Carl Rogers' Theories: Overview

Instructor: Tiffany Frye
Carl Rogers was a leading figure in the development of humanism and one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. Read on to learn more about his contributions to therapy, education and peace activism.

Carl Rogers and The Rise of Humanism

Image of Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers was an influential psychologist and part of the movement in psychology known as humanism. Humanistic psychology developed as a response to behaviorism and psychoanalysis, which were the two dominant forces in psychology during the early 20th century. Early humanistic psychologists were not satisfied with what they saw as the reductive nature of behaviorism and psychoanalysis, meaning that humanists believed that behaviorism and psychoanalysis reduced humans to specific parts or processes instead of viewing them as complete wholes.

Humanism postulated a new theoretical perspective that viewed humans holistically. Humanists believed that individuals were influenced by their environments and social interactions and that they were aware of past experiences. They believed in a type of consciousness in which humans are aware of their motivations and have the ability to set goals and adopt behaviors that will help them reach their goals. These views differed from behaviorism, which did not concern itself with internal processes such as motivation or thought, and from psychoanalysis, which believed that humans were controlled by unconscious impulses that the therapist had to explain to the client.

Person-Centered Therapy

Rogers is best known for his contributions to therapeutic applications of humanism. His framework of therapy is known as person-centered therapy. Person-centered therapy is a type of therapy that holds that the client is in the best position to understand and evaluate his or her own experiences.

Rogers put forth three conditions he saw as necessary for creating a healthy, productive and person-centered therapeutic environment: unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence.

Unconditional positive regard is the idea that the therapist should affirm the client's worth and treat him or her with acceptance and support regardless of the client's thoughts or behavior. Rogers believed that social relationships, including therapy, often require an individual to try to be something that he or she is not. Providing unconditional positive regard is a way of helping the client feel comfortable with who he or she is because the client knows he or she will be accepted regardless of perceived flaws.

The second condition, empathy, refers to the therapist's ability to understand and respect the client's perspective. The therapist should never simply explain a client's life to him or her but instead should listen and respect the client's understanding of his or her experience.

Congruence, the third condition, means that the therapist should present him or herself to the client in a way that is congruent, or consistent, with how the therapist is outside of the therapeutic relationship. That is, the therapist should not put on airs of authority or behave in an aloof manner but instead should strive to be authentic and allow his or her true personality to come through to the client. Rogers believed this would aid in creating an environment of trust in which the client would not have to wonder if the therapist was hiding his or her true thoughts or self.

Criticism of Person-Centered Therapy

Person-centered therapy has been very influential in the development of present-day therapy, but it has also received some criticisms. The main criticism is that Rogers' theory does not say enough about what the counseling relationship should look like. Some psychologists have argued that all therapists should come into the therapeutic relationship exhibiting Rogers' core conditions but that they often need more tools to actually effect change in their clients. It could be that a therapist relying exclusively on the three core conditions may be closed off to other research and other methods of therapy that could be helpful with some clients.

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