Counselling Process: The 7 Stages

Counselling as a Process

Counselling has been described as a journey whereby the client and counsellor undergo a joint process of exploration and reflection (Thorne, 2007). The idea of a process, however, requires at least some notion of beginning and end. While many schools of thought and psychotherapeutic approaches use formulations based on theory in order to explain behaviours and situations, the person-centred approach tends not to use such formulations (Cooper and McLeod, 2011). However, when presenting a client in supervision, there is a need for common terms and a shared language in order to best communicate information. This common language can be found in Rogers’ 7 stage process.

Rogers (1957) noted that, “Individuals move, I began to see, not from fixity or homeostasis through change to a new fixity, though such a process is indeed possible. But much the more significant continuum is from fixity to changingness, from rigid structure to flow, from stasis to process” (p. 100). He expanded on this concept of moving from a rigid experience to one of fluidity by introducing 7 stages he believed clients progressed through as part of therapeutic change:

Stage 1: Clients are defensive and resistant to change. According to Rogers (1958), clients in this stage refer to feelings and emotions as things of the past rather than the present, as they react to past experiences rather than to present ones. Only when a person feels fully accepted, can he or she progress to the next stage.

Stage 2: Clients become slightly less rigid and begin to discuss external events or other people. In this stage, feelings tend to be described as “unowned” or even as past objects.

Stage 3: Clients begin to discuss themselves, but as an object rather than a person. This is because they are avoiding a discussion of the present.

Stage 4: Clients progress to discussing deeper feelings as they develop a relationship with the counsellor.

Stage 5: Clients can express present emotions and begin to rely on their own decision-making abilities. Subsequently, they begin to accept more responsibility for their actions. They have a growing acceptance of contradictions and understanding of incongruence.

Stage 6: Clients show rapid growth towards congruence and often begin to develop unconditional positive regard (UPR) for others. This stage indicates the client no longer needs formal counselling (Wilkins, 2000).

Stage 7: Clients are fully functioning, self-actualised and empathic, and can show UPR towards others. The last and ultimate stage of person-centred therapy can be construed as achieving movement from heteronomy (control by external forces) to autonomy (control of inner forces) (Kensit, 2000).


Rogers’ model should not be considered as a linear process, but rather a general trend over time. In addition, the stages are not discrete in the sense that a client would be objectively categorised into one stage only and not another. Instead, a client may well display thoughts, emotions and behaviours suitable for several stages.

These stages are, however, helpful for formulating the client’s capabilities, motivation and ability to change. A significant advantage in using this model is that it provides a common language that can be used to communicate and convey information regarding a client in supervision or when consulting colleagues.


Cooper, M., & McLeod, J. (2011). Person-centered therapy: A pluralistic perspective. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 10(3), 210-223.
Kensit, D. A. (2000). Rogerian theory: A critique of the effectiveness of pure client-centred therapy. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 13(4), 345-351.
Rogers, C. R. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21(2), 95-105.
Thorne, B. (2007). Person centred therapy. Dryden’s Handbook of Individual Therapy, 144-172.
Rogers, C. R. (1958). A process conception of psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 13(4), 142-149.
Wilkins, P. (2000). Unconditional positive regard reconsidered. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 28(1), 23-36.

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5 replies

  1. It’s good to remind ourselves of the 7 stages of process – thank you Nicola. I’m reading Client Centred Therapy at the moment. I’m finding the richness that comes from reading Rogers’ own work inspiring.

  2. I like your web pages, I have visited them quite a lot over the past 5 years. Thank you.

  3. Thanks A lot,rogers Model Of Counseling Is The Best

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