A man of his times, Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was optimistic about progress and human development, believing that, “This new world will be more human and humane” (Rogers, 1980, p. 356). Given the last thirty-eight years since that publication, this might be considered naïve, no matter what degree of positive regard is applied. This, however, would not do justice to Rogers, who was a key figure in the development of humanistic psychology and person-centred therapy.
Rogers has been described as a “careful reporter and synthesiser” (Barrett-Lennard, 2012, p. 20). Of particular influence on Rogers was the idea of relationship therapy flowing from the work of Otto Rank, Jessie Taft and Frederick Allen (Barrett-Lennard, 2012). Rank’s method emphasised the patient’s will to self-determination, creative behaviour and social aspects of analysis (Ellenberger, 1970). This change in emphasis resonated with Rogers who had had a difficult relationship with the psychiatric establishment and with behaviouristic psychology (Rogers, 1980). Rogers was also influenced by the milieu in which he developed his ideas in the 1930s and 1940s. Barrett-Lennard (2012) suggests that Roosevelt’s America was conducive to the birth and development of person-centred therapy. Of particular significance was the pragmatist philosopher, John Dewey, and the Scots-American poet and playwright, Archibald MacLeish (Barrett-Lennard, 2012). The former was influential in the acknowledgement by Rogers of the necessary (democratic) conditions for personal freedom and growth. The latter was influential in emphasising the importance of feelings (beyond mere knowledge).
Whether it can be described as an influence on Rogers or as a conducive aspect of the zeitgeist, one can’t ignore the increased demand/need for counselling for war veterans, returning from the brutalities of the second world war. Whether direct influence or conducive zeitgeist, this factor also helps to demonstrate the influence of Rogers on psychology in practice. McCarthy (2014) outlines the rapid growth of post-war American college counselling centres and acknowledges the influence of the college counselling centres created by the Veterans Administration and the nondirective therapeutic model employed by Rogers at the University of Chicago Counselling Centre. McCarthy also notes the wider and potentially even greater influence of Rogers’ claim that, “psychologists ought to be doing psychotherapy…” (2014, p. 8). It is, in part, thanks to Rogers that the practice of psychotherapy and counselling has been expanded beyond the medical model. In addition, Rogers also had an influence on psychology by his empirical research, being acknowledged as one of the “parents of psychotherapy research” (Prochaska & Norcross, 2002, p. 120).
Rogers also opened the way for a reconciliation, of sorts, between psychotherapy and spirituality. While Cozolino suggests that all that Rogers was able to achieve was the creation of a “tense neutral zone” between the two (2016, p. 44), the arguments advanced by Mather are more persuasive and more interesting. Mather posits a mystical component to Rogers’ therapeutic approach stemming from his belief in a formative directional tendency which manifested, ultimately, as transcendent awareness (2008). Rogers, the rigorous quantitative researcher, was also willing to work on the edges of his discipline as he moved into the 1960s (Kugelmann, 2005).
The sheer breadth of Rogers’ influence across various aspects of psychology (in practice and in research) is testament to the openness, authenticity and curiosity that were so central to the person-centred therapy that he developed.
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Barrett-Lennard, G. T. (2012). The Roosevelt Years: Crucial Milieu for Carl Rogers’ Innovation. History of Psychology, 15(1), 19-32.
Cozolino, L. (2016). Why Therapy Works: Using our minds to change our brains. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Ellenberger, H. F. (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Kugelmann, R. (2005). An encounter between psychology and religion: Humanistic psychology and the immaculate heart of mary nuns. Journal of the History of the Behavioural Sciences, 41(4), 347-365.
Mather, R. (2008). Hegel, Dostoyevsky and Carl Rogers: between humanism and spirit. History of the Human Sciences, 21(1), 33-48.
McCarthy, T. (2014). Great Aspirations: The Postwar American College Counseling Center. History of Psychology, 17(1), 1-22.
Prochaska, J. O. & Norcross, J. C. (2018). Systems of Psychotherapy: A transtheoretical analysis(9thed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Rogers, C. R. (1980). A Way of Being. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.