Person-Centered Counseling with LGBT Adolescents

Lemoire, S., & Chen, C. (2005, March). Applying Person-Centered Counseling to Sexual Minority Adolescents. Journal of Counseling & Development, 83(2), 146-154.


In this article, the authors explore the therapeutic potential of Carl Rogers’ person-centered counseling theory in helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/sexual (LGBT) adolescents who are working toward the acceptance and disclosure of their sexual identity.  The person-centered counseling approach seems to have the potential to create the necessary conditions that counteract stigmatization of these adolescents, allowing them to cope with their sexual identity in a manner that is more constructive for them.  With this in mind, the authors present both the strengths and limitations of using person-centered counseling in this particular helping context.


First, the authors consider the sexual identity development of the LGBT populations and why the person-centered principle pertains to this identity development.  The core characteristics of person-centered counseling (congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy) seem to form a practical rationale for helping intervention for LGBT clients for several reasons.  With a congruence attitude, the counselor is a genuine helper who does not wear a mask in the helping process.  The counselor’s unconditional positive regard reaches out to the client with a nonjudgmental acceptance, regardless of his or her sexual orientation.  Finally, the communication of empathy allows the counselor to enter the client’s phenomenological world, understanding the LGBT identity from the unique perspective of each individual client.


Second, the authors argue that person-centered counseling embodies six aspects that are particularly helpful to LGBT adolescent clients, as they begin to engage in dialogue and exploration, leading to sexual identity disclosure.  These six identifiable strengths of person-centered counseling are: (a) shows unconditional positive regard, congruence, and empathy; (b) adopts the client’s perspective; (c) encourages the client’s locus of evaluation; (d) emphasizes the client’s notion of self-concept; (e) believes in the client’s potential for growth; and (f) ensures that the growth process is client-directed.


Lastly, the authors suggest that to overcome possible limitations of the person-centered approach in this helping context, counselors should take into consideration the special needs of this group of clients.  To do so, counselors should focus on three interconnected aspects in the helping process, namely, explicit identity validation (reassurance), guided risk assessment regarding possible disclosure, and exposure to positive sexual minority communities and socialization that are appropriate for their age group.


Implications for School Counselors:

It is critical that counselors offer safe and supportive therapeutic environments when working with LGBT adolescents, especially in the school setting, where they are often bullied and teased.  The school counselor should also assume a combination of roles in this helping process.  These roles may include that of a person-centered facilitator, an information provider, and a supporter and advocate.  The counselor’s proactive role, combined with the complementary helping strategies, will have great potential for working with LGBT adolescent clients.  This also implies that school counselors may need to become more flexible and open in varied helping contexts that will foster appropriate client-directed growth in the process of sexual identity formation and liberation.

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