Biography of Carl R. Rogers

Carl R. Rogers (1902-1987) was an American psychologist born in Oak Park, Illinois. His parents raised him in a strict and uncompromising religious and ethical atmosphere. His father was a civil engineer and his mother was a housewife and devout Christian. His description of his early life revealed the two main trends that reflected in his later work. The first was the concern with moral and ethical matters. The second was the respect for the methods of science.

Rogers started his college education at the University of Wisconsin, majoring in agriculture, but after two years he changed his professional goals and decided to enter the ministry. At age 20, during a trip to China for an international Christian conference, he started to observe commitments to other religious doctrines as well as the bitter mutual hatreds of French and German people, who he thought otherwise seemed to be likable individuals. He attended a seminar entitled Why am I joining the Ministry? Although he was deeply concerned about questions regarding the meaning of life for individuals, Rogers had doubts about specific religious doctrines. Therefore, he chose to leave the seminary, to work in the field of child guidance, and to think of himself as a clinical psychologist.

Rogers then attended Teachers College, Columbia University, obtaining a M.A. in 1928 and a PhD in 1931. While completing his doctorial work, he was evolved in child study at the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Rochester, New York. He became the agency’s director in 1930. His education exposed him to both the dynamic views of Freud and the rigorous experimental methods then prevalent at Teacher College. He felt pulled in different directions between the developments of two somewhat divergent trends. In his later years he represented an effort to integrate the religious with the scientific, the intuitive with the objective, and the clinical with the statistical.

In 1945, he was invited to set up a counseling center at University of Chicago. While working there he published his best work Client-centered Therapy, where he outlines his basic theory. He referred to it as counseling rather than psychotherapy. The basic elements of Carl Roger’s new way of therapy was to have a more personal relationship with the patient to help the patient reach a state of realization that they can help themselves. He did this by pushing the patient towards growth, great stress on the immediate situation rather than the past. This way the person is able to use the therapy as a way to reach a better sense of self, rather than living in an irrational world.

Rogers’s theory had come to be categorized as the phenomenal field – the space of perceptions that makes up our experience. The individual constructs this inner world of experience, and the construction reflects not only the outer world of reality but the inner world of personal needs, goals, and beliefs. Inner psychological needs shape the subjective experiences that we interpret as objectively real. The key structural concept for Rogers was the self – the organization of perceptions and experiences associated with the “self”, “me,” or “I.” Also important is the concept of the ideal self, or the self concept the person would most like to possess. Although the self changes, it always retains this patterned, integrated, organized quality. Since the organized quality endures over time and characterized the individual, the self is a personality structure.

Person-centered therapy is the application of the person-centered approach to the therapy situation. Other applications include a theory of personality, interpersonal relations, education, nursing, cross-cultural relations and other “helping” professions and situations. The application to education has a large robust research tradition similar to that of therapy. Rogers described the approach to education in Client-Centered Therapy and wrote Freedom to Learn devoted exclusively to the subject in 1969. Freedom to Learn was revised two times. The new Learner-Centered Model is similar in many regards to this classical person-centered approach to education. The application to cross-cultural relations has involved workshops in highly stressful situations and global locations including conflicts and challenges in South Africa, Central America, and Ireland. This work resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Rogers.

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