Carl Rogers was born on January 8 1902 in Chicago, Illinois and was the fourth of six children. His father was a successful civil engineer and as such was often away from home, leaving his mother to raise them and so he grew up closer to his mother than to his father. His family was very close, however, and highly religious but friendship outside the family was discouraged; reason being that others behaved in ways that were inappropriate and contrary to the family’s beliefs. These included smoking, drinking, going to the movies etc. and so the family decided that it was better to live separate from such folk and to avoid communicating with them, but the best that they could do was to be tolerant of them.
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Rogers was a loner in school and as such took refuge in books. He read everything possible including dictionaries and encyclopaedias. When Rogers was 12 his father moved his family to a farm such that they could live in a more wholesome and religious atmosphere. There his father insisted that they run a farm and it was here that Rogers developed a deep interest in agriculture. After high school he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin in 1919 to study agriculture, however because he was still very active in church activities he was chosen in 1922 to attend the World Student Christian Federation Conference in Peking, China. This trip was a life changing experience for Rogers that lasted six months and which, for the first time, allowed him to experience people of different religions. This new experience made such an impact on Rogers that he wrote to is parents declaring his independence from their conservative religion, and almost immediately developed an ulcer that caused him to be hospitalized for several weeks.
Rogers changed his major upon returning to university and graduated in 1924 with a degree in History. Shortly after graduation he married his childhood sweetheart, Helen Elliott, and they eventually had two children together. Soon after marriage Rogers move to New York and enrolled in the liberal Union Theological Seminary while also taking courses in psychology and education at neighbouring Columbia University. However, doubts about the religious approach to helping people caused him to transfer to Columbia University full-time and where he then earned his master’s degree in clinical psychology in 1928 and his doctorate in 1931. His dissertations concerned the measurement of personality adjustment in children and thus lead him to work for the Child Study Department of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to children in Rochester, New York. As a result of his experiences here he developed his own brand of psychotherapy. While working at the Society he wrote his first book entitled ‘The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child’. Thereafter he was offered a position at Ohio State University at the rank of full professor, and it was then at the age of 38 that he decided to begin a new career in the academic world.
In 1944 Rogers took leave from Ohio State to become director of counselling services for the United Services Organization in New York. After one year he moved to the University of Chicago as professor of psychology and director of counselling and it was during this time that he wrote what others thought to be his most important work, Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory (1951). In 1957, Rogers returned to the University of Wisconsin where he held the dual position of professor of psychology and professor of psychiatry. In 1963, he joined the Western Behavioural Sciences Institute (WBSI) in La Jolla, California where he eventually formed the Center for the Studies of the Person. Rogers continued to work on the Vienna Peace Project and peace workshops in Moscow until his death on February 4, 1987 from cardiac arrest following surgery for a broken hip.
Carl Rogers’s revolutionary and most important work brought out in his book Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory (1951) marked a change in his approach to psychology. At first his approach was called nondirective, because he believed that in a positive therapeutic atmosphere clients would solve their problems automatically, but his practice became client-centered when he realized that the therapist had to make an active attempt to understand and accept a client’s subjective reality before any real progress could be made. Rogers set out to use a method called the Q-technique in order to measure the effectiveness of therapy where he had clients describe themselves as they were at the moment (real self) and then as they would like to become, (ideal self). The two selves were measured in such a way as to allow the correlation between them to be determined. Normally when the therapy begins, the correlation between the two selves is very low, but if therapy is effective it becomes larger, that is the real self becomes more similar to the ideal self. This technique helps the therapist to determine the effectiveness of his or her procedures at any point during, or after, therapy.
Rogers rejected the deterministic approach of psychoanalytic theory and behaviourism brought about by Freud and other psychologists. Instead Rogers believed that behaviour is a response to the individual’s perception/ interpretation of external stimuli. As no-one else can know how we perceive, we’re the best experts on understanding our own behaviour. Rogers also sees human nature in a very positive and optimistic light, quoting: ‘There is no beast in man; there is only man in man’.
A description of self, which is an organised, consistent set of perceptions and beliefs about oneself, helped to set the pace on Rogers’s humanistic approach, describing that the awareness of who a person is and what they can do influences both their perception of the world and their behaviour. By evaluating every experience in terms of self, most human behaviour can be understood as an attempt to maintain consistency between one’s self-image and one’s actions. This self image may not always be achieved and self-image may differ quite radically from our actual behaviour and from how others see us. For example a person may be highly successful and respected by others, and yet regard him/herself as a failure. This is what Rogers called an incongruent person that is a person whose internal guidance system or organismic valuing process is replaced by positive regards of persons we look up to who would only love us based on whether or not we do what they want us to do, also known as conditions of worth, as a guide for living. When incongruent experiences, feelings, actions, etc come into conflict with self image they can be threatening and as such access to awareness may be denied through actual denial, distortion or blocking.
These defence mechanisms prevent the self from growing and changing and widen the gap between self-image and reality. The more the self-image changes and becomes unrealistic; the incongruent person becomes more confused, vulnerable, dissatisfied and eventually seriously maladjusted. As a contrast the congruent person is flexible and changes realistically as new experiences occur, thus when our self-image matches what we really think and feel and do, we are in the best position to self-actualise.
Like Maslow, Rogers assumed every human being has an innate drive toward self-actualisation, and if people use this tendency in living their lives, there is a strong likelihood that they will live fulfilling lives and ultimately reach their full potential. This is what was earlier described as the organismic valuing process. Persons who uses this process is motivated by his or her own true feelings and is living what the existentialists call an authentic live, that is, a live motivated by a person’s true inner feelings rather than beliefs, traditions, values or conventions imposed by others. Rogers once remarked that ‘all of my professional life I have been going in directions which others thought were foolish…, but I have never regretted moving in directions which “felt right,” even though I have often felt lonely or foolish at the time. Experience is for me, the highest authority. Neither the Bible nor the prophets, neither Freud nor research, neither the revelations of God nor man can take precedence over my own experience.” Rogers claim that most people do not live according to their innermost feelings. He claims that the problem begins at birth where there is ‘need for positive regard’ where such regards involves receiving such things as love, warmth, sympathy, and acceptance from the relevant people in a child’s life. This positive regard given freely to a child would not pose a problem however the problem arises only when there are ‘conditions of worth’ which happens when relevant persons in that child’s life only give positive regard if they act or think in accordance with those relevant people in their lives. Rogers conclude that as long as people live their lives according to someone else’s values instead of their own true feeling, experience will be edited and certain experiences that would have been in accord with the organismic valuing process will be denied.
Rogers offer one way to avoid imposing conditions of worth on people, and that is to give them unconditional positive regard where they are loved and respected for what they truly are; and as such allowing that person to become a fully functioning person. Since Rogers viewed incongruency as the cause of mental disorders, he therefore believed that the goal of psychotherapy is to help people overcome conditions of worth and again live in accordance with their organismic valuing processes. He states ‘ The path of development toward psychological maturity, the path of therapy, is the undoing of this estrangement in man’s functioning, the dissolving of conditions of worth, the achievement of a self which is congruent with experience, and the restoration of a unified organismic valuing process as the regulator of behaviour.’ Thus here lies the need for Rogers’s person-centered therapy.
Rogers believe that therapy needs the right climate, which rests not on technique but on the relationship between therapist and client. He proposed three core conditions that he claimed are both necessary and sufficient for this relationship. These include:
Warmth where the therapist must have respect for the client and display complete acceptance of the person in his or her own right at that moment in time, which should be accompanied by a non-judgemental attitude towards the client.
Genuineness where the therapist must show that they are a ‘real’ person, with thoughts and feelings, which should be expressed where appropriate. This enhanced by ‘self-disclosure’.
Empathy where the therapist must enter the client’s inner world which can be achieved through genuine, attentive listening and restating what the client says, in order to clarify its emotional significance. Also the therapist must be sensitive to the client’s problem and sense the pleasure or hurt of the client as if it were his own.
The therapist’s main task is therefore to create a therapeutic atmosphere in which clients can become fully integrated again. This can be achieved only if clients reduce their conditions of worth, and increase their unconditional positive self-regard. The therapist’s job is to create a situation in which clients can change themselves, and this is aided by an emotionally warm, accepting, understanding and non-evaluative relationship in which the person is free from threat and has the freedom to be ‘the self that he/she really is.’
Rogers’s person-centered psychology has been applied to such diverse areas as religion, medicine, law enforcement, ethnic and cultural relations, politics, international conflict, organizational development education, personal power and marriage.
The humanistic approach popularised by Carl Rogers’s person-centered theory which believes that human beings who are free to plan their own actions, and ultimately their own destiny are struggling to grow and to make difficult decisions that will profoundly affect their lives; and as a result of these decisions, each of us becomes unique and responsible for our own behaviour. Rogers’s person-centered therapy is based on the assumption of freewill and the therapist helps clients to excercise free will in such a way as to maximize the rewards of their lives.
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To conclude, I must say that I find Carl Rogers’s humanistic approach of person-centered therapy as very insightful and interesting. His theory of self and concentrating thereupon making one’s self perception more important than that of others perception is one that I would support even though I am of the opinion that other persons perception of another do matter but not to the highest degree. I am also excited and supportive of the process of reconciliation between one’s ‘real self’ which who one is at the moment and one’s ‘ideal self’ which is what one would like to become. This brings about the self-actualisation aspect of person-centered therapy and I strongly agree with it in that I think that everyone should aspire to be the best that they can be while living and as such they may be able to live a more fulfilling (authentic) life. I also agree with a person’s need for positive regard in that in order for us to strive to do our best we need some sort of support system, not necessarily our parents, but others also to encourage us and affirm us that we can be better at anything and everything that we do, which indeed should start from birth.
Although I agree that it is important for persons to be motivated and to esteem self to a high degree, I also think that we are interdependent beings who need each other’s guidance on matters which we are not yet familiar and thus we cannot rule out others opinions and perceptions of us which might add significantly to our growth. Also, we live in a world where there are extremists, who are persons who old fast to personal views and liberalists who are persons who feel like ‘anything goes’ and those who have a balance between the two. We are brought up by these groups of people and it is inevitable that we should suffer as inefficient beings who lack unconditional positive regard, however when we are old enough to decipher the best possible group to be associated with the better it is for us to be able to live an authentic life.
I think that Rogers’s view where he stated that ‘Experience is for me, the highest authority…’ is based entirely on his experience with his family and their conservative religious lifestyle compared to that which he experienced after declaring independence from their beliefs; and although a I respect his views I totally disagree that experience is the highest authority. This is so because I believe with all of my mental capacity that God above anyone or anything else can do for us, through us, in us and about us what we can never conceive. The bible says that ‘He is able and willing if we just ask and believe.’ So I all in all I would prefer and would encourage other to try and live a more holistic life rather than a more authentic life and if we have problems achieving this then ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things shall be added unto you’.
I think that person-centered therapy, despite its discrepancies, is a fairly reasonable approach and I would recommend it second to God.
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