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Although REBT rejects some of the basic tenants of his “person centered” approach and his proposition that “getting in touch with feelings” is itself therapeutic, Carl Rogers remains one of the most important and influential psychologists of the 20th Century, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, popularizer of “unconditional positive regard” employed by virtually all psychologists today, and grandfather of the “touchy-feely movement.”
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(January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) was an American
psychologist and among the founders of the
humanistic approach (or client-centered approach) to
psychology. Rogers is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of
psychotherapy research and was honored for his pioneering research with the
Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions by the
American Psychological Association (APA) in 1956.
person-centered approach, his own unique approach to understanding
personality and human relationships, found wide application in various domains
such as psychotherapy and counseling (client-centered
learning), organizations, and other group settings. For his professional
work he was bestowed the Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to
Psychology by the
APA in 1972. In a study by Haggbloom et al. (2002) using six criteria such
as citations and recognition, Rogers was found to be the sixth most eminent
psychologist of the 20th century and second, among clinicians, only to
4 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
5 Selected works by Carl Rogers
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
born on January 8, 1902, in
Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of
Chicago. His father, Walter A. Rogers, was a
civil engineer and his mother, Julia M. Cushing,
was a homemaker and devout
Christian. Carl was the fourth of their six children.
intelligent and could read well before kindergarten. Following an education in a
strict religious and ethical environment as an
altar boy at the
vicarage of Jimpley, he became a rather isolated, independent and
disciplined person, and acquired a knowledge and an appreciation for the
scientific method in a practical world. His first career choice was
agriculture, at the
University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he was a part of the fraternity of
Alpha Kappa Lambda, followed by history and then
religion. At age 20, following his 1922 trip to
China, for an international Christian conference, he started to doubt his
religious convictions. To help him clarify his career choice, he attended a
seminar entitled Why am I entering the Ministry?, after which he decided
to change his career. In 1924, he graduated from University of Wisconsin and
Union Theological Seminary. He later became an atheist.
years he left the
seminary to attend
Teachers College, Columbia University, obtaining an MA in 1928 and a PhD in
1931. While completing his doctoral work, he engaged in child study. In 1930,
Rogers served as director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Children in Rochester, New York. From 1935 to 1940 he lectured at the
University of Rochester and wrote The Clinical Treatment of the Problem
Child (1939), based on his experience in working with troubled children. He
was strongly influenced in constructing his client-centered approach by the
post-Freudian psychotherapeutic practice of
In 1940 Rogers became professor of clinical psychology at Ohio State University,
where he wrote his second book, Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942). 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.
he was invited to set up a counseling center at the
University of Chicago. In 1947 he was elected President of the American
While a professor of psychology at the
University of Chicago (1945–57), Rogers helped to establish a counseling
center connected with the university and there conducted studies to determine
the effectiveness of his methods. His findings and theories appeared in
Client-Centered Therapy (1951) and Psychotherapy and Personality Change
(1954). One of his graduate students at the University of Chicago,
Thomas Gordon, established the
Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) movement. Another student,
Eugene T. Gendlin, who was getting his Ph.D. in philosophy, developed the
Focusing based on Rogerian listening. In 1956, Rogers became the first
President of the American Academy of Psychotherapists.
He taught psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1957–63), during
which time he wrote one of his best-known books, On Becoming a Person
(1961). Carl Rogers and
Abraham Maslow (1908–70) pioneered a movement called
humanistic psychology which reached its peak in the 1960s. In 1961, he was
elected a Fellow of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Carl Rogers was also one of the people who questioned the rise of
McCarthyism in 1950s. Through articles, he criticized society for its
continued teaching at University of Wisconsin until 1963, when he became a
resident at the new
Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI) in
La Jolla, California. Rogers left the WBSI to help found the Center for
Studies of the Person in 1968. His later books include Carl Rogers on
Personal Power (1977) and Freedom to Learn for the 80’s (1983). He
remained a resident of La Jolla for the rest of his life, doing therapy, giving
speeches and writing until his sudden death in 1987. In 1987, Rogers suffered a
fall that resulted in a fractured
pelvis: he had life alert and was able to contact paramedics. He had a
successful operation, but his pancreas failed the next night and he died a few
last years were devoted to applying his theories in situations of political
oppression and national social conflict, traveling worldwide to do so. In
Northern Ireland, he brought together influential Protestants and Catholics;
in South Africa, blacks and whites; in Brazil people emerging from dictatorship
to democracy; in the United States, consumers and providers in the health field.
His last trip, at age 85, was to the Soviet Union, where he lectured and
facilitated intensive experiential workshops fostering communication and
creativity. He was astonished at the numbers of Russians who knew of his work.
with his daughter, Natalie Rogers, and psychologists Maria Bowen, Maureen
O’Hara, and John K. Wood, between 1974 and 1984, Rogers convened a series of
residential programs in the US, Europe, Brazil and Japan, the Person-Centered
Approach Workshops, which focused on cross-cultural communications, personal
growth, self-empowerment, and learning for social change.
Rogers’ theory of the self is considered to be
His theory is based directly on the “phenomenal
field” personality theory of Combs and Snygg (1949).
Rogers’ elaboration of his own theory is extensive. He wrote 16 books and many
more journal articles describing it. Prochaska and Norcross (2003) states Rogers
“consistently stood for an empirical evaluation of psychotherapy. He and his
followers have demonstrated a humanistic approach to conducting therapy and a
scientific approach to evaluating therapy need not be incompatible.”
(as of 1953) was based on 19 propositions:
individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience
(phenomenal field) of which they are the center.
organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This
perceptual field is “reality” for the individual.
organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field.
portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as
- 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.
organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and
enhance the experiencing organism.
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 attached to experiences, and the values that are a part of the
self-structure, in some instances, are values experienced directly by the
organism, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from
others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced
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.
of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are
consistent with the concept of self.
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 the individual.
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.
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
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
the individual perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated
system all her sensory and visceral experiences, then she is necessarily
more understanding of others and is more accepting of others as separate
- 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.
Development of the personality
regard to development, Rogers 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.
… 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.
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 feel worthy only if they match
conditions (what Rogers describes as conditions of worth) that have been
laid down for them by others.
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 fulfill its full potential. He listed the
characteristics of a fully functioning person (Rogers 1961):
growing openness to experience – they move away from defensiveness and have
no need for subception (a perceptual defense that involves unconsciously
applying strategies to prevent a troubling stimulus from entering
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” (Rogers 1961)
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
fluently. 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:
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.
identified the “real
self” as the aspect of one’s being that is founded in the actualizing
tendency, follows organismic valuing, needs and receives positive regard and
self-regard. It is the “you” that, if all goes well, you will become. On the
other hand, to the extent that our society is out of sync with the actualizing
tendency, and we are forced to live with conditions of worth that are out of
step with organismic valuing, and receive only conditional positive regard and
self-regard, we develop instead an “ideal self”. By ideal, Rogers is suggesting
something not real, something that is always out of our reach, the standard we
cannot meet. This gap between the real self and the ideal self, the “I am” and
the “I should” is called incongruity.
described the concepts of congruence and incongruence as important
ideas in his theory. In proposition #6, he refers to the actualizing tendency.
At the same time, he recognized 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, lead lives that
include falseness and do not realize their potential. Conditions put on them by
those around them make it necessary for them to forgo 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 out.
suggested that the incongruent individual, who is always on the defensive and
cannot be open to all experiences, 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 defense 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.
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 becomes 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. 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 disorganised and bizarre; irrational behavior, associated
with earlier denied aspects of self, may erupt uncontrollably.
originally developed his theory to be the foundation for a system of therapy. He
initially called this “non-directive therapy” but later replaced the term
“non-directive” with the term “client-centered” and then later used the term
“person-centered”. Even before the publication of Client-Centered Therapy
in 1951, Rogers believed that the principles he was describing could be applied
in a variety of contexts and not just in the therapy situation. As a result, he
started to use the term person-centered approach later in his life to
describe his overall theory.
Person-centered therapy is the application of the person-centered approach
to the therapy situation. Other applications include a theory of personality,
interpersonal relations, education, nursing,
cross-cultural relations and other “helping” professions and situations. In
1946 Rogers co-authored “Counseling with Returned Servicemen,” with John L.
Wallen (the creator of the behavioral model known as
The Interpersonal Gap),
documenting the application of person-centered approach to counseling military
personnel returning from the second world war.
empirical evidence of the effectiveness of the client-centered approach was
published in 1941 at the Ohio State University by
Elias Porter, using the recordings of therapeutic sessions between Carl
Rogers and his clients.
Porter used Rogers’ transcripts to devise a system to measure the degree of
directiveness or non-directiveness a counselor employed.
The attitude and orientation of the counselor were demonstrated to be
instrumental in the decisions made by the client.
application to education has a large robust research tradition similar to that
of therapy with studies having begun in the late 1930s and continuing today
(Cornelius-White, 2007). Rogers described the approach to education in
Client-Centered Therapy and wrote Freedom to Learn devoted
exclusively to the subject in 1969. Freedom to Learn was revised two
times. The new Learner-Centered Model is similar in many regards to this
classical person-centered approach to education. Rogers and Harold Lyon began a
book prior to Rogers death, entitled On Becoming an Effective Teacher —
Person-centered Teaching, Psychology, Philosophy, and Dialogues with Carl R.
Rogers and Harold Lyon, which was completed by Lyon and Reinhard Tausch and
published in 2013 containing Rogers last unpublished writings on person-centered
Rogers had the following five hypotheses regarding learner-centered education:
person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate
another’s learning” (Rogers, 1951). This is a result of his personality
theory, which states that everyone exists in a constantly changing world of
experience in which he or she is the center. Each person reacts and responds
based on perception and experience. The belief is that what the student does
is more important than what the teacher does. The focus is on the student
(Rogers, 1951). Therefore, the background and experiences of the learner are
essential to how and what is learned. Each student will process what he or
she learns differently depending on what he or she brings to the classroom.
person learns significantly only those things that are perceived as being
involved in the maintenance of or enhancement of the structure of self”
(Rogers, 1951). Therefore, relevancy to the student is essential for
learning. The students’ experiences become the core of the course.
“Experience which, if assimilated, would involve a change in the
organization of self, tends to be resisted through denial or distortion of
symbolism” (Rogers, 1951). If the content or presentation of a course is
inconsistent with preconceived information, the student will learn if he or
she is open to varying concepts. Being open to consider concepts that vary
from one’s own is vital to learning. Therefore, gently encouraging
open-mindedness is helpful in engaging the student in learning. Also, it is
important, for this reason, that new information be relevant and related to
structure and organization of self appears to become more rigid under
threats and to relax its boundaries when completely free from threat”
(Rogers, 1951). If students believe that concepts are being forced upon
them, they might become uncomfortable and fearful. A barrier is created by a
tone of threat in the classroom. Therefore, an open, friendly environment in
which trust is developed is essential in the classroom. Fear of retribution
for not agreeing with a concept should be eliminated. A classroom tone of
support helps to alleviate fears and encourages students to have the courage
to explore concepts and beliefs that vary from those they bring to the
classroom. Also, new information might threaten the student’s concept of
him- or herself; therefore, the less vulnerable the student feels, the more
likely he or she will be able to open up to the learning process.
educational situation which most effectively promotes significant learning
is one in which (a) threat to the self of the learner is reduced to a
minimum and (b) differentiated perception of the field is facilitated”
(Rogers, 1951). The instructor should be open to learning from the students
and also working to connect the students to the subject matter. Frequent
interaction with the students will help achieve this goal. The instructor’s
acceptance of being a mentor who guides rather than the expert who tells is
instrumental to student-centered, nonthreatening, and unforced learning.
Alton L. Becker, and
Kenneth Pike published Rhetoric: Discovery and Change, a widely
influential college writing textbook that used a
Rogerian approach to communication to revise the traditional Aristotelian
framework for rhetoric. The Rogerian method of argument involves each side
restating the other’s position to the satisfaction of the other. In a paper, it
can be expressed by carefully acknowledging and understanding the opposition,
rather than dismissing them.
application to cross-cultural relations has involved workshops in highly
stressful situations and global locations including conflicts and challenges in
South Africa, Central America, and Ireland.
Along with Alberto Zucconi and Charles Devonshire, he co-founded the Istituto
dell’Approccio Centrato sulla Persona (Person-Centered Approach Institute) in
international work for peace culminated in the Rust Peace Workshop which took
place in November 1985 in
Rust, Austria. Leaders from 17 nations convened to discuss the topic “The
Central America Challenge”. The meeting was notable for several reasons: it
brought national figures together as people (not as their positions), it was a
private event, and was an overwhelming positive experience where members heard
one another and established real personal ties, as opposed to stiffly formal and
regulated diplomatic meetings.
Person-centered, dialogic politics
scholars believe there is a politics implicit in Rogers’s approach to
Toward the end of his life, Rogers came to that view himself.
The central tenet of a Rogerian, person-centered politics is that public life
does not have to consist of an endless series of winner-take-all battles among
sworn opponents; rather, it can and should consist of an ongoing dialogue among
all parties. Such dialogue would be characterized by respect among the parties,
authentic speaking by each party, and – ultimately – empathic understanding
among all parties. Out of such understanding, mutually acceptable solutions
would (or at least could) flow.
last decade, Rogers facilitated or participated in a wide variety of dialogic
activities among politicians, activists, and other social leaders, often outside
In addition, he lent his support to several non-traditional U.S. political
initiatives, including the “12-Hour Political Party” of the
Association for Humanistic Psychology
 and the founding of a “transformational” political organization,
New World Alliance.
By the 21st century, interest in dialogic approaches to political engagement and
change had become widespread, especially among academics and activists.
Theorists of a specifically Rogerian, person-centered approach to politics as
dialogue have made substantial contributions to that project.
Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Rogers served on the board of the Human Ecology Fund from the late 50s into the
60s, which was a
CIA-funded organization that provided grants to researchers looking into
personality. In addition, he and other people in the field of personality and
psychotherapy were given a lot of information about Khrushchev. ‘We were asked
to figure out what we thought of him and what would be the best way of dealing
with him. And that seemed to be an entirely principled and legitimate aspect. I
don’t think we contributed very much, but, anyway, we tried.’ “.
the Human Ecology Fund and Carl Rogers:
© 2018, Rex Alexander. All rights reserved.
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