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Does Person-Centered (Rogerian) Therapy Work For Addiction Recovery?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to motivating people in recovery to get on the path to sobriety and stay the course after a battle with substance abuse. As with many other things, it takes different things for different people to commit.

For some people, a 12-step fellowship is the way to go while others may find the SMART Recovery approach starts the ball rolling in the right direction. Yet, for others in addiction recovery, participating in person-centered therapy may be just what they need to put addiction behind once and for all. In this approach, recovering substance users are encouraged to take an active role in their recovery and come up with their own answers of how to live substance-free. They work to accomplish this in a safe, no-judgment zone along with an understanding therapist to help guide them on their personal paths.

Here, we answer a few questions about what person-centered therapy is and how it can help people who are working to overcome substance addiction.


Person-centered therapy was developed by renowned U.S. psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1940s. It goes by several names, including person-centered counseling, client-centered therapy, or Rogerian Therapy. This counseling approach is humanistic and based on Rogers’ belief that all people are fundamentally good and has the ability to fulfill their potential.

Person-centered therapy moves away from the traditional model of the therapist being the expert. Rather, in person-centered therapy, the client is regarded as the expert, and it is the therapist who listens to the client and is “there to encourage and support the client and to guide the therapeutic process without interrupting or interfering with the client’s process of self-discovery,” writes Psychology Today. Some say this approach promotes the client to feel empowered while discovering their emotions, decisions, and habits as they work toward the life they want.


People looking to boost their self-esteem, increase their self-awareness and self-reliance, and gain more clarity as they focus on their life’s goals can benefit from person-centered therapy. This addiction therapy approach has been used for people across groups, including those who are dealing with substance use disorders and mental health disorders.

These include:

  • Substance abuse, substance addiction
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Dual-diagnosis clients (people who have co-occurring disorders)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating)
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

People who are managing stress, as well as those who are dealing with relationship problems, also may benefit from this kind of therapy.


Person-centered therapy is a collaborative relationship between and clients and their therapists. The client; however, determines what course of action to take. The therapist aids in this process by helping the client get to self-actualization and personal understanding while clarifying the client’s responses. Feedback from the therapist gives the client a clearer picture of what needs to change and make changes as the person sees fit.

“Rogers strongly believed that in order for a client’s condition to improve therapists should be warm, genuine, and understanding,” writes Saul McLeod for Simply Psychology.

Finding a balance between who a person is and who a person wants to be is a key goal in this kind of therapy.


Person-centered therapy, also known as client-centered therapy, is different because it focuses on humanistic approach, not therapeutic techniques, such as an emphasis on boundaries of time. “What’s most important in client-centered therapy is the quality of the relationship between the therapist and the client,” writes on its website. Person-centered counselors may practice differently and not use orthodox counseling approaches.

The therapist’s attitude is also important, and some say it matters more than mental health professional’s skill sets. The following three guiding principles that reflect the attitude of therapists help determine the success of the therapy:

This principle is about the therapist’s ability to be authentic. According to McLeod of Simply Psychology, Rogers considered congruence to be the most important attribute in counseling. Therapists who are following Rogerian principles allow their clients to experience them as they really are, unlike psychodynamic therapists, who generally maintain a “blank screen” and do not reveal much of their personality, McLeod explains.

This principle is about valuing clients as they are. The therapist should be able to maintain the attitude of “I’ll accept you as you are,” even when the therapist does not approve of the client’s decisions or actions.

This principle addresses the therapist’s’ ability to understand the client’s feelings and be sensitive to those feelings. The therapist must also be able to communicate with the client to let the client know that the therapist understands what the person is feeling.

Also, in this kind of therapy, the emphasis is on the client being in the driver’s seat. That person is solely responsible for taking the necessary steps to make changes that lead to a better life.


Person-centered therapy can help people in recovery in several ways. First, it takes the emphasis off the substance and the behavior and broadens the focus to include the whole person and that person’s perception of reality. Instead of only looking at the addiction, it requires them to examine how they have battled with an addiction to certain substances and why they engaged in certain behaviors when those substances were used.

This kind of therapy also helps people in recovery change how they see themselves as they work to improve their self-image and increase their self-esteem. They must be open to cope with their thoughts, feelings, and motivations that will reveal themselves as they face the causes of their addiction. This kind of therapy provides the safe setting needed for them to do that. It will give them the tools to go deeper and take a look at themselves as a whole person and how they are connected to how they see themselves “within a complex web of personal, sociohistorical realities,” writes Wycliff Matanada, MA, for

Person-centered therapy also forces people in recovery to face their truth without outside distractions but with the support of an understanding, compassionate therapist who remains open to what their perspective is as they find the best path to sobriety for them.

It is common for facilities to incorporate it into their residential programs or outpatient programs for people who are recovering from addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders.


Not everyone is a fan of person-centered therapy. Some critics of this approach say that the nondirective approach that therapists practice silences professionals from giving useful advice or guidance that clients can use, even if that guidance conflicts with the client’s perspective.

Other criticisms include that there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of the therapy, and some say only a few therapists can actually be nondirective or genuinely humanistic in their practice as they counsel their clients. These are just a few of the criticisms of the approach, but it is up to each person to decide whether it works for them or if it is something they think can enhance their addiction treatment.


Person-centered therapy works for some people in recovery from substance abuse and addiction, but it might not work for you or your loved one. As one of the premier drug and alcohol treatment centers in Florida, Pathway to Hope has created treatment programs that give you the motivation you need to continue succeeding and thriving in your recovery, and they can be tailored to fit your current and future needs.

From other kinds of therapy, life skills training, and relapse prevention programs to our aftercare and alumni programs, you receive the support you need to continue to be empowered. Call Pathway to Hope at (866) 298-2348 or contact us online today and take the first step to a new life in recovery.


Elysia Richardson

Elysia L. Richardson is a writer and editor at Delphi Behavioral Health Group.

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