This is the fifth and last part in the personality theories series. This part covers theories of one of my favourite psychologists of all time – Carl Rogers. He is a prominent name in Humanistic Psychology and his client-centred therapy forms basis of many modern day therapies.
Carl Rogers – Person-Centered Therapy
Carl Rogers (1902-1987) agreed with primary assumptions made by Maslow but he added that for a person to grow, they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood). He is also known as founder of Person Centered Therapy.
After having studied religion and Christianity at University of Wisconsin, Rogers switched to the clinical psychology program of Columbia University, and received his Ph.D. in 1931 (Maslow, his contemporary received his Ph.D. in 1934 – just to put their work and theories in perspective.). During Rogers’s clinical work in New York, he explored Otto Rank’s theory and therapy techniques, which started him on the road to developing his own approach. His major work that outlines his theory, Client-Centered Therapy was published in 1951, it was later referred to as Person-Centered Therapy.
Rogers wrote several books about his therapy, theories and some essays. Some of his books such as On Becoming a Person (featured at the end of this article) or A Way Of Being are quite a treasure for anyone interested in becoming a better and authentic self, beyond Rogers’ psychological therapy.
Carl Rogers views all human beings (or organisms as he often refers to them in his theory) as good or healthy and mental illness and other human problems as distortions in our natural tendency. In his Person-Centered Therapy (aka Client-Centered Therapy) the paradigm shift was about keeping the individual in centre and believing firmly that he is fully capable of resolving his own problems with attentive listening and non-directive approach.
Rogers believed that every person can achieve their goals, wishes and desires in life. If the person achieves this, it can be called as self-actualization. From his own proposition of the theory, he says –
The organism (Individual in the context here, but not necessarily so according to Rogers, ) has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.
~ Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers believed that people have inherent motivation, that is the tendency to self-actualize – to develop one’s potential to the fullest extent possible. To achieve the highest level of being that we are capable of. Each individual has unique potential and we can develop it in different ways according to our personality. Rogers believed that people are inherently good and creative. Some individuals may become destructive when a poor self-concept or external constraints override the valuing process. Carl Rogers believed that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence (explained below).
It is quite intriguing to note that unlike Maslow, Rogers applies the concept of self-actualizing to all living beings, including plants. Some of his earlier examples included mushrooms and weeds. I sometimes think of it when I see weeds growing through pavement blocks or saplings shooting off through boulders. Amazing how life-force springs upwards!
Carl Rogers used Congruence and Incongruence respectively to explain self-actualization as well as problems that an individual may face. In simpler words, when person’s ideal self and real self (or experiencing self as Rogers calls it) are consistent, or reasonably similar, then we can say that congruence exists. As mentioned earlier, self-actualizing individuals must be in a state of congruence. On the other hand, if there is a gap between the real self and the ideal self, the “I am” and the “I should”, then it is called incongruity. Larger the gap, the more incongruity and suffering. Rogers suggests incongruence as neurosis – being out of synch with who you really are.
It is important to note that we cannot really, ever achieve total state of congruence – we all experience a certain amount of incongruence. However, in case of congruence there is more ,overlap between the ideal and real and such individuals can self-actualize.
Unconditional Positive Regard
This is one the most touching aspects of Rogers’ theory and therapy. Often as children or even as adults we get positive regard when we achieve something or behave in a specific manner approved by parents or society. Rogers calls it – conditional positive regard. On the other hand, unconditional positive regard is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does, especially in the context of Rogers’ person-centered therapy. Essentially, with unconditional positive regard the person is accepted and loved for what he/she is. Positive regard is not withdrawn if the person makes a mistake or does something that is perceived as wrong. Rogers believed that unconditional positive regard is essential for healthy development and tried to establish it as a therapeutic component.
Unconditional positive regard can be facilitated by keeping in mind Rogers’ belief that all people have the internal resources required for personal growth. It works like a magic if one knows how to practice it authentically.
The Fully-Functioning Person
Rogers says that fully functioning people are well-adjusted, well-balanced and interesting to know. Just like Maslow’s characteristics of self-actualized individuals, Rogers describes qualities of the fully functional person:
- Openness to experience – Fully functioning people move away from defensiveness and are more willing to experience real world and all that it offers. It also means ability to accept reality, including one’s own feelings – positive as well as negative.
- Existential living – Fully functioning people live each moment fully, living in the here-and-now. Thus experiencing current moment without allowing prejudices from the past experiences to affect the current experience. It also means that the experience of the current moment is not distorted to fit personality or self-concept, but instead allowing personality and self-concept to emerge from the experience.
- Organismic trusting – Fully functioning people trust their own feelings, gut-instincts and trust their ability to do the right thing and make right choices appropriate for the situation. They do not rely on existing codes and social norms but trust that as they are open to experiences they will be able to trust their own sense of right and wrong. It is worth emphasizing that organismic trusting assumes you are in contact with the actualizing tendency.
- Experiential freedom – Fully functioning people acknowledges that feeling of freedom hen choices are available, and take responsibility for their choices. They make choices without constraints or inhibitions, they don’t feel compelled, either by themselves or by others, to behave in a specific way.
- Creativity – Fully functioning people are more creative in the way they adapt to their own circumstances without feeling a need to conform. They may contribute to arts, science, social concerns or by simply doing their job the best way they can do. Rogers refers to creativity in a way that is quite similar to Erikson’s generativity.
- Richer, fulfilled life – Fully functioning people enjoy richer, full and exciting life. They experience joy and pain, love and heartbreak, fear and courage more intensely. I think it would be wonderful to finish this article with Rogers’ quote about such life –
This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.
– Carl Rogers
This personality theories series has been quite an experience for me since it involved some studying, researching and presenting these personality theories in a more structured manner beyond what I knew about them from my readings earlier. It was challenging for me because these theories are complex, exhaustive and studied by numerous people including psychology experts. I had to exclude some parts from those theories keeping in mind length of the article and I have tried to include parts relevant to the purpose of My Zen Path. I have also tried to keep them as accurate and as close to their original meaning as possible while writing them in simpler language whenever possible. I have intentionally avoided highly technical/scientific language for these theories (even Wikipedia is full of such examples) so that anyone interested can read them without any academic background in psychology. I might not have succeeded in this effort consistently one way or the other. Inevitably, I had to write them almost verbatim on certain occasions from the references to ensure that I do not misinterpret the crucial parts of the theory while trying to simplify them. I have acknowledged important sources that I have referred to at the end of all these articles.
I know that I have covered only a few psychologists in this series and lot of them could not be included in the series. I have tried to cover all important waves of personality theories including psychodynamics, behaviourism and humanistic approach. Among these, I have included experts and theories that I find relevant to the purpose of My Zen Path. I have not included positive psychology here intentionally but I hope to write a longish article(s) about it some time in the future.
I would be very happy if this series made you curious and interested in the personality theories. If you are keen on exploring further, you can refer to any good book of personality theories and I have also listed two such books in the references. I’d also highly recommend Simply Psychology for great illustrations, explanations and coverage of several psychological concepts. I also discovered Quote Fancy while researching for these articles and I am grateful to those beautiful, free wallpapers that complemented the quotes.
Do write back with your inputs about this series – I am curious to know if any of these things resonated deep within or gave you an insight that you’d carry with you!
- Personality Theories by Dr. C. George Boeree – Useful e-book for important personality theories
- Theories Of Personality by Schultz and Schultz
- Carl Rogers on Wikipedia
- Simply Psychology for all miscellaneous references
- Carl Rogers on YouTube – Several videos about Rogers’ theories and some of his recorded counselling sessions.
About the featured image:
The featured image for this article is a free wallpaper from QuoteFancy and it features quote by Carl Rogers. It not only goes well with this article but also resonates quite well with the purpose of My Zen Path. I am using this free wallpaper here on MyZenPath.com with gratitude.