A co-founder of humanistic psychology movement and the creator of Person Centred Therapy. He set in motion the idea of the individual and that you can be self-actualized person being dynamic who was influenced by a leading psycho-analyst of the day Otto Rank. But what do we know about this man and why has his work become influential in the creation of Positive Psychology? Let’s take a look at Carl Ranson Rogers 1902 – 1987 (Hergenhahn 2009).
He was born on January 8th 1902 and is the son of civil engineer and his mother a house wife. He grew up in an evangelical Christian home which was strict with little room for socializing. He was isolated most of the time and so developed an independent spirit becoming self-disciplined. He started his academic career by studying agriculture at University of Wisconsin-Madison and then after this he enrolled in Theological Seminary College. He later became an atheist and moved onto Teachers College at Colombia University to do an MA followed by PhD (Hergenhahn 2009).
During the PhD he began working with children and in 1930 became the director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Rochester, New York. According to Schultz and Schultz (2008) he was strongly influenced by Otto Rank a prolific psychoanalyst who Freud had cast out from the inner circle meetings at the psychanalytic society, following Rank’s publication ‘The trauma of birth’. In the book Rank proposed a pre-oedipal stage which was scandalous at the time and so Carl Rogers fascinated by Rank did invite him to New York to provide a series of lectures on post-Freudian models of experiential and relational therapy. These lectures transformed Rogers and throughout his career he always credited Rank with having shaped Client Centered Therapy as we know it today. In fact it was Rogers who coined the phrase ‘self-actualization’ in the 1920’s which then was taken and used by Maslow in the late 1950’s (Schultz and Schultz 2008).
Rogers believed that the Study of Psychology is to focus on the study of the whole person. To look at behavior not only through eyes of observer, but through eyes of the person, study the meanings, understandings, and experiences involved in growing, teaching, and learning. He also believed people should have an understanding of how they are influenced by their self-perceptions and the personal meanings attached to their experiences and that people should gain knowledge and insight into their internal needs that shapes behavior (George and Cristiani 1995).
Rogers filled a gap in the market as people were not satisfied with the notion of the unconscious anymore as proposed by Freud or how a rat could move around a maze as way to understand human nature but they wanted to know about the meaning of life. This existential drive to find the meaning of life becomes central to Rogerian therapy as they proceed to finding themselves and try to answer the question Who am I? Rogers believed that the therapist had to provide the right conditions ‘unconditional positive regard’ and facilitate the learning about themselves (Rogers 1961)
The critics of Rogers point toward the studies conducted with friends and that friends will agree to most things. And so the objectivity is in question but he is without a doubt a major figure in psychology history as his work lends itself and has indeed influenced Positive Psychology (Seligman 2006).
George, R.L., & Cristiani, S. (1995). Counseling, theory and practice. Boston: Allyn and Bacon Publishers.
Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009) An introduction to the history of psychology (6th Edn). Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Cengage Learning
Schultz, D.P., Schultz, S.E. (2008). A history of modern psychology (9th Edn). Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Cengage Learning
Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. London: Constable.
Seligman, L. (2006). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy: Systems, strategies, and skills.(2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Ltd