Rogers, Carl


Start date:


Carl Rogers has asserted that 'no theory, can be adequately understood without some knowledge of the cultural and personal soil from which it springs' (Rogers, 1959, p. 185) and a brief look at his background provides a useful orientation to his work.
He was born in 1902 in a stable, conservative, Protestant family in the USA. A school interest in biology and physics coupled with experience on a farm owned by his father resulted in him starting on a university course in agriculture at the University of Wisconsin which gave him good experience with experimental methodology. Eventually, however, he changed his mind and finished up by majoring in history. A major experience of his student years which stimulating his thinking about the world, people and his own beliefs, was a six-month visit to China in a multinational group to attend a World Student Christian conference. On graduation, he married his childhood sweetheart (at the age of 22) and then moved to New York to spend two years in a theological seminary which, he recalls, encouraged free thought. So much so that he came to reject a specific religious viewpoint and eventually enrolled for a postgraduate degree in clinical psychology at Teachers' College, Columbia University. Here he became exposed to Freudian ideas as well as the use of scientific methods in psychology.
His early work experience was in child psychotherapy. He spent twelve years at Rochester child guidance centre (part of the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) eventually becoming its Director. His approach there was pragmatic and eclectic. His clinical experience and the influence of the ideas of Otto Rank gave him to believe in the power of individuals themselves to direct their own lives. He moved away from interpretation to letting his clients speak for themselves. His art became to devise techniques (such as non-directive therapy) to facilitate their ability to do this but was also concerned to test out their effectiveness. His first major book, in 1939, was The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child. This book enabled him to get an academic appointment at Ohio State University. In this context he became prolific and creative. And in 1942 came his second book Counselling and Psychotherapy in which he presented his ideas about a non-directive approach. Reactions were divided, with conservative therapists regarding it as threatening to their established techniques while many others seized on it with enthusiasm for the fresh new approach to psychotherapy which it espoused. In 1945 he moved to the University of Chicago to establish a Counselling Centre.
One of the primary sources of Rogers' ideas was his experience as a therapist.
“Since 1928, for a period now approaching thirty years, I have spent probably an average of fifteen to twenty hours per week, except during vacation periods, in endeavoring to understand and be of therapeutic help to … [individuals who perceive themselves, or are perceived by others to be, in need of personal help]. To me, they seem to be the major stimulus to my psychological thinking. From these hours, and from my relationships with these people, I have drawn most of whatever insight I possess into the meaning of therapy, the dynamics of inter-personal relationships, and the structure and functioning of personality.” (ibid. p. i88).
While his time at Chicago had largely been a time of personal and professional fulfillment, he accepted an opportunity to return to his alma mater the University of Wisconsin. While his time there involved him in painful and conflicting relationships with some of his colleagues, it also included publication of his best-selling book On Becoming a Person (1961). This had major impact, not only on fellow psychologists but also on a much more general readership. He subsequently left for California to help set up an adventurous new project: The Western Behavioural Sciences Institute. He eventually left this to form the Center for Studies of the Person where his interests turned, among other things, to the application of humanistic ideas and non-directive techniques to the resolution of group and international tensions.
Rogers received many distinctions in his life. He was not only President of the American Psychological Society but received both its Distinguished Professional Contribution and Distinguished Scientific Contribution awards. In a poll by the American Psychological Association, he was ranked third after Freud and Skinner as the theorist whose ideas have most influenced contemporary psychology. More than this he has benefited countless people's lives with his ideas and techniques.