On Becoming a Person

On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy by Carl R. Rogers about client-centered therapy may lack the drama, the force or the cleverness associated with some books on other forms of psychotherapy. What it doesn’t seem to lack is a quiet wisdom that flowed from Rogers’ many years of experience and sensitivity to his patients.

Despite some redundancy, being a collection of papers and presentations from Rogers over many years, “On Becoming a Person”:

  1. presents a branch of psychotherapy distinct from psychoanalysis and learning theories as well as from behaviorism, focused more on basically well people growing than on helping disturbed people get better.
  2. is rooted in Roger’s positive view of human nature as basically good and constructive, as he discovered in encounters with his patients. Roger’s emphasis on emphatic understanding, on not imposing theoretical speculations about the client’s state of mind and on avoiding forceful interference would seem to avoid some of the abuses associated with some other psychotherapies.
  3. presents ideas about the helping relationship that Rogers extended from psychotherapy into other areas such as education. Rogers’s non-directive approach suggested to him the possibility of a progressive education free of examinations, of grades, of conclusions, and even of teachers.
  4. despite its “fuzziness”, Rogers does present some experimental evidence in favor of client-centered therapy as compared to those based on learning theory and behaviorism.
  5. Rogers’ shows appreciation of the growing power of the behavioral sciences but expresses concern less this science, like other sciences, becomes manipulated by politicians to the detriment of people. He basically wonders, if a culture is to be designed, as Skinner had suggested, what safeguards there are on the designer.

Rogers may seem too rosy and to be cherry-picking his results. The kind of measurements he presents, such as a psychological test measuring “changes in the self” based on self-reporting may seem too fuzzy. How long it takes, compared to other available approaches, to get effective change seems not to have been a primary consideration for Rogers and may explain the rise of more recent approaches like Cognitive Therapy and Constructive Living.

As a lay person, I respect the humane treatment Rogers recommended toward those entering psychotherapy as clients.

A major contribution by Rogers seems to be his recognition that his clients were not objects to do things to but rather fellow people whose experience he could share in.

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