ein Handbuch. Volume I: Solidarität und Autonomie. Köln: Edition Humanistische Psychologie.

Schmid, P. F. (1996) Personzentrierte Gruppenpsychotherapie in der Praxis: Ein Handbuch. Volume II: Die Kunst der Begegnung. Paderborn: Junfermann.

Schmid, P. F. (1998) ‘On becoming a person–centered approach’: A person–centred understanding of the person. / ‘Face to face: The art of encounter’. In Thorne, B. and Lambers, E. (eds) Person-Centred Therapy: A European Perspective. London: Sage, pp. 38–52 / 74–90.

Schmid, P. F. (2000) Souveränität und Engagement: Zu einem personzentrierten Verständnis von ‘Person’. In Rogers, C. R. and Schmid, P. F., Person–zentriert: Grundlagen von Theorie und Praxis. Mainz: Grünewald, pp.15–164; 4th ed.

Schmid, P. F. (2000) ‘Encountering a human being means being kept awake by an enigma’ (E. Levinas). Prospects on further developments in the Person-Centered Approach. In: Marques-Teixeira, J. and Antunes, S. (eds.), Client-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy, Linda a Velha: Vale & Vale

Schmid, P. F. (2001) Authenticity: the person as his or her own author. Dialogical and ethical perspectives on therapy as an encounter relationship. And beyond . In Wyatt, G. (ed.), Congruence. Ross–on–Wye: PCCS.

Schmid Peter F. (2001) Comprehension: the art of not-knowing. Dialogical and ethical perspectives on empathy as dialogue facing the unexpected in personal and person-centred relationships. In Haugh, S. and Merry, T., Empathy. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS.

Schmid, P. F. (2002) Acknowledgement: the art of responding. Dialogical and ethical perspectives on the challenge of unconditional personal relationships in therapy and beyond. In Bozarth, J. and Wilkins, P. (Eds.), Unconditional positive regard. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS.

Schmid, P. F. (2002) Presence: Im-mediate co-experiencing and cor-responding. In Wyatt, G. and Sanders, P. (Eds.), Contact and perception. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS.

Schmid, P. F. (2001) ‘The necessary and sufficient conditions of being person–centered’: On identity, integrity, integration and differentiation of the paradigm. In Watson, J. (Ed.), Client-centered and experiential psychotherapy in the 21st century: Advances in theory, research and practice. PCCS: Ross–on–Wye.

Peter F. Schmid, Univ. Doz. HSProf. Mag. Dr.

Born in 1950; Associate Professor at the University of Graz, Styria; teaches at European universities; person–centred psychotherapist, practical theologian and pastoral psychologist; founder of person–centred training in Austria, co–director of the Academy for Counselling and Psychotherapy of the Austrian ‘Institute for Person–Centred Studies (IPS of APG)’ in Vienna. Founder and 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.

Website ( with extensive information on resources, topical events, institutions all around the world, bibliographies (among them the complete Carl Rogers Bibliography Online in English and German and The Person-Centered Bibliography with 7000 titles), papers for download, hundreds of links etc.

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