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Carl Rogers

vRogersCarl 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 second, among clinicians, only to Sigmund Freud.

The fully functioning person

Optimal development, referred to below in proposition 14, results in a certain process rather than static state. Rogers 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):

  1. 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).
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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)

Nineteen propositions

Carl Rogers and Tony Merry 19 Propositions

The PCA would like to acknowledge the contribution of Tony Merry in his elucidation of Carl Rogers ’19 Propositions’.  The following is taken from Merry’s book ‘Learning and Being in Person-Centred Counselling’ (Merry, 2002: 23-27):

“Rogers offered a group of nineteen hypothetical statements which, together constitute his person-centred theory of personality dynamics and behaviour .  ‘A theory of personality and Behaviour’ can be found in Rogers (1951, pp. 481-533).  Rogers makes the following statement: “This theory is basically phenomenological in character,  and relies heavily on the concept of the self as an explanatory construct.  It pictures the end-point of personality development as being a basic congruence between the phenomenal field of experience and the conceptual structure of the self - a situation which, if achieved, would represent freedom from internal strain and anxiety, and freedom from potential strain; which would represent the maximum in realistically oriented adaptation; which would mean the establishment of an individualised value system having considerable identity with the value system of any other equally well-adapted member of the human race.” (p. 532)

The nineteen propositions’ repay careful reading because together they provide us with an eloquent theory of personality which is entirely consistent with Rogers’ theory of how people can change for the better, and why certain qualities of relationship are necessary in order to promote that change.  Interspersed with Rogers’ (1951: 483-522) original wording (in bold) Merry (2002: 23-27) has added (in italics) some explanations in different and more familiar terms:

1) Every individual exists in a continually changing world of experiencing of which he is the centre.

2) The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived.  This perceptual field is, for the individual, ‘reality’.  We see ourselves as the centre of our ‘reality’; that is, our ever- changing world around us.  We experience ourselves as the centre of our world, and we can only ‘know’ our own perceptions.

3) The organism reacts as an organised whole to this phenomenal field. The whole person works together rather than as separate parts.

4) The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism.  Human beings have a basic tendency to fulfil their potential, to be positive, forward looking, to grow, improve, and protect their existence.

5) Behaviour is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced in the field as perceived. The things we do (our behaviour in everyday life) in order to satisfy our fundamental needs.  If we accept proposition 4, that all needs are related, then all complex needs are related to basic needs.  Needs are ‘as experienced’ and the world is ‘as perceived’. 

6) Emotion accompanies and in general facilitates such goal-directed behaviour, the kind of emotion being related to the seeking versus the consummatory aspects of the behaviour, and the intensity of the emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behaviour for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism. Feelings are associated with, and help us to get, satisfaction and fulfilment.  Generally speaking, pleasant feelings arise when we are satisfied, unpleasant feelings when we are not satisfied.  The more important the situation, the stronger the feelings.  

7) The best vantage point from which to understand behaviour is from the internal frame of reference of the individual himself. To understand the behaviour of a person, we must look at the world from their point of view.  

8) A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self. Some of what we recognise as ‘reality’, we come to call ‘me’ or ‘self’. 

9) 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.  

10) The values attached to experiences, and the values which are 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 a distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly. As we go about our everyday life, we build up a picture of ourselves, called the self-concept, from relating to and being with others and by interacting with the world around us.  Sometimes we believe other people’s version of reality and we absorb them into our self-concept as though they were our own.  

11) As experiences occur in the life of an individual, they are either a) symbolized, perceived and organized into some relationship to the self, b) ignored because there is no relationship to the self-structure, c) denied symbolization or given a distorted symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.  There are several things we can do with our everyday experience:  we can see that it is relevant to ourselves or we can ignore it because it is irrelevant; or if we experience something that doesn’t fit with our picture of ourselves we can either pretend it didn’t happen or change our picture of it, so that it does fit.  

12) Most of the ways of behaving which are adopted by the organism are those which are consistent with the concept of the self. Most of the time we do things and live our lives in ways which are in keeping with our picture of ourselves.  

13) Behaviour may, in some instances, be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolised.  Such behaviour may be inconsistent with the structure of the self, but in such instances the behaviour is not ‘owned’ by the individual.  Sometimes we do things as a result of experiences from inside us we have denied, or needs we have not acknowledged.  This may conflict with the picture we have of ourselves, so we refuse to accept it is really us doing it.  

14) Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies to awareness significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organised into the gestalt of the self-structure.  When this situation exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension.  When we experience something that doesn’t fit with our picture of ourselves and we cannot fit it in with that picture, we feel tense, anxious, frightened or confused.  

15) 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 the self.  We feel relaxed and in control when the things we do and the experiences we have all fit in with the picture we have of ourselves. 

16) Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization or structure of 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.  When things happen that don’t fit with the picture we have of ourselves, we feel anxious.  The more anxious we feel, the more stubbornly we hang on to the picture we have of ourselves as ‘real’. 

17) Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of any 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 we are in a relationship where we feel safe, understood and accepted for who we are, we can look at some of the things that don’t fit in with our picture of ourselves and, if necessary change our picture to fit our experience more accurately.  Or we can accept the occasional differences between our pictures of ourselves and our experience without becoming anxious.  

18) 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.  When we see ourselves more clearly and accept ourselves more for what we are than as how others would like us to be, we can understand that others are equal to us, sharing basic human qualities, yet distinct as individuals.

19) As the individual perceives and accepts into his self-structure more of his organic experiences, he finds that he is replacing his value system – based so largely upon introjections which have been distortedly symbolized – with a continuing organismic valuing process.  We stop applying rigid rules to govern our values and use a more flexible way of valuing based upon our own experience, not on the values we have taken in from others.  

A reading of the ‘nineteen propositions’ gives a clear sense of how person-centred personality theory reflects a view of the person continually in process.   The person is able, or potentially able to become free from conditions and move away from its debilitating effects towards becoming more integrated and fully functioning.  In other words, Rogers viewed the negative effects of early relationships imposing conditions of worth as being largely responsible for the development of emotional or psychological disturbance; the other side of this coin is the person-centred idea that whilst some relationships can be damaging, others can be positively growth promoting.”  (Merry, 2002: 23-27). 

Merry, Tony. (2002)  Learning and Being in Person-centred Counselling. 2nd edition Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.

Rogers, Carl (1951). Client-centered therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory. London: Constable. 

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."

Learner-centred education

Carl Rogers applied his experiences with adult therapy to the education process and developed the concept of learner-centered teaching. He had the following five hypotheses regarding learner-centered education:

-“A 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.

-“A 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 is relevant and related to existing experience.

-“The 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 online 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.

-“The 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.

This article is taken from the Wikipedia entry for Carl Rogers.