Carl Rogers – Biography
Born: January 8, 1902, in Oak Park, Illinois
Died: February 4, 1987, in La Jolla, California
Known for: Client-centered therapy, self-actualisation, fully functioning person
Born in Oak Hill, Illinois in 1902, Carl Ransom Rogers was one of six siblings. He displayed academic ability at a very young age, learning to read before the age of five and skipping kindergarten and first grade. He and his family moved from the suburbs to a rural farm area when he was 12, leading to him enrolling in agricultural studies at the University of Wisconsin in 1919.
After attending a Christian conference in China in 1922, Rogers began to question his studies and switched to a history major. He graduated with a history degree in 1924 and enrolled at the Union Theological Seminary. In 1926, he transferred to the Teachers Colege of Columbia University to complete his master’s.
Rogers eventually abandoned his pursuit of theology after attending a student-led seminar on religion that caused him to question his beliefs. This led him to psychology, which Rogers saw as a way of studying life’s mysteries without having to subscribe to any specific faith. He enrolled in the clinical psychology program at Columbia and completed his doctorate in 1931.
Rogers spent his early career working in academia at the universities of Chicago, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.
It was through his work in academia that Rogers began to build his own therapeutic approach, originally titled ‘nondirective therapy’. Rogers outlined this approach as being client-led and for the therapist to act as a facilitator, eventually leading to the term client-centred therapy.
By 1946, Rogers had been elected President of the American Psychological Association and honed his therapeutic approach further. He wrote 19 books on the subject throughout his life, most notably On Becoming Human (1961) and A Way of Being (1980).
After working for several years in various universities, he and some colleagues left their positions to form the Center of Studies of the Person (CSP). Rogers continued to develop his client-centred approach until his death in 1987, the same year he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Notable theories and practices
Rogers’ client-centred (also known as person-centred therapy) approach developed several theories that have become well known today both in psychological study and in the larger world.
Probably the most widely recognised of Rogers’ theories, self-actualisation relates to the idea that each and every person possesses the inherent need to grow and achieve their potential. Rogers believed this need to become the best version of ourselves is one of the primary behavioural motivators.
Unconditional Positive Regard
Rogers believed that for psychotherapy to be successful, the therapist needed to display unconditional acceptance and positive regard for the client. This allows the client to express positive and negative emotions without fear of condemnation or judgement from the therapist.
Development of the Self
Development of the self, as Rogers believed, was the continuous process by which we develop our self-concept through life experiences. Someone with a healthy sense of self will have greater confidence and will be more able to deal with and process challenges throughout their life.
Most people tend to have an idea of who they would like to be, a concept Rogers described as the ideal self. Often, people will have a conflict between their own self-image and their ideal self, which leads to incongruence and a lack of self-belief.
By reinforcing unconditional positive regard and helping clients to pursue self-actualisation, the therapist can help them achieve a level of congruence.
The Fully-Functioning Person
Another term that has become synonymous with psychotherapeutic techniques is the idea of the fully-functioning person. Someone who is fully functioning, according to Rogers, is a person who pursues self-actualisation and strives each day to be in the moment and themselves.
According to Rogers, a fully functioning person has some of the following characteristics:
- A flexible self-concept
- Openness to experience
- The ability to live in harmony with others
- Unconditional regard for the self
Rogers in his own words
“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas and none of my own ideas are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me.” – Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1954