Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

A Brief Comparison of Psychoanalytic and Person-Centered Therapy

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Within the field of counseling and therapy, there are endless theoretical stances, each of which develops different perspectives on humanity and establishes varying counselor roles. Consideration of the implications of these various orientations is essential in the process of choosing the appropriate therapy for an individual. As an illustration, examine the stark contrast between psychoanalytic therapy and person-centered therapy. The core of any theoretical approach in psychology lies in the unique interpretation of human nature.

Sigmund Freud; a founder of the psychoanalytic movement, had an extremely deterministic view of the human experience (Corey, 2009). According to Freud; a combination of unconscious, irrational motivations and instinctual drives that lie outside of one’s conscious control serve as the basis for one’s personality (Corey, 2009). These irrational forces include Eros; the innate “life instinct” responsible for sexual energy and our desire to survive, and Thatanos; the innate “death instinct” responsible for aggression (Burger, 2008).

In addition, Freud placed a heavy emphasis on the role of childhood experiences and sexuality in personality development. The psychoanalytic theory asserts that most of the conflict experienced in adulthood is a result of repressed unconscious material from childhood (Burger, 2008). The psychoanalytic view of human nature is quite contrary to the humanistic outlook. Carl Rogers; a founder of the humanistic psychology movement, developed a more optimistic view of human nature.

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This approach asserts that at the core of each individual lies a “positive center”, which is composed of trustworthiness and capability (Corey, 2009). Person-centered therapy is centered on the belief that people have an innate “actualizing tendency” which drives an individual to strive for growth and personal fulfillment (Corey, 2009). Although past experiences are not ignored in therapy; the emphasis on growth, development, and competence proposes that traumatic past experiences can be overcome by finding meaning and purpose in one’s life (Corey, 2009).

Given their varying interpretations of human nature and psyche, person-centered therapists and psychoanalytic therapists establish very different roles in their practice. Because the goal of psychoanalytic therapy is to bring repressed unconscious material to light, the therapist utilizes a “blank-screen approach” (Corey, 2009). Although they initially establish some rapport with the client; psychoanalytic therapists assume an anonymous stance for the majority of therapy by behaving in a neutral, impersonal manner (Corey, 2009).

The goal of this approach is to foster transference; in which clients project repressed emotions onto the impartial therapist (Corey, 2009). The main role of a psychoanalytic therapist is that of an interpreter. The therapy employs various techniques intended to evoke unconscious memories such as transference, dream-analysis, projection tests, and free association (Burger, 2008). These repressed memories are often ambiguous and puzzling to the client; thus therapists provide guidance in understanding and confronting the meaning of this material (Burger, 2008).

In contrast, the goal of person-centered therapy is to create a nurturing environment that fosters the client’s actualizing tendencies and growth (Corey, 2009). The relationship between therapist and client is equal, meaning that the therapist can hold no dominant role (Corey, 2009). Rather than advising and interpreting, the therapist simply serves as a model for the patient. In order to be appropriate models, three characteristics are required of person-centered therapists (Corey, 2009).

Firstly, they must have congruency in their own lives by being genuine and honest with themselves. Person-centered therapists must also accept their clients with “unconditional positive regard” (Corey, 2009). This vital concept assumes that therapists can accept their clients without any judgment, and deeply care for people beyond the obligations of their occupation. Lastly, therapists must have a true empathetic understanding of their clients. Person-centered therapists should be able to relate to their client’s feelings and experiences as if they were their own (Corey, 2009).

Cumulatively these three qualities create an open relationship in which the client is free to express themselves and grow as an individual. Due to the intrinsic differences between psychoanalytic and person-centered therapy, it is necessary to examine their strengths and weaknesses in the application. Freudian psychoanalytic therapy has been modified greatly over time due to many flaws in the therapeutic process. The most notable of these shortcomings is the intense emphasis on childhood experience in personality development (Burger, 2008).

Critics claim that psychoanalytic therapy ignores the significant role of post-developmental and current life circumstances on mental health. In addition, the therapeutic process in lengthy and costly; limiting its application to those in well-off socioeconomic standing (Corey, 2009). There are however many beneficial uses of contemporary psychoanalytic therapy. Some argue that because all people are affected by childhood experiences, therapy can be applicable cross-culturally; assuming therapists possess a multicultural awareness (Corey, 2009).

In addition, brief psychoanalytic therapy is a promising new therapeutic approach that aims to limit the time and cost of psychoanalytic therapy while maintaining the focus on the inner psyche; thereby broadening its availability (Corey, 2009). Person-centered therapy is currently a more widely utilized form of therapy, but it is not without weaknesses.

Critics argue that from a multicultural perspective, the internal locus of evaluation stressed in therapy may not be fitting for some collectivist cultures; who value the opinions and standards of other group members over their own (Corey, 2009).

Others contend that the non-directive stance of the therapist may not be sufficient for those seeking guidance from therapy. Although some aspects of therapy may be flawed, humanistic psychology has been responsible for some major breakthroughs in the field of human resources internationally. Humanistic psychologists have traveled to over 30 countries worldwide in order to assist different cultures in their adoption and modification of humanistic theory and therapy; in hopes of promoting global communication and understanding (Corey, 2009).

Those who promote person-centered therapy also assert that the key therapeutic conditions of empathy, understanding, and honest caring are essential in promoting growth universally (Corey, 2009).


  • Burger, J. M. (2008). Personality. (8th ed. ). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. Corey, G. (2013).
  • Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. (9th ed. ). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
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