The core of person-centered theory is a set of beliefs about people and relationships rather than a series of programmable verbal and behavioral techniques. Counselors interested in implementing this theory must look first to themselves and their perceptions of others rather than to what specific behaviors ought to be performed. This is a challenging task, particularly for new practitioners seeking to know what they should "do" and to what extent they "do things well." The following essential person-centered theory constructs must be perceived clearly before a practitioner can implement a person-centered approach effectively.
No Two People See the World Exactly Alike
According to the phenomenological approach, no two people can be expected to see things as happening in exactly the same way. Practitioners must recognize that whatever they personally believe reality to be will be different from the client's perspective and that each client will have a unique perspective. Therefore, asking the client to believe or act in a way that "everyone knows is right" becomes the counselor's opinion, based on his or her own phenomenological view rather than some ultimate fact. Because helping someone from a person-centered approach emphasizes this concept, it is imperative to understand the client's perspective as thoroughly as possible.
Consider the case of a physically abusive husband who is court ordered into counseling. One part of his reasoning for hitting his wife so hard and often that she needed to be hospitalized was, "I come home from work, there is no food on the table, there are dishes in the sink, and then she back talks me. Of course I hit her. Anybody would!" No counseling degree is needed to realize that, "No, anyone wouldn't hit her and certainly not like you did." Most people's perceived world makes it clear that this is not appropriate thinking or behaving. It is, however, an obvious sign that the client has a very different view of the world than the counselor and almost everyone else. Person-centered counselors know that arguing with this person will not change him. What will help is gaining an accurate picture of his perceived world to better understand his perceptions and how they impede or assist change.