Carl Rogers Essay - Critical Essays

Rogers, Carl


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Carl Rogers 1902-1987

(Full name Carl Ransom Rogers) American psychologist.

Rogers was among the most influential figures of humanistic psychology, a school of psychotherapy that rejected medical and psychoanalytic models of treatment and instead put forth a theory of personality and behavior that presumed the source of psychological health ultimately resides in the individual person rather than in a program based on the expert knowledge and authority of a psychiatric professional. Rogers's specific form of humanistic psychology is broadly based on his view of human personality, which he believed naturally tended to develop in what he considered a healthy manner unless it is adversely influenced by life experiences. From this theoretical basis, Rogers created a form of therapy that he called “client-centered,” as opposed to forms of treatment that are directed by the expertise of the therapist.

Biographical Information

Rogers was born on January 8, 1902, in Oak Park, Illinois. One of six children born into the family of a contractor/engineer and his wife, he characterized his childhood environment as “anti-intellectual” and dominated by a religiosity of the fundamentalist type. Raised on a farm from the age of twelve, Rogers entered the Agricultural College of the University of Wisconsin in 1919, although he ultimately graduated with a degree in history. While in college he felt a religious calling and eventually began training to become a Protestant minister, and after graduating in 1924 he enrolled at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. From there he transferred to Teachers College at Columbia University in order to pursue counseling rather than the strictly religious aspect of his ministerial profession. He subsequently focused on clinical and educational psychology, writing his doctoral dissertation on personality adjustment in children. Throughout the 1930s, Rogers worked in the field of child psychology, and in 1940 he accepted a position as a professor of psychology at Ohio State University. It was at this time that he began to develop the theories and methodology for which he would later become renowned. The incipient concepts of Rogers's therapeutic approach appeared in his 1942 book Counseling and Psychotherapy, and within the next few years he developed his concept of the self as the organizing element in human personality and the principles of the “nondirective,” or client-centered, style of therapy. In 1945 he took a position as professor of psychology and head of the counseling center at the University of Chicago, where, over the next twelve years, he further refined and articulated his ideas, publishing Client-Centered Therapy (1951) during this time. A charismatic figure, Rogers's influence over students, colleagues, and various collaborators, as well as his publication of best-selling books such as On Becoming a Person (1961) and Person to Person (1967), made him the central figure in American humanistic psychology throughout his lifetime. In addition, with the establishment of the Center for the Study of Persons in 1968, the principles of the client-centered version of therapy came to be applied in other contexts and institutional settings, including marriage relationships, school systems, larger-scale community groups, and corporations. Until his death in 1987, Rogers remained active in promulgating his view of the nature of human personality and procedures for correcting psychological disorders.

Major Works

Rogers's therapeutic scheme as outlined in his books and practiced in therapy is premised on the existence within each individual of what he termed the “organismic valuing process,” sometimes described as an internal monitor of a person's experiences in life that, under favorable circumstances, allows the development of healthy men or women possessing optimum self-esteem and an accurate sense of who they “really are” as well as who they would ideally like to become. The obstacle to this development, according to Rogers, are conditions, primarily those inflicted by a child's parents, in which the individual is denied “unconditional positive regard” and is thereby influenced by either positive or negative “conditions of worth” which instill values and elicit behaviors that are at odds with a person's inborn organismic valuing process. The result of exposure to these conditions of worth is the development of individuals who look to the approval of others for their sense of identity rather than finding it within themselves. Consequently serious conflicts arise within the personality between its natural organismic valuing process and its perception of conditions of worth that are alien to it. Such conflicts are the source of the vast array of neurotic symptoms and disorders that have been catalogued since the inception of psychology as a professional discipline. In order to cure his patients, whom he called “clients” so as to relate to them in a more equitable manner than did doctors or traditional psychoanalysts, Rogers provided them with the unconditional positive regard they were denied previously by practicing “nondirective” techniques of therapy that avoided communicating to the client the judgmental or interpretive conditions to which they had already been subjected in life and which were only perpetuated in other therapeutic methods, especially psychoanalysis. A principal, perhaps inevitable, technique of nondirective therapy is that of “reflection,” whereby the therapist literally restates, or reflects back, whatever clients say so that they themselves may serve as the instrument of their own rehabilitation, gaining insight by their own direction into who they are and the type of person they would have become without the judgmental interference of others. In On Becoming a Person Rogers expressed his realization of the superior effectiveness of this technique as opposed to those of psychoanalytic or behaviorist schools of psychology. “Unless I had a need to demonstrate my own cleverness and learning,” he wrote, “I would do better to rely upon the client for the direction of movement.” By this means, clients were able to attain the highest goal of his client-centered, later renamed “person-centered” approach—that of “getting in touch with themselves.”

Critical Reception

Critiques of Rogers's person-centered therapy begin with his basic conception of human nature as tending toward the good and the healthy, not to mention his assumption of the very existence of a personal self toward which one might strive. Furthermore, critics of Rogers's theories maintain serious doubts that therapists can, or should, establish a relationship of unconditional positive regard in the case of dangerously violent persons. They also fail to understand how parents might put into practice his ideas when raising children whose behavior may sometimes be difficult to countenance with wholehearted approval. At best, Rogers's detractors claim, his ideas may be applied only among a limited range of clients, specifically those suffering from the milder forms of neurosis, acknowledging that while person-centered therapy may prove no more effective than any other method, it has yet to demonstrate that it is harmful in any way. Despite such criticisms, Rogers's theory of personality and his therapeutic methodology continue to gain adherents and have become among the most widely influential trends in the history of psychology.

Principal Works

Measuring Personality Adjustment in Children Nine to Thirteen Years of Age (nonfiction) 1931

The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child (nonfiction) 1939

Counseling and Psychotherapy (nonfiction) 1942

Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory (nonfiction) 1951

On Becoming a Person (nonfiction) 1961

Person to Person: The Problem of Being Human (nonfiction) 1967

Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become (nonfiction) 1969

Becoming Partners: Marriage and Its Alternatives (nonfiction) 1972

Carl Rogers on Personal Power (nonfiction) 1977

A Way of Being (nonfiction) 1980

Freedom to Learn for the 80s (nonfiction) 1983

Carl Rogers: Dialogues (nonfiction) 1989


Carl Rogers and Mary Harrington Hall (interview date December 1967)

SOURCE: Rogers, Carl, and Mary Harrington Hall. “Carl Rogers Speaks Out on Groups and the Lack of a Human Science.” Psychology Today 1, no. 7 (December 1967): 19-21, 62-66.

[In the following interview, Rogers and Harrington discuss group therapy methods, and Rogers criticizes modern psychology for ignoring patients' personal needs.]

[Hall]: Shall we talk about groups—encounter groups, T-groups, sensitivity-training groups, group therapy? The group phenomenon demands exploration and explanation. And I've wondered … are people drawn toward this intense group experience because they feel loneliness and alienation in our strange society?


(The entire section is 5687 words.)

Diane C. Mader (essay date winter 1980)

SOURCE: Mader, Diane C. “What Are They Doing to Carl Rogers?” ETC: A Review of General Semantics 37, no. 4 (winter 1980): 314-20.

[In the following essay, Mader argues against the trend in rhetoric study that positioned Rogers as an Aristotelian rhetorician while ignoring the real goals of his methodology.]

Recent college composition texts seem to imply that there is a new rhetoric, or, at the least, an alternative to classical persuasion strategy. In Rhetoric: Discovery and Change the authors advocate Rogerian argument as an alternative to the traditional Aristotelian framework; similarly, the author of A Contemporary Rhetoric has a section that...

(The entire section is 2947 words.)

James S. Baumlin (essay date winter 1987)

SOURCE: Baumlin, James S. “Persuasion, Rogerian Rhetoric, and Imaginative Play.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 17, no. 1 (winter 1987): 33-43.

[In the following essay, Baumlin explores the role of Rogerian group therapy in persuasive argument.]

Ideas can shape us, change us, and a change in beliefs enacts a change in self: witness, in an extreme literary case, Ebenezer Scrooge, or the man who admits, after years of self-deception, that he is an alcoholic. Yet teachers, preachers, politicians alike know that real change is rare and slow; we are, as a species, resistant to changes in our belief-structures. Reasons for this resistance are easy to find. When beliefs...

(The entire section is 4422 words.)

Wayne Pounds (essay date winter 1987)

SOURCE: Pounds, Wayne. “The Context of No Context: A Burkean Critique of Rogerian Argument.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 17, no. 1 (winter 1987): 45-59.

[In the following essay, Pounds presents a critique of the Rogerian rhetoric of love using Kenneth Burke's rhetoric of killing.]

But there is one aspect of the rhetorical tradition that so far as I can tell remains quite dead—its focus on public discourse. … a rhetoric is defined not just by its theory, but by the sorts of rhetorical problems it gives most emphasis to.1

—S. M. Halloran

My title refers to the problem of idealism in...

(The entire section is 5609 words.)

Phyllis Lassner (essay date spring 1990)

SOURCE: Lassner, Phyllis. “Feminist Responses to Rogerian Argument.” Rhetoric Review 8, no. 2 (spring 1990): 220-32.

[In the following essay, Lassner examines the responses of female writing students to Rogerian persuasive techniques.]

When Rogerian argument was introduced in the 1970s, it was hailed as a heuristic which would “break the stalemate” that occurs when writers close themselves off from feeling the validity of an opposing argument (Hairston, “Carl Rogers' Alternative to Traditional Rhetoric” 373). Young, Becker, and Pike presented Rogerian argument as an alternative to traditional argument on the grounds that instead of using logic to destroy...

(The entire section is 5162 words.)

Brian Thorne (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Thorne, Brian. “Criticisms and Rebuttals.” In Carl Rogers, pp. 64-89. London: SAGE Publications, 1992.

[In the following essay, Thorne outlines major arguments against Rogers's methodology.]


Rogers had his critics from the very beginning and they have not grown less vociferous with the passage of the years. At the present time the standing of person-centred scholars and therapists within the world of academic psychology is not high: they tend to be patronized as naive enthusiasts from a former age or to suffer the greatest indignity of all—indifference. Certainly the person-centred viewpoint does not align itself easily...

(The entire section is 11121 words.)

Samuel J. Sackett (essay date fall 1995)

SOURCE: Sackett, Samuel J. “The Application of Rogerian Theory to Literary Study.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 35, no. 4 (fall 1995): 140-57.

[In the following essay, Sackett argues that the focus of Rogerian theory on empathetic understanding of the other can be successfully applied to the study of literature.]


Literary critics have long wrestled with the questions of why authors write at all and why a certain author wrote a certain work. The answers to these questions usually given by Freudian critics, not wholly in keeping with Freud's own attitudes, have tended to postulate that writers write because...

(The entire section is 6504 words.)

Further Reading


Kirschenbaum, Howard. On Becoming Carl Rogers. New York: Delacorte Press, 1979, 444 p.

Comprehensive biography.


Evans, Richard I. Carl Rogers: The Man and His Ideas. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1975, 195 p.

Surveys Rogers's psychological theories and considers their social and philosophical implications.

Hart, J. T., and T. M. Tomlinson, eds. New Directions in Client-Centered Therapy. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1970, 619 p.

Collection of essays that consider various aspects and implications of Rogers's client-centered...

(The entire section is 110 words.)