Carl Rogers

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Carl Rogers

BornJanuary 8 1902(1902-01-08)
Oak Park, Illinois, U.S.
DiedFebruary 4 1987 (aged 85)
San Diego, California, U.S.
InstitutionsOhio State University
University of Chicago
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Western Behavioral Sciences Institute
Center for Studies of the Person
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison (BA)
Union Theological Seminary
Columbia University (MA, PhD)
Known forThe person-centered approach (e.g., Client-centered therapy, Student-centered learning, Rogerian argument)
Notable awardsAward for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Psychology (1956, APA); Award for Distinguished Contributions to Applied Psychology as a Professional Practice (1972, APA); 1964 Humanist of the Year (American Humanist Association)

Carl Ransom Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) was an influential American psychologist, who, along with Abraham Maslow, founded the humanistic approach to psychology. He developed Nondirective psychotherapy, also called "Client-centered therapy" and later the "Person-centered approach," reflecting his belief that his model applied to interactions between all people, not just therapist-client relations. Rogers' work has had many positive results and achieved significant popularity. The strength of his approach is the importance of harmonious relationships based on respect, congruence, and empathy in promoting healthy psychological development. He also made a significant contribution to education through his work on experiential learning. However, his rejection of any authority outside one's own experience, including the authority of therapist over client, or teacher over student, also rejects the authority of God's purpose for human beings, and denies any chance of correcting the underlying cause of corrupted human nature.


Rogers was born on January 8, 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. His father was a civil engineering and his mother was a homemaker and devout Christian. Rogers was the fourth of six children.

Rogers could already read by the age for entering kindergarten, and so he started his education directly in the second grade. When Rogers was 12, his family moved to a farm, where he spent his adolescence in a strict religious and ethical environment. He became a rather isolated, independent, and disciplined person, acquiring an appreciation for the scientific method in a practical world.

He entered the University of Wisconsin initially studying agriculture, and later changing to religion. At age 20, Rogers spent time in Beijing, China, at an international Christian conference, which led him to broaden his thinking and start to doubt his religious convictions. However, after graduation in 1924, he enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in New York to continue his religious studies. At that time he also married Helen Elliot. They had two children, David born in 1926 and Natalie in 1928.

At Union Theological Seminary, Rogers attended a seminar entitled Why am I entering the ministry? after which he changed his major to psychology. He graduated with a Masters degree in clinical psychology, and in 1931, received his Ph.D. in psychotherapy. While completing his doctoral work, he engaged in clinical work at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) in Rochester, New York, where he became familiar with Otto Rank's work. In 1929, he was appointed director of the Child Study Department at the SPCC in Rochester.

He was offered a full professorship in Clinical psychology at Ohio State University in 1940. In 1942, he wrote his first book, Counseling and Psychotherapy. In it, Rogers made the startling suggestion that the client, not the therapist, is the one with the resources to resolve difficulties and gain the insight necessary to restructure his or her own life.

In 1945, he was invited to set up a counseling center at the University of Chicago. Rogers served as president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1947. While working in Chicago, he published his major work, Client-Centered Therapy (1951), wherein he outlined his theory. Rogers received the first Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the APA in 1956, the first year this award was given. In 1957, he returned to the University of Wisconsin to teach. However, following several internal conflicts within the psychology department, Rogers became disillusioned with higher education.

In 1964, Rogers was selected "humanist of the year" by the American Humanist Association, and received an offer to join the research staff of the Western Behavioral Studies Institute in La Jolla, California. He lived in La Jolla for the rest of his life, providing therapy, giving public talks, facilitating Person-Centered Approach workshops, and writing. As well as his contributions to psychology, Rogers also made significant impact in the field of education, particularly with the publication of Freedom to Learn in 1969, which outlined his ideas of "Experiential learning."

His wife, Helen, died in 1979. During the last decade of his life, Rogers traveled worldwide in efforts to apply his theories to areas of national social conflict, such as Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the Soviet Union.

Rogers was a prolific and influential writer, producing 16 books and over 200 professional articles. He also received numerous awards and recognitions for his contributions to psychology, including the first APA award for Distinguished Contributions to Applied Psychology as a Professional Practice in 1972, and a distinguished psychologist award from the Division of Psychotherapy. He died of a heart attack in 1987.


Rogers was the first to conceptualize Person-centered therapy, and was a well-known counselor, personality theorist, and a key developer of Humanistic psychology. Rogers may be best known for his work in psychology. However, his contribution to the field of education, in the form of Experiential learning is equally profound.

Person-centered Therapy

Rogers developed his Person-centered approach to psychotherapy after becoming frustrated by the standard methodologies and procedures used in Freudian psychoanalysis and other therapies. He found that he obtained better results by listening to his patients and allowing them to direct the course of treatment. In his book, On Becoming a Person, he wrote "Unless I had a need to demonstrate my own cleverness and learning, I would do better to rely upon the client for direction of movement" (Rogers 1961).

Initially called "Nondirective therapy," and then "Client-centered therapy," Rogers finally changed its name to the "Person-centered approach," reflecting his belief that his theories applied to all interactions, not just those between client and therapist. It has most commonly been referred to as simply "Rogerian psychotherapy," and has become widely influential, embraced for its humanistic approach.

Rogers' basic tenet was that if unconditional positive regard (Respect), genuineness and honesty (Congruence), and empathic understanding (Empathy) were present in a relationship, growth and psychological healing would occur. According to Rogers, these qualities were both necessary and sufficient to create a relationship conducive to enhancing the client's psychological well-being. In other words, for Rogers, an effective therapist does not need any special technique, just the three qualities of respect, congruence, and empathy; without these three qualities, though, no technique would be successful.

The main technique Rogers recommended is that of "Reflection," or the mirroring of emotional communication. For example, if a client says, "I hate men!" the therapist responds, "So you hate all men?" By doing so, the therapist is letting the client know that he or she is listening and trying to understand, as well as clarifying what the client is communicating. In this case, the client may well acknowledge that she does not hate all men, certainly not her brother, father, or some others, hopefully including the therapist if he is a man. Finally, she may realize that it is not hate she feels, but rather a lack of trust toward men, as a result of being hurt by a particular man.

According to Rogers, the fully functioning person exhibits the following qualities:

  • Openness to experience: The accurate perception of one's feelings and experience in the world.
  • Existential living: Living in the present, rather than the past, which has gone, or the future, which does not yet exist.
  • Organismic trusting: Trusting one's own thoughts and feelings as accurate; doing what comes naturally.
  • Experiential freedom: Acknowledging one's freedoms and taking responsibility for one's own actions.
  • Creativity: Full participation in the world, including contributing to society as a whole, whether through one's work, social relationships, or creative work in the arts or sciences.

Rogers did not limit his theory to the therapeutic situation. He believed his ideas on the healthy human personality applied to all social interactions, such as those in marriage, parenting, education, and could even be applied to conflict situations involving larger social groups.

Rogers, as a Humanistic psychologist, regarded human beings as basically good, with an inherent motivation to actualize their potential to the fullest possible extent, which was referred to by Abraham Maslow as "self-actualization." He viewed mental health as a process of psychological development, and mental illness, criminality, and other human problems as distortions of the natural tendency for growth.

This raises the question of the fundamental nature of human beings. Humanistic psychology views human beings as basically positive creatures who, given the right conditions, develop constructively, biologically and psychologically. However, there is no necessary correlation between physical and mental growth; it is possible to fulfill one's physical potential while having serious psychological problems. Physical growth occurs automatically given the necessary conditions, whereas psychological growth involves making choices and taking responsibility for them.

Rogers' approach implies that making bad choices is a sign of disturbance, or psychopathology, or that the conditions for healthy mental growth have not been met. Given the fact that most people make bad choices in their lives, this leads to the conclusion that either most people have serious psychological problems, or human society is not a good environment in which to grow up. The optimism of Rogers' view comes through in his belief that all problems can be solved through interaction with others, such as counselors, who bring the three qualities of respect, congruence, and empathy into the relationship. However, although it is true that such qualities make for healthy relationships, it does not address the underlying problem of why human society is filled with unhealthy social relationships and psychologically disturbed individuals.

Experiential Learning

Rogers made significant contributions to the field of education with his theory of experiential learning. He maintained that all human beings have a natural desire to learn. Therefore, failure to learn is not due to the person's inability to learn, but rather to problems with the learning situation.

Rogers defined two categories of learning: cognitive (meaningless) learning, which involves academic knowledge, such as multiplication tables, and experiential (significant) learning, which is applied knowledge, such as how to repair a car. The key distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner, and thus has the qualities of personal involvement, self-initiation, self-evaluation, and long-lasting effects.

Experiential education, or "learning by doing," is the process of actively engaging students in an authentic experience that has benefits and consequences. Students make discoveries and experiment with knowledge themselves, instead of hearing or reading about the experiences of others. Students also reflect on their experiences, thus developing new skills, attitudes, and ways of thinking (Kraft & Sakofs 1988).

Experiential education empowers students to take responsibility for their own learning. Whether teachers employ experiential education in service learning, environmental education, or more traditional school subjects, it involves engaging student "voice" in active roles for the purpose of learning.

The caveat in the experiential learning situation is that while the content of much of what we need to learn is desirable and amenable to the experiential approach, there are many things that people, especially children, may not want to learn, but are necessary in order to function fully as adults in human society. Allowing children to decide that certain "meaningless" knowledge need not be learned, reduces the job of teachers to mere supports in their students' learning process, taking away their role in guiding education to fulfill the larger purpose determined by society.


Carl Rogers had a profound impact on psychotherapy, personality theory, and education. His passionate regard for humanistic values, his optimistic and implicit faith in the inherent goodness of human beings, and his steadfast belief that troubled people can be helped, contributed to the popularity of his work. His achievements in the academic sphere, as shown by his publication record, the number of students he had, and the honors his fellow psychologists bestowed upon him, made Rogers one of the significant figures in twentieth-century psychology. The emergence of Humanistic psychology as the "third force" in psychology is due in large part to Carl Rogers.

His person-centered approach offers a unique paradigm for group therapy, which Rogers called the "Basic Encounter Group." Rogers and his colleagues started to experiment with the concept of large community groups of 50 to 300 or more individuals, and subsequently to include individuals from different cultures and nationalities. The cross-cultural groups provided Rogers with a foundation from which to conduct workshops using client-centered principles as a way to induce societal change, particularly the diminishing of international tensions among nations.

Rogers' theories continue to inspire counselors working with individuals, couples, families, and larger groups.

Although popular, and achieving a certain level of success, Rogers' approach has its weaknesses. In particular, the emphasis on counselors' exhibiting congruence, respect, and empathy toward their clients, has led them to become supportive of their clients' situation and viewpoint to such an extent that the clients feel no need to change. Without invoking some standard or norm, or at least presenting alternative viewpoints, the counselor does not have any position of authority from which to guide the client to make constructive changes. While this was in no way Rogers' intention, it has led to counselors validating actions, otherwise deemed unacceptable by society, because their clients experience satisfaction from them.

Rogers' work on experiential learning has greatly impacted education. Numerous programs have successfully employed some form of experiential learning.

One widely adopted form of experiential education is service learning, or learning through service to others (Kielsmeier & Willits 1989). An example is Project OASES (Occupational and Academic Skills for the Employment of Students) in the Pittsburgh public schools, where eighth graders, identified as potential dropouts, spend three periods a day involved in renovating a homeless shelter as part of a service project carried out within their industrial arts class.

Other approaches at the university level include laboratory courses in social sciences and humanities that seek to parallel laboratory courses in the natural sciences. In social science laboratory courses, students combine theory with tests of the theory in field settings and often develop their own social models in disciplines as far ranging as history and philosophy to economics, political science, and anthropology, (Lempert 1995).

Friends World Program, a four-year international study program operating out of Long Island University, operates entirely around self-guided, experiential learning while immersed in foreign cultures. Other projects and "capstone" programs have included everything from student teams writing their own international development plans, presenting them to presidents and foreign media, and publishing their studies as textbooks, to running their own businesses, non-for-profit organizations, or community development banks (Lempert 1995).

"Adventure education," which uses outdoor activities to learn how to overcome adversity, work alongside others, and to develop a deeper relationship with nature, is one form of experiential education that is highly effective in developing team and group skills in both students and adults (Rohnke 1989).

Quotes from Carl Rogers

”It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried.” Carl Rogers, from On Becoming a Person
”Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person's ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets – neither Freud nor research – neither the revelations of God nor man – can take precedence over my own direct experience. My experience is not authoritative because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority because it can always be checked in new primary ways. In this way its frequent error or fallibility is always open to correction.” Carl Rogers, from On Becoming a Person

Major Works

  • Rogers, Carl R. 1942. Counseling and Psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395053218
  • Rogers, Carl R. 1951. Client-centered Therapy. Houghton Mifflin College Division. ISBN 0395053226
  • Rogers, Carl R. 1961. On Becoming a Person. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395081343
  • Coulson, William, and Carl R. Rogers. 1968. Man and the Science of Man. Merrill Publishing Co. ISBN 0675095999
  • Rogers, Carl R. 1969. Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become. C.E. Merrill Pub. Co. ISBN 0675095190
  • Rogers, Carl R., and Barry Stevens. 1971. Person to Person: The Problem of Being Human. Pocket Publishers. ISBN 0671780573
  • Rogers, Carl R. 1975. Becoming Partners: Marriage and Its Alternative. Constable. ISBN 978-0094597105
  • Rogers, Carl R. 1978. Carl Rogers on Personal Power: Inner Strength and Its Revolutionary Impact. Trans-Atlantic Publications. ISBN 0094620903
  • Rogers, Carl R. 1980. A Way of Being. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395299152

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kielsmeier, J., and R. Willits. 1989. Growing hope: A Sourcebook on Integrating Youth Service into the Curriculum. St. Paul, MN: National Youth Leadership Council, University of Minnesota.
  • Kraft, Richard, and M. Sakofs. 1988. Theory of Experiential Education. Boulder, CO: Association for Experiential Education. ISBN 0929361008
  • Lempert, David H. 1995. Escape from the Ivory Tower: Student Adventures in Democratic Experiential Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. ISBN 0787901369
  • Rohnke, Karl E. 1989. Cowstails and Cobras II. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. ISBN 0840354347

External links

All links retrieved January 18, 2024.


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