On Becoming a Person

On Becoming a Person 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 clients 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.

Carl R. Rogers

Carl Ransom Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) the author of On Becoming A Person 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 a 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.

Theory of the self

Rogers’ theory of the self is considered to be humanistic and phenomenological.

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. However, Prochaska and Norcross(2003) states Rogers “consistently stood for an empirical evaluation of psychotherapy. He and his followers have demonstrated a humanistic approach to conducting therapy and a scientific approach to evaluating therapy need not be incompatible.”
[edit]Nineteen propositions

His theory (as of 1951) was based on 19 propositions:

  1. All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the center.
  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. The values attached to experiences, and the values that are a 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 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.”

from wikipedia