Revisiting Carl Rogers Theory of Personality
A recent study collected information from surveys conducted among the members of the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychological Association. The study identified the top 100 eminent psychologists of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, Skinner, Piaget, and Freud are the top three. What may be of interest is that Carl Rogers is ranked number 6.
Among the reasons cited is Rogers’ groundbreaking work in the development of humanistic or client centered therapy. What made it groundbreaking was his insistence that the model be subject to scientific inquiry and clinical trial. One result of his work was a psychological theory. In that work Rogers advanced a complex set of 19 propositions describing his theory. In this article we will make an effort to provide a brief overview of it.
To provide theoretical legitimacy to his clinical work, Rogers wrote 16 books and even more articles explaining how these 19 propositions worked on understanding the human personality. Among the most significant key points of Rogers’ approach is its redefining of the therapeutic relationship. Traditionally that relationship was defined by the theories of Freud and others where the therapist role was that of a leader and the patient as the follower.
Rogers argued that for the therapist/patient relationship to be effective, it must include an intentional relationship built on mutual trust and respect. In the later years of his work Rogers expanded his model to apply to other applications including a theory of personality, interpersonal relations, education, nursing, cross-cultural relations and other “helping” professions and situations.
Foundations of Roger’s Theory
The study of the human personality has grown in increasing complexity. What Rogers viewed as a ”missing link” in what were then the traditional methods of clinical treatment was what he identified as person-centered therapy. Among the principles he espoused was that within the treatments of his day there was an incongruence in those relationships.
Early theories and methodologies such as Freud’s were seen as objectifying the patient thus creating an incongruent or out of synch relationship. Rogers called into question the psychoanalytical model replacing it with his humanistic psychology.
Again, it is important to acknowledge his goal in the development of “Rogerian psychotherapy”, validation through scientific study and clinical experience.
While there are many areas within Rogerian theory, one worth noting is known as the Phenomenal Field. This consists of perceived reality. The ever changing world of external and internal experience. Priority is given to what a person understands to be true (perceived reality) rather than what actually is true. Counseling begins with the phenomenal field.
Development of the Personality
Not unlike Freud’s reference to the soul, Rogers identified one’s self-concept as the frame upon which personality is developed. It is the purpose of each person to seek congruence (balance) in three areas of their lives. This balance is achieved with self-actualization. As illustrated below, self-actualization deals with three areas such as self-worth, self-image, and ideal self.
Self-actualization is impossible if these images (especially self-mage and ideal-self) don’t overlap. This is so called “incongruent” view and the role of therapist is to transform this view to a congruent one, both by adjusting person’s perception of self-image and self-worth as well as making an “ideal self” more realistic. The self-actualization process will lead to increasing overlap between these areas and will contribute to person’s satisfaction with life. Within Rogers’ schema each of the three areas has specific tasks. Until a person succeeds in self-actualization, they will have issues and remain out of balance in how they relate to their world.
Rogers emphasized that with regard to self-actualization the personality of each person is very unique. There are few “cookie cutter” personalities. It also brings into the therapeutic discussion the idea of a holistic view of the person.
The Principles for Good Life
A goal that most people seek to attain, the good life as described by Rogers is achieved by the person fulfilling certain principles. In his studies Rogers found that there are commonalities among those people who are fully functional. These are:
- An acceptance of all experiences including those that are new.
- An existential lifestyle, in which each moment is appreciated and lived to its fullest.
- A trust level with one’s own decisions.
- Increasing freedom of choice
- Creativity and adaptability without necessarily conforming.
- Reliability and constructiveness in their dealings with others.
- A preference for living a rich, full life.
These traits are fluid in their expression with the person being capable of self-actualizing them.
The Lessons of Rogers
Given Carl Rogers own wealth of contributions to his scientific and clinical work there is much to study and learn. Add to that other professional material addressing Rogers work and you have a lifetime of material available. The question here is the value of his work in the 21st century?
In this article at Psychology Today some of his most important and lasting contributions are discussed.
- Person centered therapy
- Unconditional positive regard
- Egalitarian counseling relationships
- Reflection as a therapeutic technique
- A counseling theory to train on
Most recently there has been a growing interest in the adaptability of Rogerian theory and practice. Several modalities are redefining terminology and practice with their application being used in today’s world of psychology. Included in this mix are:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Positive Psychology
As strongly suggested in this article “progress” in the field of psychology may be better measured as adaptability rather than change. With few exceptions much of the current understanding in psychology of human personality has occurred through adapting previous theories. In particular, this adaptability is best understood through linguistics. Specifically, the meaning or definition given to words and phrases.
Case in point. If we were to trace the etiology of the word conscious and its derivatives we would find pre-19th century usage. With Freud and others the word changed to encompass super-ego. Rogers redefined and modified super-ego to mean self. As mentioned, today’s newer modalities continue this tradition of redefining and substituting words and phrases to better explain their own areas.
This comment comes without criticism, but rather to encourage the thoughtful study of what the field of psychology has to offer.