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Carl Rogers and Person Centered Counseling Essay


Carl Rogers, (1902-1987), was an American psychologist who developed person-centered therapy. This type of humanistic counseling deals with the ways in which people perceive themselves consciously rather than having a counselor try to interpret unconscious thoughts or ideas. There are many different components and tools used in person-centered counseling, including active listening, genuineness, paraphrasing, and more. The real point is that the client already has the answers to the problems and the job of the counselor is to listen without making any judgments, without giving advice, and simply help the client feel accepted and understand their own feelings.

He believed that “the client knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been buried” (Rogers, 1961, p. 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 theory is grounded in the study of persons, leading to its strong applied value in many areas of life.


Carl Rogers (1902 –1987) was an influential American psychologist and among the founders of the Humanistic approach to psychology. Rogers relied on personal experience as well as scientific inquiry to guide his methodology, much of which has foreshadowed the late-twentieth-century practice of psychotherapy. 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.

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.” His lifetime of research and experiential work focused on demonstrating the psychological conditions for allowing open communication and empowering individuals to achieve their full potential. He pioneered the move away from traditional psychoanalysis, and developed client-centered psychotherapy, which recognizes that “each client has within him or herself the vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped by providing a definable climate of facilitative attitudes” (Rogers, 1951).

Carl Rogers’s last decade was devoted to applying his theories in areas of national social conflict, and he traveled worldwide to accomplish this. In Belfast, 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.

Recognition of his work has come through dozens of honorary awards and degrees bestowed on him from around the world, among them the American Psychology Association’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award the first year it was given. A few years later he also received the American Psychology Association’s Distinguished Professional Contribution Award. On January 28, 1987, Carl Rogers was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Congressman Jim Bates.

Carl Rogers is best known for his humanistic orientation. Our text explains that “from Adler, Rogers learned that lengthy case histories are cold, mechanical, and unnecessary; that a therapist need not spend time probing the past of a patient; [and that] therapist learn more by determining how the patient relates to the here and now” (Hergenhahn, and Olson, 2007). Through the years Rogers believed that the most important resource everyone has is their actualizing tendencies. Rogers’ person-centered theory emphasizes the concept of “self-actualization.” According to the mythos and logos website, (n.d.), this concept implies that: There is an internal, biological force to develop one’s capacities and talents to the fullest. The individual’s central motivation is to learn and to grow. Growth occurs when individuals confront problems, struggle to master then, and through that struggle develop new aspects of their skills, capacities, views about life. Life, therefore, is an endless process of creatively moving forward, even if only in small ways.

Rogers’ fundamental assumption that human beings, as well as all living beings, are driven to grow and to strive for optimal health, and this require resiliency in the face of adversity. For Rogers, “self-actualization” is a natural process, yet it requires the nurturance of a caregiver. This is a contradiction in Rogers’ theory, which may or may not be obvious. If “self-actualization” is merely a natural process, then why must it depend on a caregiver for it to occur? In defense of Rogers, this paradox at least shows that, despite his individualistic bias, he understood deep down that people need people, that we are radically dependent on others for our existence, and that so-called “individuation-separation” (Rogers, 1951) involves a more differentiated and mature relationship with others rather than a lack of interdependence with others.

In any case, Rogers felt that “unconditional positive regard is necessary for self-actualization” (Rogers, 1951). That is, “human growth requires the experience of being valued for oneself regardless of the degree to which specific behaviors are approved or disapproved. On the other hand, “self-actualization is thwarted by conditional positive regard — when acceptance is dependent on the positive or negative evaluation of a person’s actions” (Mythos and Logos website, n.d.). “Conditional positive regard,” Rogers felt, leads to “conditions of worth,” which, in turn, can lead to alienation from true feelings and, thus, to anxiety and threat, which blocks self-actualization. Roger’s theory led him to practice a non-directive psychotherapy in which the client sat face-to-face with him rather than lying on the couch. In the larger scheme of things, I feel this was a radical move by Rogers. Most importantly, it sends a message to the client that they are collaborators and that the therapist is not the one who ‘knows,’ but is there to facilitate the client’s growth (which can only come from ‘within,’ so to speak).

Finally, Rogers held to the strict criteria that genuineness, empathy and unconditional positive regard are essential on the part of the therapist if the client is to be healed and “self-actualize.” Through the years Rogers maintained that ‘the most important resource people have is their actualizing tendencies. Hergenhahn and Olson, (2007), explains that: Rogers postulated one master motive that he called self-actualization. The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism Rogers further postulated that there is one central source of energy in the human organism; that it is a function of the whole organism rather than some portion of it; and that it is perhaps best conceptualized as a tendency toward fulfillment, toward actualization, toward the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.

The theory of Carl Rogers is considered to be “humanistic and phenomenological” (Rogers, 1961). 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: 1. All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the centre. 2. The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual. 3. The organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field. 4. A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self. 5. 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.

6. The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism. 7. The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference of the individual. 8. Behavior is basically the goal directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived. 9. 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. 10. 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. 11. 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. 12. Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are consistent with the concept of self.

13. In 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. 14. 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. 15. 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.

16. 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. 17. 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.

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. 19. 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, 2002). Rogers felt there were three essential conditions for a therapeutic relationship including genuineness, acceptance, and understanding.

Rogers, (1959), found that “the more genuine he was in the relationship, the more helpful it would be.” This means that the therapist needs to be aware of his own feelings, in so far as possible, rather than presenting an outward facade of one attitude, while actually holding another attitude at a deeper or unconscious level. Being genuine also involves the willingness to be and to express, in one’s words and one’s behavior, the various feelings and attitudes which exist in one’s self. Rogers found this to be true even when the attitudes he felt were not attitudes with which he was pleased, or attitudes which seemed conducive to a good relationship. It seemed extremely important to be real.

As a second condition, Rogers, (1959), found that “the more acceptance and liking he felt toward a client, the more he was willing to create a relationship which the client could use.” By acceptance, Rogers, (1959), meant “a warm regard for him as a person of unconditional self-worth–of value no matter what his condition, his behavior, or his feelings.” It means a respect and liking for him as a separate person, a willingness for him to possess his own feelings in his own way. It means an acceptance of and regard for his attitudes of the moment, no matter how negative or positive, no matter how much they may contract other attitudes he had held in the past. This acceptance of each fluctuating aspect of this other person makes it for him a relationship of warmth and safety, and the safety of being liked and prized as a person seems a highly important element in a helping relationship.

Rogers, (1959), also found that “the relationship was significant to the extent that he feel a continuing desire to understand–a sensitive empathy with each of the client’s feelings and communications as they seem to him at that moment.” “Acceptance, [Rogers felt], does not mean much until it involves understanding” (Rogers, 1959). Rogers, (1959), explains: It is only as one understands the feelings and thoughts which seem so horrible to the client, or so weak, or so sentimental, or so bizarre–it is only as one sees them as the client sees them, and accepts them and the client, that the client feels really free to explore all the hidden nooks and frightening crannies of his inner and often buried experience. This freedom is an important condition of the relationship. There is implied here a freedom to explore oneself at both conscious and unconscious levels, as rapidly as one can dare to embark on this dangerous quest. There is also a complete freedom from any type of moral or diagnostic evaluation, since all such evaluations are, Rogers believed, always threatening.

Optimal development, as referred to in proposition 14, results in a certain process rather than static state. Rogers, (1961), describes this as the good life where the organism continually aims to fulfill their full potential. He listed characteristics of a fully functioning person: * 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.

* 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’, (1961) 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.”

Critical Evaluation & Empirical Evidence

Since the study of personality began, personality theories have offered a wide variety of explanations for behavior and what constitutes the person. Pescitelli provides a critical evaluation of Rogers theory: Rogers’ conception of self is rather broad. He does describe a variation of self: the “ideal self” which denotes the self-concept the individual would most like to possess (Rogers, 1959), but other explicit variations are not offered. Similarly, specific concepts related to identity and identity development are missing, although the self image is certainly revisable and undergoes change over the lifespan. Exactly when the differentiation of phenomenal field into self occurs is also not specified. Rogers concept of self-actualization is specifically related to the self and is thus different from Goldstein’s use of the term (which matches the actualizing tendency) and also different from Maslow’s which appears to incorporate both tendencies in one.

The actualizing tendency is fundamental to this theory. Rogers considers it “the most profound truth about man” (1965, p.21). He finds strong biological support for this tendency in many varied organisms. Rogers’ conception of an active forward thrust is a huge departure from the beliefs of Freud and others who posit an aim for tension reduction, equilibrium, or homeostasis . Rogers (1977) notes that sensory deprivation studies support this concept as the absence of external stimuli leads to a flood of internal stimuli, not equilibrium.

While the idea of an actualizing tendency makes sense, Rogers never specifies what some of the inherent capacities that maintain and enhance life might be. Perhaps it is because doing so might violate Rogers’ intuitive sense of human freedom.

There is some empirical support for the hypothesis that congruence between self and experience leads to better personality adjustment and less defensiveness (cited in Rogers, 1959). Some research has also tended to support the idea of changes in self-concept occurring as a result of therapy (cited in Rogers, 1954). However, in 1996, Maddi raised an interesting point regarding such studies. While it has been found that self-descriptions move toward ideals after counseling and one would assume the closer a person is to full functioning the smaller the discrepancy would be, statements of ideals may be operational representations of conditions of worth, which are socially imposed. Conditions of worth are to be dissolved rather than moved toward for full functioning in this theory!

While Rogers sees the common human condition as one of incongruence between self and experience, this does not minimize his ultimate belief in the autonomy of human beings. Rogers (1977), sees the human being as: “capable of evaluating the outer and inner situation, understanding herself in its context, making constructive choices as to the next steps in life, and acting on those choices.” This illustrates a belief in agency and free will. While humans behave rationally, Rogers (1961) maintains that: “The tragedy for most of us is that our defenses keep us from being aware of this rationality so that we are consciously moving in one direction, while organismically we are moving in another.”

Unlike Freud, Rogers did not see conflict as inevitable and humans as basically destructive. It is only when “man is less than fully man”, not functioning freely, that he is to be feared (Rogers, 1961). The human capacity for awareness and the ability to symbolize gives us enormous power, but this awareness is a double-edged phenomenon: undistorted awareness can lead to full functioning and a rich life, while distortions in awareness lead to maladjustment and a multitude of destructive behaviors (Rogers, 1965).

The “maladjusted person” is the polar opposite of the fully functioning individual (who was introduced early in this essay). The maladjusted individual is defensive, maintains rather than enhances his/her life, lives according to a preconceived plan, feels manipulated rather than free, and is common and conforming rather than creative. The fully functioning person, in contrast, is completely defense-free, open to experience, creative and able to live “the good life”. Empirical support for the fully functioning person is somewhat mixed. The openness to experience characteristic has been supported by Coan in 1972 and Maddi in 1996). However, some studies have found that openness to experience and organismic trusting did not intercorrelate, contrary to expectations.

Critical Reception

Rogers’s therapeutic scheme as outlined in his books and practiced in therapy is premised on the existence within each individual of what he termed the “organismic valuing process,” sometimes described as an internal monitor of a person’s experiences in life that, under favorable circumstances, allows the development of healthy men or women possessing optimum self-esteem and an accurate sense of who they “really are” as well as who they would ideally like to become. The obstacle to this development, according to Rogers, are conditions, primarily those inflicted by a child’s parents, in which the individual is denied “unconditional positive regard” and is thereby influenced by either positive or negative “conditions of worth” which instill values and elicit behaviors that are at odds with a person’s inborn organismic valuing process. The result of exposure to these conditions of worth is the development of individuals who look to the approval of others for their sense of identity rather than finding it within themselves.

Critiques of Rogers’s person-centered therapy begin with his basic conception of human nature as tending toward the good and the healthy, not to mention his assumption of the very existence of a personal self toward which one might strive. Furthermore, critics of Rogers’s theories maintain serious doubts that therapists can, or should, establish a relationship of unconditional positive regard in the case of dangerously violent persons. They also fail to understand how parents might put into practice his ideas when raising children whose behavior may sometimes be difficult to countenance with wholehearted approval.

At best, Rogers’s detractors claim, his ideas may be applied only among a limited range of clients, specifically those suffering from the milder forms of neurosis, acknowledging that while person-centered therapy may prove no more effective than any other method, it has yet to demonstrate that it is harmful in any way. Despite such criticisms, Rogers’s theory of personality and his therapeutic methodology continue to gain adherents and have become among the most widely influential trends in the history of psychology.

Personal Response

In my opinion, Rogers greatest contribution may lie in his encouraging a humane and ethical treatment of persons, approaching psychology as a human science rather than a natural science. Rogers is reputed to have been a very gifted clinician however, 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 was intended. The concepts of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard allow too much room for interpretation, although Rogers likely possessed these qualities. To Rogers credit, he took the revolutionary step of recording his sessions and opened up the previously private domain of therapy for empirical study and assessment.

The main problems with this theory of personality are related to the lack of precision and specificity regarding some of the terms and concepts. While this theory has become increasingly comprehensive over time, a major weakness is that it does not sufficiently address stages of development. Due to his emphasis on conscious experience, Rogers has also been criticized for a lack of attention to the unconscious . While Rogers contribution in the area of psychotherapy is substantial, clinical applicability of his therapy may be limited to those segments of the population whose intellectual and cultural backgrounds are compatible with this therapy.

Some human conditions, such as psychopathy, do not make much sense according to this theory. The psychopath apparently feels no guilt, discomfort or remorse for his/her actions. There is no anxiety. Incongruence is not apparent, although the theory suggests it would be substantial indeed. I also wonder about those human beings that have limited potentialities in the first place. Is one “fully functioning” if one has fulfilled all potential, even though there is an extremely limited amount in the first place? The capacity for creativity and free expression might not exist in such a case. Despite my questions and criticism, this theory’s value is substantial and should not be minimized. It offers a reasonable alternative to dominant theories that would have us objectify and control human beings. It also recognizes persons as the most important focus in the study of personality.


While some researchers are more theorist, Carl Rogers was more of a therapist. His professional goal was more on helping people change and improve their lives. He was a true follower of humanistic ideation and is often considered the person who gave psychotherapy it’s basic humanistic undertones. Rogers believed in several key concepts that he believed must be present in order for healthy change to take place. His approach to treatment is called Client or Person-Centered-Therapy because it sees the individual, rather than the therapist or the treatment process as the center of effective change.

Nondirective,” “client-centered,” and “person-centered.” are the terms Rogers used successively, at different points in his career, for his method. This method involves removing obstacles so the client can move forward, freeing him or her for normal growth and development. It emphasizes being fully present with the client and helping the latter truly feel his or her own feelings, desires, etc.. Being “nondirective” lets the client deal with what he or she considers important, at his or her own pace.

Throughout his career, Rogers was willing state his own position clearly, and hear you out and listen to your position carefully. He asked, “Can we learn from each other?” He was not interested in winning arguments. Rogers was the first person to record and publish complete cases of psychotherapy. He was deeply curious. He wanted to really sense, hear, feel what life was like for the other person. Human nature. Rogers believed that at a basic level, human beings are good and trustworthy. The more fully-functioning a person is, the more that basic nature will be evidence. This involves freedom from such things as threat, and freedom to choose and be..

Rogers’ clients tend to move away from facades, away from “oughts,” and away from pleasing others as a goal in itself. Then tend to move toward being real, toward self-direction, and toward positively valuing oneself and one’s own feelings. Then learn to prefer the excitement of being a process to being something fixed and static. They come to value an openness to inner and outer experiences, sensitivity-to and acceptance-of others as they are, and develop greater ability to achieve close relationships. Rogers was an early advocate for research on the effectiveness of therapeutic approaches.

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