Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was the american psychologist who developed person -centered therapy. His views about the therapeutic relationship radically revolutionized the course of therapy.
He believed that "the client knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been buried" (Rogers, 1961, pp. 11-12). He helped people in taking responsibility for themselves and their lives. He believed that the experience of being understood and valued, gives one the freedom to grow..
Rogerian counseling involves the counselor's entry into the person's unique phenomenological world. In mirroring this world, the counselor does not disagree or point out contradictions. Neither does he / she attempt to delve into the unconscious. Rogers describes counseling as a process of freeing a person and removing obstacles so that normal growth and development can proceed and the person can become more independent and self-directed.
During counseling, the client can move from rigidly of self-perception to fluidity. Certain conditions are necessary for this process. A 'growth promoting climate' requires the counselor to be congruent, have unconditional positive regard for the person as well as show empathic understanding. Congruence on the part of the counselor refers to her / his ability to be completely genuine whatever the self of the moment. He / she is not expected to be a completely congruent person all the time, as such perfection is impossible.
Rogers' strong belief in the positive nature of human beings is based on his many years of clinical counseling. He suggests that any person, no matter what the problem, can improve without being taught anything specific by the counselor, once he / she accepts and respects themselves. The resources all lie within the person. This type of therapy, however, may not be effective for severe psychopathologies such as schizophrenia, which today is considered to have strong biological component, or other disorders such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder or even depression (which is currently effectively treated with drugs and cognitive therapy).
Whilst Rogers is reputed to have been a very gifted clinician, it is difficult to know whether the therapists that follow his model (or use some of the techniques) are truly practicing Rogerian therapy as it he intended. The concepts of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard allow too much leeway for interpretation, although Rogers likely possessed these qualities. Rogers took the revolutionary step of recording his sessions and opened up the previously private domain of therapy for empirical study and assessment.
Rogers noted that every theory, including his own, contains "an unknown (and perhaps at that time unknowable) amount of error and mistaken inference". He believed that a theory should serve as a stimulus to further creative thinking. This theory has very strong heuristic value and continues to generate debate and interest. The theory further focuses on the whole individual as he / she experiences the world. It gives considerable attention to the concept of self and the suggestion that we can all overcome damages inflicted in childhood is most appealing. Full functioning is not the exclusive domain of a very lucky few. It is, at least theoretically, attainable for many. Another strength is that Rogerian theory is grounded in the study of persons, leading to its strong applied value in many areas of life.
Due to his emphasis on conscious experience, Rogers has also been criticized for a lack of attention to the unconscious. This criticism is not entirely justified. He directly acknowledges the unconscious in later writings.
Furthermore, the whole idea of congruence / incongruence and organic wisdom involves the idea of an unconscious and he clearly posits an organism that has many experiences of which the person is not aware. While Rogers contribution in the area of psychotherapy is very substantial, clinical applicability of his therapy may be limited to those segments of the population whose intellectual and cultural backgrounds are compatible with this counseling. This theory's development from therapeutic practice may be both a blessing or a curse. It keeps it practical and bases it in human experience, yet leads to the extension of concepts that while appropriate to counseling, may not be comprehensive or specific enough to apply to all people.
Back to top of page