Carl Ransom Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) was an influential American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic 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 in 1956. The 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 therapy), education (Student-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. Towards the end of his life Carl Rogers was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with national intergroup conflict in South Africa and Northern Ireland. In an empirical 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 among clinicians, second only to Sigmund Freud.
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 house wife and devout Christian. Carl was the fourth of their six children.
Rogers could read by kindergarten. 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. His first career choice was agriculture, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, followed by History then religion. At age 20, following his 1922 trip to Peking, 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.
After two 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 at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, in Rochester, New York, later becoming the agency's director in 1930. In 1936, Rogers invited Otto Rank to give a series of lectures in Rochester on Rank's new relational approach to psychotherapy. Once a close colleague of Freud's, Rank had created an interpersonal "here-and-now" therapy that strongly influenced American social workers in the 1930s. "I became infected with Rankian ideas," Rogers later said.
While Rogers was employed by the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children he wrote his first book, The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child (1939), and its publication led to an offer of a full professorship at The Ohio State University in 1940. In 1942, he wrote his second book, Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice. 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-Madison. 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 Sciences 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, giving 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 Belfast, Northern Ireland, he brought together influential Protestants and Catholics; in South Africa, blacks and whites, 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.
Together with his daughter, Natalie Rogers, between 1975 and 1980, Rogers conducted a series of residential programs in the US, Europe, and Japan, the Person-Centered Approach Workshops, which focused on cross-cultural communications, personal growth, self-empowerment, social change.
In 1987, Rogers suffered a fall that resulted in a fractured pelvis. He had a successful operation, but his heart failed the next night and he died a few days later.
The theory of Carl Rogers is considered to be humanistic
. 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.
His theory (as of 1951) was 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 organised, 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 behaviour 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 behaviour, the kind of emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behaviour for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.
- 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 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, behaviour may be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolized. Such behaviour may be inconsistent with the structure of the self but in such instances the behaviour 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.
- 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 experiences.
- 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.
Additionally, Rogers is known for practicing "unconditional positive regard," which is defined as accepting a person "without negative judgment of .... [a person's] basic worth." Barry, P. (2002). Mental Health and Mental Illness. (7th ed.) New York: Lippincott.
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. (Rogers, 1959 )
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.
The Fully Functioning Person
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 (Rogers 1961):
- A 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 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"(Rogers 1961)
- Increasing organismic trust – they trust their own judgment and their ability to choose behaviour 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 behaviour and so feel responsible for their own behaviour.
- 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 1961)
The aspect of one's being that is founded in the actualizing tendency, follows organismic valuing, needs and receives positive regard and self-regard, Rogers calls the "real self". 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
Rogers describes the concepts of congruence
as important ideas in his theory. In proposition #6 he refers to the actualising tendency. The drive to become what one can be, to realise one's potential. At the same time he recognises the need for positive regard
. In a fully congruent person realising 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 realise 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 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. 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)(Hjelle & Jiegler 1981). 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 behaviour, associated with earlier denied aspects of self, may erupt uncontrollably.
Rogers 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-centred" and then later used the term "person-centred". The first 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. Even before the publication of Client-Centered Therapy
in 1951, he 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.
The application to education has a large robust research tradition similar to that of therapy. 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. The 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. This work resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Rogers.
says in his book Against therapy
that Rogers sometimes did his research with patients living within psychiatric or other wards not taking into account their individual/social circumstances of life. According to Masson's judgement this has been a neglect of reality giving priority to scientific research ; patients wanted to get out but they have been left there, their "cases" having been studied.
In an article on the web (http://www.culturewars.com/CultureWars/1999/rogers.html) E. Michael Jones (author of: "The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and Its Impact on World History" "documenting" the subversive role played by organized Jewry throughout history (http://www.henrymakow.com/meditations_on_the_jewish_revo.html)) alleges that Carl Rogers' experiments led to the destruction of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles. The article concentrates on the sexual experiences of the nuns with tangential reference to Rogers and others. He provides anecdotal text, with no reference or citation. He refers to the Sisters being treated as subjects on the "Rogers’ Education Innovation Project".
In 1966, Joseph Weizenbaum, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a computer program he called ELIZA, which was designed to simulate a psychologist asking open-ended questions. ELIZA was patterned after Rogers' approach to psychology.
- Rogers, Carl. (1939). Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child.
- Rogers, Carl. (1942). Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice.
- Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable. ISBN 1-84119-840-4. Excerpts
- Rogers, Carl. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill.
- Rogers, Carl. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable. ISBN 1-84529-057-7.
- Rogers, Carl. (1969). Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become. (1st ed.) Columbus, Ohio: Charles Merill. Excerpts
- Rogers, Carl. (1970). On Encounter Groups. New York: Harper and Row.
- Rogers, Carl. (1977). On Personal Power: Inner Strength and Its Revolutionary Impact.
- Rogers, Carl. (1980). A Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin