What Is Unconditional Positive Regard?

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Unconditional positive regard is a term used by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers to describe a technique used in his non-directive, client-centered therapy. According to Rogers, unconditional positive regard involves showing complete support and acceptance of a person no matter what that person says or does.The therapist accepts and supports the client, no matter what they say or do, placing no conditions on this acceptance.

That means the therapist supports the client, whether they are expressing "good" behaviors and emotions or "bad" ones.

"It means caring for the client, but not in a possessive way or in such a way as simply to satisfy the therapist's own needs," explained in Rogers in a 1957 article published in the Journal of Consulting Psychology. "It means caring for the client as a separate person, with permission to have his own feelings, his own experiences."

Rogers believed that it was essential for therapists to show unconditional positive regard to their clients. He also suggested that individuals who don't have this type of acceptance from people in their life can eventually come to hold negative beliefs about themselves.

"People also nurture our growth by being accepting—by offering us what Rogers called unconditional positive regard," explains David G. Meyers in his book Psychology: Eighth Edition in Modules.

"This is an attitude of grace, an attitude that values us even knowing our ailings. It is a profound relief to drop our pretenses, confess our worst feelings, and discover that we are still accepted. In a good marriage, a close family, or an intimate friendship, we are free to be spontaneous without fearing the loss of others' esteem."

Putting Unconditional Positive Regard Into Practice

Is it really possible for therapists to offer unconditional positive regard to each and every client? Many suggest that the answer is no. However, as John and Rita Sommers-Flanagan note, it is possible for therapists to try to feel such regard toward their clients. They also note that such acceptance does not constitute permissiveness or an endorsement of all behaviors. Natalie Rogers, the daughter of Carl Rogers, later explained that her father believed that while any thoughts and feelings are okay, not all behaviors are acceptable.

While unconditional positive regard is a cornerstone of client-centered therapy, it isn't always easy to put into practice. Imagine a situation in which a therapist is working with a sex offender. In their book Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice, Sommers-Flanagan offer some advice to practitioners who encounter such difficult situations. Rather that focusing on the behaviors themselves, the authors recommend seeking positive regard for the suffering and fears that such behaviors might represent.

"Rogers firmly believed every person was born with the potential to develop in positive, loving ways," they suggest. "When doing person-centered therapy, you become their next chance, maybe their last chance, to be welcomed, understood, and accepted. Your acceptance may create the conditions needed for change."

References:

Meyers, D. G. (2006) Psychology: Eighth edition in modules. Worth Publishers.

Rogers, Carl (1957). The necessary and sufficient of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology (21), 95–103.

Rogers, C. (1961). On Becoming A Person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sommers-Flanagan, J., & Sommers-Flanagan, R. (2012). Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice: Skills, Strategies, and Techniques. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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