Carl Ransom Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) was an influential American psychologist, who, along with Abraham
Maslow, was the founder of the humanist approach to clinical psychology.
The following has been adapted from Wikipedia: Carl Rogers and Personality
Theories: Carl Rogers.
Rogers was born on January 8, 1902, in Oak Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. His father was a civil engineer and his mother was a housewife and devout Christian; Rogers was the fourth of six children.
Following an education in a strict religious and ethical environment, he became a rather isolated, independent and disciplined person, and acquired a knowledge and an appreciation for the scientific method in a practical world.
When Carl Rogers was 12, his family moved to a farm about 30 miles west of Chicago, and it was here that he was to spend his adolescence. He went on to the University of Wisconsin as an agriculture major. Later, he switched to religion
to study for the ministry. During this time, he was selected as one of ten students to go to Beijing for the “World Student Christian Federation Conference”
for six months. He tells us that his new experiences so broadened his thinking that he began to doubt some of his basic religious views.
After graduation, he married Helen Elliot (against his parents’ wishes), moved to New York City, and began attending the Union Theological Seminary, a famous liberal religious institution.
Rogers switched to the clinical psychology program of Columbia University, and received his Ph.D. in 1931. He had already begun his clinical work at the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
He was offered a full professorship at Ohio State University in 1940. In 1942, he wrote his first book, Counseling and Psychotherapy. In it, Rogers suggested that the client, by establishing a relationship with an understanding, accepting
therapist, can resolve difficulties and gain the insight necessary to restructure their life.
Then, in 1945, he was invited to set up a counseling center at the University of Chicago. It was while working there, in 1951, he published his major work, Client-Centered Therapy, wherein he outlines his basic theory. In 1956 Rogers
became the first President of the American Academy of Psychotherapists. In 1957 he arrived at the University of Wisconsin. However, following several internal conflicts at the department of psychology at Wisconsin, Rogers became disillusioned with academia.
In 1964, Rogers was selected 'humanist of the year' by the American Humanist Association, and he received an offer to join the staff of the Western Behavioral Studies Institute (WBSI) for research, which he accepted and then moved to
La Jolla, California, . Rogers left the WBSI to help found the Center for Studies of the Person in 1968. He remained a resident of La Jolla for the rest of his life, doing therapy, speeches and writing until his sudden death in 1987. Rogers' last decade
was devoted to applying his theories in areas of national social conflict, and he traveled worldwide to accomplish this.
In 1987, Rogers suffered a fall that resulted in a fractured hip. He had a successful operation, but his heart failed the next night and he died a few days later.
Carl Roger's Theory and Therapy
Roger’s theory is a clinical one, based on years of experience dealing with his clients. The theory is considered to be humanistic and phenomenological. His theory is based on nineteen propositions:
All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the centre.
The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is "reality" for the individual.
The organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field.
A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self. As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction with others, the structure of the self
is formed - an organized, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the "I" or the "me", together with values attached to these concepts.
The organism has one basic tendency and striving - to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.
The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.
Behavior is basically the goal directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.
Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behavior, the kind of emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behavior for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.
Values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values interjected or taken over from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.
As experiences occur in the life of the individual, they are either, a) symbolized, perceived and organized into some relation to the self, b) ignored because there is no perceived relationship to the self structure, c) denied symbolization
or given distorted symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.
Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are consistent with the concept of self.
In some instances, behavior may be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolized. Such behavior may be inconsistent with the structure of the self but in such instances the behavior is not "owned" by
Psychological adjustment exists when the concept of the self is such that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or may be, assimilated on a symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of self.
Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies awareness of significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organized into the gestalt of the self structure. When this situation
exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension.
Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself.
Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the self structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such
When the individual perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated system all his sensory and visceral experiences, then he is necessarily more understanding of others and is more accepting of others as separate individuals.
As the individual perceives and accepts into his self structure more of his organic experiences, he finds that he is replacing his present value system - based extensively on introjections which have been distortedly symbolized - with
a continuing organismic valuing process.
Carl Rogers is best known for his contributions to therapy. His therapy has gone through a couple of name changes along the way: He originally called it non-directive, because he felt that the therapist should not lead the client, but
rather be there for the client while the client directs the progress of the therapy. As he became more experienced, he realized that, as "non-directive"
as he was, he still influenced his client by his very "non-directiveness!"
In other words, clients look to therapists for guidance, and will find it even when the therapist is trying not to guide.
So he changed the name to client-centered. He still felt that the client was the one who should say what is wrong, find ways of improving, and determine the conclusion of therapy -- his therapy was still very "client-centered" even
while he acknowledged the impact of the therapist.
The terms non-directive and client-centered are still used, most people just call it Rogerian therapy. One of the phrases that Rogers used to describe his therapy is "supportive, not reconstructive,"
and he uses the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle to explain: When you help a child to learn to ride a bike, you can't just tell them how. They have to try it for themselves. And you can't hold them up the whole time either. There comes a point when
you have to let them go. If they fall, they fall, but if you hang on, they never learn.
It's the same in therapy. If independence (autonomy, freedom with responsibility) is what you are helping a client to achieve, then they will not achieve it if they remain dependent on you, the therapist. They need to try their insights
on their own, in real life beyond the therapist's office! An authoritarian approach to therapy may seem to work marvelously at first, but ultimately it only creates a dependent person.
There is one technique that Rogerian therapists are particularly known for: reflection. Reflection is the mirroring of emotional communication: If the client says "I feel horrble!"
the therapist may reflect this back to the client by saying something like "So, life's getting you down, hey?" By doing this, the therapist is communicating to the client that he is indeed listening and cares enough to understand.
The therapist is also letting the client know what it is the client is communicating. Often, people in distress say things that they don't mean because it feels good to say them. For example, a woman once came to me and said "I
hate men!" I reflected by saying "You hate all men?" Well, she said, maybe not all -- she didn't hate her father or her brother or, for that matter, me. Even with those men she "hated," she discovered that the great majority of
them she didn't feel as strongly as the word hate implies. In fact, ultimately, she realized that she didn't trust many men, and that she was afraid of being hurt by them the way she had been by one particular man.
Reflection must be used carefully and it must be genuine. Which brings one to Rogers' famous requirements of the therapist. Rogers felt that a therapist, in order to be effective, must have three very special qualities:
1. Congruence -- genuineness, honesty with the client.
2. Empathy -- the ability to feel what the client feels.
3. Respect -- acceptance, unconditional positive regard towards the client.
He says these qualities are "necessary and sufficient:" If the therapist shows these three qualities, the client will improve, even if no other special "techniques"
are used. If the therapist does not show these three qualities, the client's improvement will be minimal, no matter how many "techniques"
Development of the Personality
With regard to development, he described principles rather than stages. The main issue is the development of a self concept and the progress from an undifferentiated self to being fully differentiated.
Self Concept . . . the organized consistent conceptual gestalt composed of perceptions of the characteristics of 'I' or 'me' and the perceptions of the relationships of the 'I' or 'me' to others and to various aspects of life, together
with the values attached to these perceptions. It is a gestalt which is available to awareness though not necessarily in awareness. It is a fluid and changing gestalt, a process, but at any given moment it is a specific entity.
In the development of the self concept he saw conditional and unconditional positive regard as key. Those raised in an environment of unconditional positive regard have the opportunity to fully actualize themselves. Those raised in
an environment of conditional positive regard only feel worthy if they match conditions (what Rogers describes as conditions of worth) that have been laid down by others.
Optimal development, as referred to in proposition 14, results in a certain process rather than static state. He describes this as the good life where the organism continually aims to fulfil their full potential. He listed characteristics
of a fully functioning person:
A growing openness to experience – they move away from defensiveness and have no need for subception (a perceptual defence that involves unconsciously applying strategies to prevent a troubling stimulus from entering consciousness).
An increasingly existential lifestyle – living each moment fully – not distorting the moment to fit personality or self concept but allowing personality and self concept to emanate from the experience. This results in excitement,
daring, adaptability, tolerance, spontaneity, and a lack of rigidity and suggests a foundation of trust.
To open one's spirit to what is going on now, and discover in that present process whatever structure it appears to have.
Increasing organismic trust – they trust their own judgment and their ability to choose behavior that is appropriate for each moment. They do not rely on existing codes and social norms but trust that as they are open to experiences
they will be able to trust their own sense of right and wrong.
Freedom of choice – not being shackled by the restrictions that influence an incongruent individual, they are able to make a wider range of choices more freely. They believe that they play a role in determining their own behavior
and so feel responsible for their own behavior.
Creativity – it follows that they will feel more free to be creative. They will also be more creative in the way they adapt to their own circumstances without feeling a need to conform.
Reliability and constructiveness – they can be trusted to act constructively. An individual who is open to all their needs will be able to maintain a balance between them. Even aggressive needs will be matched and balanced by
intrinsic goodness in congruent individuals.
A rich full life – he describes the life of the fully functioning individual as rich, full and exciting and suggests that they experience joy and pain, love and heartbreak, fear and courage more intensely. Rogers' description
of the good life:
This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself
fully into the stream of life.
Rogers describes the concepts of congruence and incongruence as important ideas in his theory. In proposition 6 he refers to the actualizing tendency. The drive to become what one can be, to realize one's potentialities. At the same time he recognizes
the need for positive regard. In a fully congruent person realizing their potential is not at the expense of experiencing positive regard. They are able to lead lives that are authentic and genuine. Incongruent individuals, in their pursuit of positive
regard, live lives that include falseness and do not realize their potential. Conditions put on them by those around them make it necessary for them to forego their genuine, authentic lives to meet with the approval of others. They live lives that are
not true to themselves, to who they are on the inside.
He suggests that the incongruent individual who is always on the defensive, cannot be open to all experiences and is not functioning ideally and may even be malfunctioning. They work hard at maintaining/protecting their self concept.
Because their lives are not authentic this is a difficult task and they are under constant threat. They deploy defence mechanisms to achieve this. He describes two mechanisms: distortion and denial. Distortion occurs when the individual perceives a threat
to their self concept. They distort the perception until it fits their self concept. Denial follows the same process except instead of distorting they deny the threat exists.
This defensive behavior reduces the consciousness of the threat but not the threat itself. And so, as the threats mount, the work of protecting the self concept becomes more difficult and the individual more defensive and rigid in their
self structure. If the incongruence is immoderate this process may lead the individual to a state that would typically be described as neurotic (although Rogers himself preferred to avoid labels). Their functioning becomes precarious and psychologically
vulnerable. If the situation worsens it is possible that the defenses cease to function altogether and the individual becomes aware of the incongruence of their situation. Their personality becomes disorganized and bizarre, irrational behavior, associated
with earlier denied aspects of self, may erupt uncontrollably.