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Carl L. Rogers

Rogers was bom in 1902 into a morally and religiously conservative family that was devoted to the children and committed to the concept of hard work. Dancing, watching movies, smoking, drinking, and anything that vaguely suggested sexual interest were clearly forbidden, although little was said about them. The family was able to convey its direchons in subtle ways that were generally unspoken but nevertheless very clear to everyone.

Rogers had few friends and spent most of his time working, thinking, and reading. His early lifestyle caused him to pay close attention to his personalized experience of the world. In later years, this concept would become better known as a phenomenological approach to counseling.

Rogers's family moved to a farm 30 miles west of Chicago when he was 12. It was here that the family's work ethic was reemphasized. He also developed an intense interest in science and experimentation. Much of his time was spent studying the varieties of insects and animals that were now available to him. A scientific approach to all issues was further emphasized by his father, who insisted that all farming should be as scientific and modem as possible. These concepts of hard work, scientific study, experimentation, and evaluation would later set Rogers apart from other theorists: He was the first to intentionally and creatively subject experientially recognized human development and therapeutic processes to rigorous scientific study. Those interested in his theories often overlook this aspect of his work, but it is a major contribution to the development of professionalism in counseling and psychotherapy.

Rogers left home to study agriculture in college but later turned to religious studies and eventually to clinical psychology as he became more interested in people, beliefs, and values. His religious beliefs, like those of his parents, were strong. However, the more he studied and discussed the issues, the more his views diverged from his parents. A 6-month trip to China as part of the World Student Christian Federation Conference encouraged his change to a more liberal viewpoint.

Explaining these changes to his parents was extremely difficult and often disappointing for all concerned, but Rogers reported great growth in his intellectual and emotional independence from these open confrontations. Later reflection on these times led Rogers to believe that these were the times when he was learning to pay more attention to his own organismic valuing system and taking large steps toward overcoming the conditions of worth that had directed much of his life. The experience left him much more confident in himself, his beliefs, and his ability to deal with difficult situations. This idea that individuals can and must rely on themselves for direction and strength was to become another major emphasis in his theory, as well as in his own life.

Rogers worked with children in Rochester, New York, for 12 years; later he was on the faculty at Ohio State University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin. His final stop in 1963 was at the Center for Studies of the Person in La Jolla, California, and lasted until his death in 1987. It included work in education and in individual and group counseling, with the last years of his life being spent traveling in the most troubled places in the world, using his person-centered approach to promote peace among warring groups.

Theory Background

The field of counseling in the 1920s and 1930s relied on techniques that were highly diagnostic, probing, and analytic as well as unsupported by scientific research. Rogers's first major work, Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942), was a clear reaction to this situation and to his work with children. He presented nondirective counseling in this work along with a dear call for a more scientific approach to research on both his nondirective and other, more directive techniques.

His book Client-Centered Therapy (1951) was a culmination of a decade of practice and research in which Rogers expanded his concepts and renamed his approach. This new emphasis changed the role of the counselor from an individual who only reflected the content of client statements to one who identified the client's underlying emotions in client words and through the helping relationship. The effect of this new work was to expand the dimensions of accurate empathy with the client and to force the counselor to go beyond simple reflection of client words.

Rogers's research efforts increased and broadened as he tested ideas on hospitalized schizophrenic patients rather than on the primarily normal population he had been serving. His research confirmed the view that the conditions present in the helping relationship did have a significant effect on both the progress of counseling and the outcomes for clients (Rogers, 1967). Work with client populations ranging from normal to extremely disturbed encouraged him to broaden the use of his ideas to include all people.

Person-centered is the current term used to emphasize the personal nature of counseling and other relationships in education, business, and government agencies. The therapeutic or helping relationship is now envisioned as one of person to person rather than healthy counselor to unhealthy client.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Rogers began focusing more on groups than on individuals. He was a major promoter of personal-growth groups, in which individuals worked together for the purpose of self-actualizing growth rather than toward a more limited goal of overcoming psychological illnesses (Rogers, 1970). Another group adaptation saw Rogers, in the last years of his life, using person-centered concepts in a group process format to deal with critical world conflicts. He traveled to areas with major social conflicts, such as Central America (Thayer, 1987), South Africa (Rogers & Sanford, 1987), Northern Ireland (Rogers, 1987b), and even the Soviet Union (Rogers, 1987a), to run growth groups with leaders and nonleaders who had fought but never tried to understand each other. His accounts of these encounters make it clear that a person-centered orientation can be promoted in groups as well as in individual relationships. These successful experiences also gave recognition to the value of person-centered practices with people with widely different cultural backgrounds.

The enduring nature of Rogers's work can be seen in every current article or book that examines person-centered theory. The therapeutic conditions and related ways to implement them are emphasized early in virtually every counseling and counseling-related program (Kirschenbaum, 2009). Even as issues of managed care and medical treatment models have greatly increased the emphasis on diagnosis, symptom elimination, problem behavior reduction, and time-limited treatment that are not conducive to a person- centered approach, all these approaches begin with relationship development based on the importance of Rogers's core conditions (Goodman, 2004). Even such technique-driven counseling or therapy models as cognitive-behavioral therapy (Gilbert & Lehay, 2007), family counseling (Bott, 2001; Snyder, 2002), applied behavioral analysis (Holburn & Vietze, 2000), and brief therapy (Presbury, Echterling, & McKee, 2002) are emphasizing the essential nature of these conditions for counseling success. Modem counselors may find few books with person-centered counseling in the title, but they will see the ideas deeply ingrained in virtually every modern approach to counseling.

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