Carl Rogers

A man of his times, Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was optimistic about progress and human developcarl-rogers_t670ment, 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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Reference List

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.

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Psychoanalysis – Wittgenstein’s powerful mythology – was composed by Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) as a trinity comprising a method, a theory of neuroses and a theory of normal mind (Benjamin, 2014).

Any reflection on this triune movement reveals a complex confluence of influences. Chief amongst them, according to Freud (Benjamin, 2014), being Jean-Martin Charcot who was a dominant influence on Freud as a student and, in turn, the development of psychoanalysis, particularly on the relationship between sexual issues and neuroses. Taylor traces the beginning of all dynamic theories of personality to Charcot but suggests, in contrast to Benjamin, that Charcot was less influential on Freud noting their “brief encounter” in Paris (2009, p. 53). Both Taylor and Benjamin are, however, in agreement on the significant influence of Joseph Breuer, whom Freud met whilst still a student in Vienna. Freud and Breuer collaborated clinically on their famous patient “Anna O” and on the subsequent publication of Studies in Hysteria in order to “highlight the cathartic cure of hysterical symptoms by the release of repressed memories, usually of a sexual origin” (Taylor, 2009, p. 54). Taylor’s pithy summary of that collaborative work with Breuer (particularly the clinical case study of “Anna O”) reveals something of Breuer’s influence on each of the three elements of psychoanalysis referenced above – assuming an inherent tension/conflict as mental life (between id, ego and superego), the resultant defence mechanisms (notably repression) and neurosis and the method of treatment – insight and release by way of talking therapy, particularly (as developed by Freud) by free association (Benjamin, 2014). In addition to Breuer, one can, inevitably, count Darwin as a further influence on psychoanalytic thought (Marcaggi & Guenole, 2018) along with the work of the early neurologist John Hughlings Jackson (Nascimento, 2017).

One can also utilise the three core aspects of the psychoanalytic movement to evaluate its subsequent influence on psychology, in related research and practice. As a therapeutic method, this movement has had particular influence on the practice of psychodynamic psychotherapy. Shedler (2010) notes the characteristics of this form of therapy as including, inter alia, the exploration of attempts to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings, discussion of past experience and a focus on the therapeutic relationship – all of which nod back to the psychoanalytic movement. As a theory of neuroses, or perhaps now psychopathology, noting that the DSM dropped the term “neurosis” in 1980 (Barlow & Durand, 2015), psychoanalysis has had some influence on cognitive and clinical psychology, by the resurgence of interest in the defence mechanisms (Cramer, 2000). Yakeley (2018) has also suggested that adaptions and applications of psychoanalytic concepts might improve modern mental health practices. Finally, as a theory of normal mind, Nascimento (2017) notes an interface between psychoanalysis and neuroscience (neuropsychoanalysis) which not only suggests the influence of John Hughlings Jackson (and particularly the theory of concomitance) on the development of psychoanalysis but also the apparent influence of psychoanalytic theory on the later work of neuroanatomist Paul MacLean and others. MacLean was willing to identify the id with the reptilian brain and hoped to, one day, correlate the insights of psychoanalysis with brain structure and function (Nascimento, 2017).

As neuroscience charts the “here be dragons” hinterland of the brain, the old map of psychoanalytic thought continues to offer itself, as legend and guide.

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Reference List

Barlow, D. H. & Durand, V. M. (2015). Abnormal Psychology (7th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (2014). A Brief History of Modern Psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Cramer, P. (2000). Defence mechanisms in psychology today: Further processes for adaption. American Psychologist, 55(6), 637-646.

Marcaggi, G. & Guenole, F. (2018). Freudarwin: Evolutionary thinking as a root of psychoanalysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 892.

Nascimento, L. N. (2017). Evolution in the brain, evolution in the mind: The hierarchical brain and the interface between psychoanalysis and neuroscience. Psychoanalysis and History, 19(3), 349-377.

Shedler, J. (2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 65(2), 98-109.

Taylor, E. (2009). The Mystery of Personality: A History of Psychodynamic Theories. Dordrecht: Springer.

Yakeley, J. (2018). Psychoanalysis in modern mental health practice. Lancet Psychiatry, 5(5), 443-450.

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William James


William James (1842-1910), philosopher and pioneer of American psychology, produced a book of profound significance in the history of psychology. This feat was all the more astounding given that James once quipped that the first psychology course he ever took was the one he had taught at Harvard (Benjamin, 2014). James’ book, The Principles of Psychology (James, 1890), has no rival for import in the history of American psychology (Benjamin, 2014).

James was, of course, influenced by “Wundtian physiological psychology, together with Darwin’s ideas” (Cresswell, Wagoner & Hayes, 2017, p. 1). This influence, however, is most keenly observed in James’ critical reactions to the work of both Wundt and Darwin, which may have stemmed, in part, from his Transcendentalist heritage (Emerson was his godfather). James attacked the reductionist parts of Wundt’s psychology, especially in the context of consciousness (Benjamin, 2014). Whilst James accepted the central tenants of evolution, he was disturbed by some of its implications, particularly as espoused by the biologist Thomas Huxley. In 1865 (aged 23) James published a paper in the North American Review on a series of controversial lectures delivered by Huxley (Kaag, 2016). The review, whilst receptive, wished that Huxley might have left some room for a deeper view of the Supernatural (Kaag, 2016). All told, James found Huxley’s lectures “somewhat problematical” (Kaag, 2016, p. 136). According to Kaag (2016), James fell into a deep depression after writing this review and contemplated suicide in the late 1860s.

By 1870 James had been positively influenced by the philosophy of Charles Renouvier, finding a way to counter the implied materialism and determinism of Huxley’s robust stance on evolution. Although apparently circular in nature, James had resolved that his first act of free will was to believe in free will (Kaag, 2016). James considered that some significant features of human mental life simply can’t be resolved empirically. Love, for example, was a “forced option”, requiring choice (Kaag, 2016, p. 140). These philosophical insights (regarding the centrality of choice and the limits of empiricism) shed some light on James’ influence on later psychology, particularly in respect of consciousness.

In his Principles, James identified that thought constantly “welcomes or rejects” with reference to particular objects (1890, p. 225). This point is summarised by Benjamin, “For James, consciousness was thus about making choices” (2014, p. 63). Hawkins (2014) notes how this idea of consciousness as a stream of “selective agency”(p. 188) emphasised a “moral” component to volition (p. 190). For James, consciousness did not exist as an object, independent of other objects, rather it existed as process, not as a thing (Taylor, 2010). These insights were influential on the development of functional psychology (Benjamin, 2014) and, from that, humanistic psychology (Taylor, 2010). James’ ideas arguably had an even greater influence on psychology by his radical empiricism (Taylor, 2010) and its challenge to the Kantian assumption that psychologists can discuss consciousness “as an entity without necessary reference to any object” (Creswell et al., 2017, p. 5). Allied with his significant contribution to the psychology of emotion and his influence on the functionalist school of psychology (Benjamin, 2014), James’ Principles and his work on consciousness ensures his continuing influence and encourages psychologists to work across disciplines (such as philosophy) and, where appropriate, to draw deeply on personal experience.

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Reference List

Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (2014). A Brief History of Modern Psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Cresswell, J., Wagoner, B. & Hayes, A. (2017). Rediscovering James’ Principles of Psychology. New Ideas in Psychology, 46, 1-6.

Hawkins, S. L. (2014). William James and the “Theatre” of Consciousness. In C. U. M. Smith & H. Whitaker (Eds.), Brain, Mind and Consciousness in the History of Neuroscience (pp. 185-206). Dordrecht: Springer.

James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology (Vol. 1). New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Kaag, J. (2016). American Philosophy. New York: Farrer, Straus and Giroux.

Taylor, E. (2014). William James and the Humanistic Implications of the Neuroscience Revolution: An Outrageous Hypothesis. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 50(4), 410-429.

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Epictetus – Living free as a slave

Let’s go all the way back to Ancient Greece and the world of Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher (c. CE 55 – 135) whose lectures were summarised by his student, Arrian, into the famous Enchiridion (or handbook). This short summary of the teachings of Epictetus has been influential in philosophy, psychological therapy and, perhaps most significantly, in the daily lives of ordinary women and men as they struggle to be free, particularly from the mental states that so often bind us. Epictetus was likely born a slave in Turkey and eventually came to be owned by Epaphroditus, a secretary to the Emperors Nero and Domitian. Epictetus, though a slave, may well have had some experience of the imperial court (Long, 2002).

Epictetus was, of course, profoundly influenced by Stoic philosophy. This philosophical school was founded by Zeno about 400 years earlier. For the Stoics the world was both deterministic and providential, yet they were not dogged by fatalism (Long, 2002). While still a slave, Epictetus attended the lectures of Musonius Rufus in Rome, and likely began a teaching career in that city and then, following the exile of all philosophers, in Greece (Long, 2002). Rufus was unusual for his time as he insisted that both women and men should be educated and taught resistance to autocracy (King, 2011).

The influence of Epictetus and his handbook on modern psychology has been significant. One need only read the very first line of the handbook to understand why; “Some things in the world are up to us, while others are not” (Long, 2018). This insight was eventually taken up by Aaron Beck in the 1960s and 1970s as he developed cognitive therapy (Beck, Rush, Shaw & Emory, 1979) and later CBT. As described by Long (2002) Epictetus’ project is to assure his students that nothing lies completely in their power except their judgments, desires and goals. Furthermore, one finds a clear echo of Epictetus’ thought and the general Stoic imperative to live in harmony with nature in the “Serenity Prayer” made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous (Robertson, 2010). CBT and AA are two very well-known forms of therapy that are widely available to members of the public. Perhaps the greatest debt owed by modern psychology to Epictetus (and the Stoics) is the practical application of psychological insights into everyday life for ordinary people. This might be contrasted with, for example, the time and money required to undergo a Freudian psychoanalysis – rendering such therapy “open to all”, in the same way as the Ritz hotel is also open to all!

Epictetus didn’t have an easy life. He was, as noted, likely born a slave. He suffered from chronic ill-health and was, at one time, exiled from Rome. Although clearly a respected teacher he did not enjoy the status and wealth of his fellow Stoic Seneca (c. BCE 4 – CE 65). Despite these difficulties, Epictetus was faithful to his teaching that only the wise are truly free.

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Reference List

Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F. & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: Guildford Press.

King, C. (2011). Musonius Rufus. CreateSpace.

Long, A. A. (2002). Epictetus A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Long, A. A. (2018). How to be free. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Robertson, D. (2010). The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy. London: Karnac Books.