Stages of Therapeutic Change

The process of constructive personality change can be placed on a continuum from most defensive to most integrated. Rogers (1961) arbitrarily divided this continuum into seven stages.

Stage 1 is characterized by an unwillingness to communicate anything about oneself. People at this stage ordinarily do not seek help, but if for some reason they come to therapy, they are extremely rigid and resistant to change. They do not recognize any problems and refuse to own any personal feelings or emotions.

In Stage 2, clients become slightly less rigid. They discuss external events and other people, but they still disown or fail to recognize their own feelings. However, they may talk about personal feelings as if such feelings were objective phenomena.

As clients enter into Stage 3, they more freely talk about self, although still as an object. "I'm doing the best I can at work, but my boss still doesn't like me." Clients talk about feelings and emotions in the past or future tense and avoid present feelings. They refuse to accept their emotions, keep personal feelings at a distance from the here-and-now situation, only vaguely perceive that they can make personal choices, and deny individual responsibility for most of then decisions.

Clients in Stage 4 begin to talk of deep feelings but not ones presently felt. "I was really burned up when my teacher accused me of cheating." When clients do express present feelings, they are usually surprised by this expression. They deny or distort experiences, although they may have some dim recognition that they are capable of feeling emotions in the present. They begin to question some values that have been introjected from others, and they start to see the incongruence between their perceived self and their organismic experience. They accept more freedom and responsibility than they did in Stage 3 and begin to tentatively allow themselves to become involved in a relationship with the therapist.

By the time clients reach Stage 5, they have begun to undergo significant change and growth. They can express feelings in the present, although they have not yet accurately symbolized those feelings. They are beginning to rely on an internal locus of evaluation for their feelings and to make fresh and new discoveries about themselves. They also experience a greater differentiation of feelings and develop more appreciation for nuances among them. In addition, they begin to make then own decisions and to accept responsibility for then choices.

People at Stage 6 experience dramatic growth and an irreversible movement toward becoming fully functioning or self-actualizing. They freely allow into awareness those experiences that they had previously denied or distorted. They become more congruent and are able to match their present experiences with awareness and with open expression. They no longer evaluate their own behavior from an external viewpoint but rely on their organismic self as the criterion for evaluating experiences. They begin to develop unconditional self-regard, which means that they have a feeling of genuine caring and affection for the person they are becoming.

An interesting concomitant to this stage is a physiological loosening. These people experience their whole organismic self, as their muscles relax, tears flow, circulation improves, and physical symptoms disappear.

Persons of tomorrow are confident in themselves and comfortable with change.

In many ways, Stage 6 signals an end to therapy. Indeed if therapy were to be terminated at this point, clients would still progress to the next level.

Stage 7 can occur outside the therapeutic encounter, because growth at Stage 6 seems to be irreversible. Clients who reach Stage 7 become fully functioning "persons of tomorrow" (a concept more fully explained in the section titled The Person of Tomorrow). They are able to generalize then in-therapy experiences to their world beyond therapy. They possess the confidence to be themselves at all thnes, to own and to feel deeply the totality of then experiences, and to live those experiences in the present. Their organismic self, now unified with the self-concept, becomes the locus for evaluating then experiences. People at Stage 7 receive pleasure in knowing that these evaluations are fluid and that change and growth will continue. In addition, they become congruent, possess unconditional positive self-regard, and are able to be loving and empathic toward others.

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