Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Exploring career mentoring and coaching
Exploring career mentoring and coaching

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1 Person-centred coaching

A photograph of a woman is sitting cross-legged on a windowsill.
Figure 1 Focus on the person

The person-centred, sometimes known as ‘humanistic’, approach to coaching is based on the work of Carl Rogers in the 1950s. Van Nieuwerburgh (2017, p. 164) explains that Rogers based his thinking on two foundational premises:

  • People are their own best experts and therefore best placed to understand their own perceptions and make their own decisions.
  • The natural human tendency is to strive towards self-actualisation i.e. to be the best that we can be.

The role of the coach is to encourage the coachee to come up with their own suggestions and decisions, and to support them in removing any obstacles to their growth and development.

A common analogy, one used by Rogers himself (Redwood, 2015), is that of a plant struggling to grow towards the light, and the coach or counsellor helping to provide the right conditions for optimal growth.

In a later paper, Rogers (1962) outlines how the coach can make a relationship a ‘growth-promoting climate’:

  • Congruence – the coach is genuine and authentic.
  • Empathy – the coach feels and demonstrates empathy.
  • Positive regard – the coach has a warm, positive acceptance attitude.
  • Unconditionality of regard – the coach maintains a positive feeling without reservations, evaluations or judgements.

The positive attitude of the coach towards their client is fundamental to this approach and might not always be easy to maintain. This is often known as unconditional positive regard (UPR).

Yates (2014) asks, ‘Is it possible to increase your UPR?’ and suggests that there are two elements a coach can usefully reflect on:

  • Be aware of the kinds of things that might make UPR challenging, for example, political affiliation, religious beliefs, personal preferences, values etc.
  • Find out where the client’s views have come from and this should make it easier to empathise with them.

Activity 1 Can I be non-judgemental?

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Kate has come for her first appointment with her coach, Janice. She feels stuck in a rut and sees opportunities for promotion passing her by. As they talk about her current role, she begins to reveal a negative attitude towards immigrant workers in her organisation who ‘get all the best jobs’. She clearly feels that they are stopping her from progressing as she’d like to.

Janice’s husband is from overseas and has recently obtained UK citizenship.

If you were Janice, how would you react to this conversation?

What would be an appropriate response?

Make notes about your thoughts in the box below.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Even if you disagree with her views, understanding that Kate feels ignored and unappreciated should help you to empathise with her.

A non-judgemental response might be to say ‘Ok – so you haven’t managed to get a promotion yet. What jobs have you been going for?’ This could then lead into a discussion about Kate’s skills and experience, and some further clarification about the types of roles she’s applying for and whether they are the right ones for her.

Responding to Kate this way is more likely to build trust and encourage her to continue the discussion. The discussion could then be focused on how she can improve her chances of success rather than what might be stopping her.

In her Career Counselling Handbook, Yates (2014, p. 80) provides examples of career issues where a person-centred approach can be useful. For example, when you have an inner dialogue in your mind: ‘I’m unhappy where I am but frightened to make a change’ or ‘my head tells me to go for the banking job but my heart wants to teach’. In trying to take account of all the different elements and aspects of a situation, you just end up stuck.

The person-centred approach – where the coach encourages you to share your inner dialogue, listens without judgement and helps you to find the answers for yourself through asking powerful questions and summarising what they hear – can be really effective in this situation.

Next, you’ll look at cognitive behavioural coaching (CBC).