3.1 Situating Rogers
|The wonderful pioneering Carl Rogers|
Born in Oak Ridge, a small village on the outskirts of Chicago in 1902, Rogers had a very strict up-bringing which affected his initial choice of college study. At university, his interests and academic major changed from Agriculture to History, then to Religion and finally to Clinical Psychology when he enrolled for a degree in that area in Teachers College, Columbia University. He then went on to take his doctorate in psychology in 1931. He died in 1987, some 22 years after Buber. However, what is particularly significant about Rogers’ research is that he was the first to record counselling sessions so that both he and his students could clinically study what was going on in the actual process. In this way he got valuable insights into how therapeutic dialogue proceeds. Here we have a major overlap with Buber’s work, though whilst the latter was no therapist, he reflected deeply on and wrote about his own human encounters of dialogue.
In general, it can be said of the Humanistic School that they sought to put the person centre stage. The client is not a catalogue of symptoms to be traced back to their sources. They believed in the integrity and authenticity of the client whom they felt knew best, if not instinctively, where their potential as a person lay. They also heralded the choice of the client to seek therapy. Therapists in this school don’t speak of patients because then they are like doctors dispensing cures. Hence, for them the therapist is not the ‘expert’; rather the client is, and the therapy is very much collaborative and life-enhancing. Because this school of thought and practice is so holistic in nature, metaphors spring readily to mind. One might say that the therapist is like a gardener and the clients like plants whom the gardener is attempting to help grow through finding the right soil, the right nutrients and conditions for that growth. Specifically, Carl Rogers, then, developed what is called Person-Centered Therapy (PCT) which we will now describe.
3.2 The Person-Centered Approach
Rogers (1951, 19-21) nailed his principles to the mast by saying that any counsellor who tries to use solely a “method” is doomed to failure and that only one who has developed attitudes that facilitate therapy can have any hope of success. He went on to criticize professionals “whose concept of the individual is that of an object to be dissected, diagnosed, manipulated.” Such a concept would be designated in Buber’s terms an “I-It” relationship. He was, unknowingly, describing the latter’s “I-Thou” relationship between therapist and client.
Yalom in Rabinowitz, (1998, xii) states that any narrowly understood approach to psychotherapy that makes no allowance for the Rogerian axiom that “it is the relationship that heals” is doomed to failure. Rogers (1951, 19-21) advocated training in person-centered techniques for such individuals and stated that all therapy is an on-going process “closely related to the therapist’s own struggle for personal growth and integration.” Therefore, it is the person of the therapist rather than specific techniques that Rogers regarded as the agent of change. Hence, a narrow CBT approach (or indeed any other approach) that forgets the therapeutic relationship is doomed to failure. All of this is very much in harmony with Martin Buber’s understanding of what it means to encounter another person as a Thou.
Such personal growth can be encapsulated in what Rogers called the three core conditions of the Person-Centered Approach: viz., (i) Congruence, (ii) Unconditional Positive Regard and (iii) Accurate Empathy. Rogers (1961, 61-62) succinctly describes congruence as occurring when “the psychotherapist is what he is, when in his relationship with his client he is genuine and without “front” or façade, openly being the feelings…that are flowing in him.” In the same chapter he described “unconditional positive regard” as occurring “when the therapist is experiencing a warm, positive and acceptant attitude toward what is in the client” where “the therapist cares for the client…prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way.” The final condition of “accurate empathy,” he says, occurs when “the therapist is sensing the feelings and personal meanings” of the client as if “from ‘inside,’ as they seem to the client, and when he can successfully communicate something of that understanding to the client.” The use of reflection shows empathy, that is, where the counsellor says something like: “It must be very frightening to be uncertain about keeping your job…”
Rogers argued that each client has a core capacity for actualizing his ‘real self’ and is drawn towards this goal by her very nature. It is natural for every organism to grow to its potential given the right conditions, just as it natural for the compass to point to the magnetic north. It is helpful to look at what Rogers (1961, 183-196) deemed to be the characteristics of a fully functioning person. However, firstly I would like to suggest what a poorly functioning person would be by taking the opposites of the qualities Rogers lists for “fully functioning.” He would in all likelihood (i) be threatened by new ideas and experiences (defensiveness) (ii) look to others to take responsibility and make decisions for him, (iii) base decisions on what another person will think, (iv) hold inflexible, dogmatic opinions and (v) may be haunted by the past and fearful of the future. However the ‘Fully-Functioning Person’ will exhibit the following characteristics: he/she is (i) comfortable with new ideas or experiences - is more able to experience all of his/her feelings (openness) (ii) increasingly trustful of “his own organism” in doing what is right (iii) free to make choices in life, (iv) flexible in approaching life and is creative in response to problems (v) focused on what is happening in the present and (vi) has the ability to take responsibility for own decisions and actions. Hence, therapists in the PCT tradition would see such a fully functioning person as the ideal outcome of their practice. However, such an idealised person is always the goal. As Rogers (1961, 186) succinctly points out, the good life which such a person would enjoy is always a process, not a state of being.