Regarding Carl Rogers' Person Centered Therapy, which of the following is the correct definition of incongruence:

  1. Inconsistency between ideal self and real self.
  2. Inconsistency between ideal self and self-image.

My Understanding:

Self-Worth: How we value ourselves.

Self-Image: How we see ourselves.

Ideal Self: Who we'd like to be.

Real Self: Who we actually are.


The explanations I'm finding online interchangebly use real-self and self-image as part of the definition of incongruence however it is my understanding that these are these two terms mean different things.

  • $\begingroup$ True, they are different things, but isn't it the case that we only have access to our self-image... that is, isn't the real self a distal stimulus sort-to-speak, and the self-image is akin to a percept? $\endgroup$ – kindredChords Mar 23 '17 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @kindredChords Yes, the self believes the self-image to be the real self but at best, it's a subjective interpolation. The real self is a matter of fact and objectivity, not perception and subjectivity. $\endgroup$ – Clarus Dignus Mar 23 '17 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ @kindredChords I think the term "real self" might be a poor attempt at distinguishing the "ideal self". Logic: "Ideal Self is not real so its opposite must be the Real Self. Self-Image is also the opposite of the Ideal Self therefore the Real Self and Ideal Self are one and the same and thus, interchangeable." I don't endorse this logic of course. I'm just hazarding a guess as to why the interchangeability occurs. $\endgroup$ – Clarus Dignus Mar 23 '17 at 16:40

The terms congruence and incongruence are used in the 2nd and 3rd core conditions in Person-Centred Therapy.

Carl Rogers developed PCT, and outlined in a Journal of Consulting Psychology (1957) that 6 core therapeutic conditions are needed for constructive personality change and that all 6 must be present in therapy. Rogers considered that no other conditions are necessary. The 6 core conditions are:

  1. 2 people are to be in psychological contact
  2. The client is to be incongruent
  3. The therapist is to be congruent or integrated in the relationship
  4. The therapist experiences Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) for the client
  5. The therapist has empathetic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference and endeavours to communicate the empathy to the client
  6. The communication to the client of the therapist’s empathy and UPR is to a minimum degree achieved.

This term used in the 2nd core condition refers to a discrepancy between the client’s perception and the reality of the situation. The client will be aware of the reality but perceives it differently.

It refers to a discrepancy between the actual experience of the organism and the self picture of the individual insofar as it represents that experience… [An] instance would be the mother who develops vague illnesses whenever her only son makes plans to leave home. The actual desire is to hold on to her only source of satisfaction. To perceive this in awareness would be inconsistent with the picture she holds of herself as a good mother. (Rogers, 1957, p. 2)

This term used in the 3rd core condition refers to the exhibition of genuineness, transparency and wholeness. The therapist will not give perceptions of professionalism which disguises the humanity of the therapist. However, the therapist will convey any feelings of confusion, dislike or any other feelings arising within themselves through advanced empathy, in order to be transparent and genuine.

Can I be real in the relationship? This has come to have an increasing amount of importance to me over the years. I feel that genuineness is another way of describing the quality I would like to have. I like the term congruence by which I mean that what I am experiencing inside is present in my awareness and comes out through my communication. In a sense, when I have this quality, I am all in one piece in the relationship. (Rogers, et al., 1965)

-- Edit to clarify more as requested in comments --

The situation with the mother in Rogers' example shows that the mother sees her ideal self to be a good mother but her perception of her self image is that she is not a good mother as she develops vague illnesses whenever her son plans to leave home.


Rogers, C., 1957. The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change. [Online] Available at: http://www.shoreline.edu/dchris/psych236/Documents/Rogers.pdf [Accessed 15 March 2016]

Rogers, C., Perls, F. & Ellis, A., 1965. Video: Three approaches to psychotherapy. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgiX0QLnpBM [Accessed 15 March 2016].

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Chris but I can't extrapolate an answer to my question from you've written. Please refer to the numbered list in my question. Which of the two options would you say is correct? In your description of incongruence, you mention "client perception" vs "the reality of the situation". Why doesn't your answer account for the ideal self? $\endgroup$ – Clarus Dignus Mar 23 '17 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Chris. I've removed the Wikipedia link upon your recommendation but is there any chance you could answer my questions in response to your answer? Please refer to the numbered list in my question. Which of the two options would you say is correct? In your description of incongruence, you mention "client perception" vs "the reality of the situation". Why doesn't your answer account for the ideal self? $\endgroup$ – Clarus Dignus Mar 23 '17 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ Allow me to simplify my original question. Does incongruence = ideal self vs 1) real self or 2) self-image? Please answer in terms of 1 or 2. The excerpt you've quoted regarding the "good mother" clearly exemplifies the ideal self ("the picture she holds of herself as a good mother"). However, it's incongruent with her "[perceiving] this awareness". Should the latter imply 1) real self or 2) self-image. I appreciate your time and patience. $\endgroup$ – Clarus Dignus Mar 23 '17 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks again for your patience, thoroughness and for going to the trouble of corroborating your answer with first-hand sources. Great help. $\endgroup$ – Clarus Dignus Mar 23 '17 at 22:24

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