This type of counselling allows the client to guide themselves through the episode rather than being led by the professional. This theory suggests that sessions should not be directive and the counsellor should be a source of understanding and encouragement rather than the problem solver. The person-centred approach allows clients to move at their own pace and to direct their own development. This means they are aware that the counsellor believes in their capability to manage problems, which encourages them to believe in their strengths, values and worth.

The person-centred approach maintains that three core conditions provide a climate conducive to growth and therapeutic change. The core conditions are:
 

  • Empathy
Empathy means that the counsellor accurately understands the client's thoughts, feelings, and meanings from the client's own perspective. When the counsellor perceives what the world is like from the client's point of view, it demonstrates not only that that view has value, but also that the client is being accepted.
 
  • Congruence
Congruence means that the counsellor is authentic and genuine. The counsellor does not present an aloof professional facade, but is present and transparent to the client. There is no air of authority or hidden knowledge, and the client does not have to speculate about what the counsellor is 'really like'.
 
  • Unconditional positive regard
Unconditional positive regard means that the counsellor will always accept the client unconditionally and non-judgementally. The client is free to explore all thoughts and feelings, positive or negative, without danger of rejection or condemnation. Crucially, the client is free to explore and to express without having to do anything in particular or meet any particular standards of behaviour to 'earn' positive regard from the counsellor.

Together, these three core conditions are believed to enable the client to develop and grow in their own way -- to strengthen and expand their own identity and to become the person that they 'really' are independently of the pressures of others to act or think in particular ways.

As a result, person-centred theory takes these core conditions as both necessary and sufficient for therapeutic movement to occur and that if these core conditions are provided, then the client will experience therapeutic change.  Person-centred therapy suggests that there is nothing essentially unique about the counselling relationship and that in fact healthy relationships with significant others may well manifest the core conditions and thus be therapeutic.

The person-centred approach assumes that clients are the experts on themselves. The focus of person-centred therapy is always on the client's own feelings and thoughts, not on those of the therapist -- and certainly not on diagnosis or categorization. The person-centred therapist makes every attempt to foster an environment in which clients can encounter themselves and become more intimate with their own thoughts, feelings and meanings