Psychology as a vast theoretical and empirical science has become the umbrella covering different views on human personality. Carl Rogers’ humanistic or person-centered approach is amongst the most influential theoretical and clinical perspectives, as it is nowadays widely used as a client-centered therapy. The present paper is designed to discuss the major views within the Rogerian perspective on human social and psychological activity.
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First of all, it is important to provide the scholars’ brief biography. Carl Rogers was born in 1902 in Oak Part, Illinois, in a large family, consisting of six children. After graduating from school, Rogers entered the University of Wisconsin, selecting agriculture as his major, but later switched to religion studies in order to become a minister (Boeree). Nevertheless, after he once attended a student seminar, dedicated to the discussion of the reasons for which the learners did select ministry, Rogers quitted religious education and began to study clinical psychology. In the 40s-50s, Rogers published his major works, including the descriptions of his theoretical and therapeutic models (Boeree).
Rogers’ approach was created partially in response to Freudism, the psychoanalytic and psychodynamic perspectives. He (Rogers , p. 160) assumes that an individual has an underlying tendency to self-actualization, directed to the enhancement of all personal abilities and capacities. This feature is universal and can be attributed to all human beings. This tendency can be oppressed, but it is impossible to destroy such a directive and constructive aspiration. All temporarily motives, desires and wishes can be thus united into this large force, so Rogers believes that each human action serves rather optimistic goal, i.e. personal growth and progress.
The phenomenology of individual includes both conscious and unconscious experiences (Metzger and Straub 118). During one’s development, the individual differentiates certain part of these experiences, which in fact turn into human self, so the ‘self’ is a center of the theory, yet the scholar also takes into account the fact that human is a social creature and develops under the influence of interpersonal interactions that increase awareness (Rogers 161) and intensify both individual and social functioning (productivity). “The self-concept is the organized set of characteristics that the individual perceives as peculiar to himself/herself. It is based largely on the social evaluations he/she has experienced” (Hothersall, p. 117).
Self-actualizing tendency thus refers to the aspiration to actualization of the experince, stored in the ‘structure’ of the self. Self-actualization is associated with creating desirable experince into concrete actions (finding appropriate job, making scientific invention, creating stable family and so on). All these aspects of self-actualization serve one major goal – building consistent and consious self-esteem in particular and view of one’s self in general (Metzger and Straub, p. 383).
Instead of dividing individuals into types, Rogers establishes certain dimensions which determine the degree of self-actualization. For instance, the scholar holds that the need for self-respect causes individual to select the most appropriate experinces and perceive their experinces in terms of existing condictions. Consequently, the person’s performance is distancing from his/her real wishes and causes incongruence, i.e. lack of correspondence between the personal understanding of self-actualization and relative social petterns. Finally, the individual begins to perceive oneself as ‘evil’ and ‘deviant’ only because of the lack of congruence (Rogers, p. 172). Another idea, articulated by Rogers, is one about the fully functioning personality, who shows openness to new experince and minimal biases in judging and evaluating them.
Clark Moustakas is the theorist, who agrees with Rogers in the points of personal development, the importance of self-actualization and self-acceptance. The last aspect is the major focus of Moustakas’ work, as continuing the person-centered psychological paradigm, he writes about two types of loneliness and relevant self-help. The first type of loneliness is “existential” (the part of human condition in fact); the second type refers to the feeling individuals encounter as a result of the fear of loneliness. Loneliness anxiety might be either creative or destructive, as individuals tend either to develop a lifestyle that fosters it (as well as personality disorders) or canalize into into more productive directions, towards self-actualization (Clay, p. 49).
Prilleltensky, in turn, challenges several points of the theory (Hothersall, 1995). First of all, the scholar refers to the humanistic perspective as ‘non-scientific’, as it cannot be falsified. According to the theorist, “it lacks predictive power and therefore is not a science. The attempt of many humanistic psychologists to explain all of human behavior often means that this theory can actually never be proved wrong” (Hothersall, p. 248). Neither it can be verified completely, since the scope it covers is too large, and there is a number of aspects which cannot be empirically checked (e.g. self-actualization). Furthermore, Rogers very slightly notes the role of society in the spiritual growth and therefore this approach does not encourage social change and nurtures narcissism instead, according to Prilleltensky (Clay 51; Hal, p. 369).
For me, I do agree with Rogers’ position and do not consider the humanistic perspective to be distracted from society. In fact, Rogers notes the “important others” (Rogers, p. 182) and therefore views the environment and upbringing as partially responsible for human problems and success. Furthermore, I particularly appreciate the self-actualizing tendency, addressed by Rogers, as it confirms individual’s longing for constant self-perfection and is generally a productive drive. I would also support the idea of dully functioning personality, as the notion of openness to the “otherness” is relevant in the multicultural society, which implies a high degree of acceptance and tolerance. This means, this theory is not merely attractive and “positivist” in nature, but is also applicable even at the level of social policy, as it allows developing the effetcive means of enhancing the connections and mutual understanding amongst social groups – e.g. through encouraging the persons of dissimilar cultural backgrounds to express themselves within the frames of eductational, cultural and employment programs. Finally, it is necessary to remember that Rogers himself was a pioneer, who first asserted the constructive property of the self (as opposed to Freud, who dealt with the “darker sides” of human nature) and laid the foundation of the further directions in psychology. Even though his approach is challenged as simplistic or excessively generalized, it provides a very specific framework for the development of self-awareness and the knoweldge of one’s actual aspirations and ambitions, as I believe human beings often act unconsciously and rarely realize their actual goals.
To sum up, Rogerian psychology, although categorized as basic and general paradigm, is in fact enlightening because of taking positivist approach to human nature and dealing with the experiences, which exist in the consciousness and either accelerate or encumber the progress of the personality.
Boeree, G. “Carl Rogers”. Web.
Clay, Rebecca A. “A renaissance for humanistic psychology”. American Psychological Association Monitor 33 (2002): 48-61.
Hal, M. “Carl Rogers”. Contemporary Authors 121. Gale Publications, 1987. pp. 360-389.
Hothersall, D. History of Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.
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Metzger, L.and Straub, D. “Carl Rogers”. Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series 18. Gale Publications, 1996. pp. 381-395.
Rogers, C. On Becoming a Person. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961.