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A Man Ahead of His Time

Carl Rogers and his client-centred approach to therapy.

Since the formulation of the theory of Psychoanalysis in the late 19th century by Sigmund Freud, ideas and approaches in this discipline have evolved at pace over the last 100 years or so, with many psychologists during this period influencing the way we see clinical psychology today.

Simply put, clinical psychologists today specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with mental illness, as well as spending time researching into different mental health disorders and problems (Goodwin, 1999).

There are different approaches clinical or counselling psychologists will specialise in when treating patients. For example, some will favour cognitive behavioural therapy or psychoanalysis, with every approach having supporters and critics. One such psychologist, who was not convinced by psychoanalysis or behavioural approaches, was American Psychologist Carl Rogers who, in the early 1950’s, developed a form of counselling psychology called client-centred therapy.

Reber et al (2009) define client-centred therapy as a non-directive and reflective practice, with a belief that the patient is best placed to deal with their individual problems, with the role of the therapist being to provide a non-judgemental environment in which through conversation, the patient will explore further and try to find the answers to their problems.

Goodwin (1999) highlights how Rogers’ approach became very popular with psychologists who saw client-centred therapy as a good alternative to behaviourism and psychoanalysis. Rogers’ influence was so significant that, along with Abraham Maslow, he was regarded as being instrumental in the rise of humanistic psychology – a movement that believes our greatest qualities are that of free will and our search for meaning. This belief, of course, faced opposition from behaviourist thinkers. On one such occasion, in September 1956, Rogers and B.F. Skinner went head to head in a ‘friendly’ debate at an APA convention (Rogers, 1967/2020). The fact that Skinner believed free will was an illusion would have made for interesting viewing…

Anderson (2001) highlights how Rogers believed that each client/therapist relationship was unique and, therefore, there was no prescriptive approach, but more a framework in which the therapist is genuine and present. In his ‘Client-Centred Therapy’ book, Rogers (1951/2015) states that the more completely a psychotherapist appreciates this fact, then the more likely a therapist can facilitate this unique experience for others.

With some colleagues misinterpreting the terms ‘non-directive’ and client-centred’, Rogers renamed this approach to person-centred therapy. This remains one of the core approaches to psychotherapy – if you google ‘person-centred therapy’ you will be inundated with professionals providing this service.

Born in 1902 in Illinois, Carl Rogers is regarded as one of history’s most influential psychologists. By the time Rogers’ life came to end in 1987, he had penned sixteen books and over two hundred articles. Rogers was often regarded as a ‘man ahead of his time’ and if not for his untimely death, his influence in social science could have been even greater. Some of the academic challenges to Rogers’ theories are that he oversimplified things, whereas others believe that he understood the human element better than most. Personally, I resonate with the latter and a favourite Rogers’ quote of mine is cited by Anderson (2001):

“The answer to most of our problems lies not in technology, but in relationships”

Over thirty years after Rogers’ passing, this statement seems more accurate than ever.

Reference List

Anderson, H. (2001), Postmodern collaborative and person‐centred therapies: what would Carl Rogers say?. Journal of Family Therapy, 23, 339-360.

Goodwin, C. J. (1999). A History of Modern Psychology (1st ed.). Wiley.

Reber, A. S. & Allen, R. & Reber, E. S. (2009). Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (4th ed.). Penguin.

Rogers, C. R. (2015). Client-Centred Therapy. Robinson. Reprinted from Rogers, C.R. (1951). Client-Centred Therapy (1st ed.). Constable & Company Ltd.

Rogers, C. R. (2020). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. 60th Anniversary Edition. Robinson. Reprinted from Rogers, C.R. (1967). On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (1st ed.). Constable & Company Ltd.

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