Carl Rogers Biography and His Psychology Contributions


Psychology is one of the oldest disciplines that has a multidimensional approaches. It is worth noting that early psychologists shaped the way modern people approach psychology. American psychologists are one of the most influential psychologists in history. They are commonly known for their humanistic method of approaching psychology, contrary to the conventional psychoanalytic and medical approach to psychology. Humanistic approach to psychology is principally based on the personality of the individual, which is believed to have an inward tendency to develop positively unless it has been adversely affected by real life experiences (Carducci, 2009).

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One of the most renowned American psychologists is Carl Rogers. This paper provides a biography of Carl Rogers and his contributions into the field of psychology. In addition, the essay will also provide an overview of the critical evaluation of Carl Rogers’s theories of personalities by professionals in the field of psychology. The paper will conclude by a personal response to the theory of Carl Rogers.

Biography of Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers was born on January 8, 1902. Rogers was raised in a strict religious setting and an ethical environment that saw him become an altar boy. Because of this isolation, Rogers grew to be an independent and disciplined individual, and most importantly, he acquired knowledge regarding the application of the scientific method in the real world. His starting career was agriculture, after which he changed to history and then focused on religion. Rogers began to cast doubts on his religions and finally decided to change his career choice into education and psychology (Farber, 1998).

During the completion of his doctoral studies, Rogers focused on studying children behavior. The hallmark of his child studies was marked by his first publication The Clinical Treatment of Problem Child during 1939 (Carducci, 2009). It was then that Rogers postulated his client-centered method to psychology. The client-centered approach was based on the psychological practices that were based on Freudian approaches to psychotherapy. In his second publication, Counseling and Psychotherapy, Rogers proposed that the client played a significant role in solving their psychological problems through creating a relationship with his or her therapist (Thorne, 1992).

During 1945, while still a psychology professor at Chicago State University, Rogers established a therapy center in order to test the effectiveness of client-centered therapy. His psychological findings were documented in the Client-Centered Therapy and Psychotherapy and Personality Change during 1951 and 1954 respectively (Farber, 1998). His later publications included On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers on Personal Power and Freedom to Learn for the 80’s, which were published during 1961, 1977 and 1983 respectively (Kramer, 1995).

Until his death in 1987, Rogers was considered one of the most prominent American Psychologists who existed during the 20th century, ranked next to the renowned clinician, Sigmund Freud. Apart from that, Carl Rogers was one of the first psychologists who proposed a humanistic approach to psychology and psychotherapy research. Prior to his death, Rogers focused on the application of his theories towards the resolution of national social conflicts (Kramer, 1995).

An overview and relevance of Carl Rogers’s theories to the field of psychology

The most significant contributions of Rogers to the field of psychology were his theories of personal development and the client-centered approach to therapy. His theories focused on the understanding the self and were regarded as being humanistic. Rogers’s theory of personality development is a clinical approach to psychology that was based on his first hand ordeals with his psychotherapy clients. His clinical therapy approach draws a lot of similarity with Freudian psychotherapy approaches and the works of Otto Rank (Kramer, 1995).

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The client-centered approach to therapy was an extension of his theory of personality development; this was because the administration of psychotherapy services focused much on the client for effectiveness rather than the therapist techniques. According to Carl Rogers’s theory of personality development, each individual being has an inward ability to personally grow and develop himself. This plays a significant role in determining the self-esteem and self-actualization of an individual. Carl Rogers was of the view that this personal development can only be realized by what he refers to as the unrestricted positive regard (Engler, 2008).

With regard to this, Carl Rogers argued that it is important for the therapist to reveal an acceptance attitude towards the client so that the client can practice complete self-actualization. Rogers recommended that this could be effectively realized using an approach that he termed as reflection, which entailed the therapist persistently reaffirming the views of the patient with the motive of showing acceptance to the patient and to provide an opportunity through which the patient can express the negative feelings concerning the therapeutic process. It is important to let the client know that he is communicating using his responses during a therapeutic session. The client-centered approach to therapy was aimed at eliminating dependence on the counselor in situations outside the counseling office, and this is what Rogers deemed as an important aspect of positive development (Engler, 2008).

This therapeutic approach lays emphasis on the patient directing most of the therapy session, with the therapist making only small interrupts with the objective of identify significant factors. During the time he was administering therapeutic services, Rogers changed the way he referred to his patients and began calling them clients, due to the fact they did not require any medical attention that the medically ill patients required. The view of those in need of psychotherapy being called clients was widely integrated into psychology and it is still used in the present time. With a focus on the client, Rogers’s theory of client-centered approach was subsequently adopted into various disciplines beyond the field of psychotherapy such as education, provision of marriage relationship counseling, maintaining parent-child relationships and the development of expert values. In each of the application branches, Rogers’s theory of personal development was based on the following principles (Carducci, 2009):

  1. The client makes the first initiative to seek assistance. This is the most significant step in provision of therapy to a person. This means that the person has taken the first initiative regardless of the fact that that he may not recognize this.
  2. It is important to define the prime reason why the client is seeking help. The client is informed that that therapist cannot have the solutions to his problems, but with a collaborative effort, the client has the potential to create his own solutions to his troubles.
  3. The therapist should encourage and offer a suitable environment for open expression feelings towards the client’s troubles. In a psychotherapeutic, it is important that the counselor should maintain a receptive attitude towards the client to foster open expression of feelings towards the troubles at hand.
  4. The counselor should accept and provide a clarification on the negative feelings. Whatever the case that the negative feelings entail, the counselor has to deploy appropriate strategies that are aimed at making the client realize the negative feelings and their possible causes.
  5. In order to counter the negative feelings f the client, the counselor has to issue positive expressions in order to foster growth.
  6. It is important that the counselor have to accept the positive feelings towards the problem in the same capacity that he accepted the negative feelings.
  7. There is an in depth understanding of ones self attributes, and the client must have the ability to accept the integration of the possible solutions into his life. This is a breakthrough because it provides room for new levels in the psychotherapy process.
  8. The above outlines are usually followed by a positive action, implying that the need of assistance by the client has been reduced by some degree.

It is important to note that during the development of an individual’s personality, Rogers perceived unconditional positive regard as a significant element in fostering the process. Individuals who grow in environment that are deemed of conditional positive regard can only feel valuable if they are at par with the conditions that have already been set up by other individuals for them. Rogers refers to these conditions as conditions of worth (Kramer, 1995). The concept of the self plays a significant role in determining optimal development, which is a gradual process rather than a change in terms of static states. According to Rogers, the following characteristics are imperative for a therapist to have (Farber, 1998):

  1. Congruence is the ability of the therapist should be able to maintain an open and an honest relationship with the client.
  2. Empathy is the ability of the therapist to put oneself in the client’s situation before the issuance of therapeutic procedures.
  3. Respect involves the acceptance of the client and practicing the unconditional positive regard to the problem of the client.

Rogers regards these qualities as necessary and sufficient to foster positive improvements in the client regardless of the lack of any other techniques in the administration of psychotherapy (Kramer, 1995). In cases where the therapist fails to practice the above qualities, the patient is less likely to improve positively, regardless of the use of special techniques such as psychoanalysis. Research has also confirmed that these qualities are essential in maintaining a therapy relationship; the use of special techniques plays a little or no significant role in positive development of the client (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2007).

Research on therapy

Carl Rogers was in dire need to prove his theories with empirical evidence; he attempted to describe his approach to therapy in a process outlined below.

The psychotherapeutic process according to Rogers’ theory was divided into specific occurrences that were bound to happen during the process. The coding detailed the behaviors of both the client and the therapist. Rogers then came up with scales that could be used to determine the effectiveness of a therapist. The outcomes of the therapeutic process would then be evaluated depending on the attributes that define self-actualization in an individual: openness, acceptance of the self and trust in the experience. In order to evaluate how clients described themselves, Rogers used the Q-sort technique (Kramer, 1995). The humanistic approach to therapy by Carl Rogers laid more emphasis on the experiences of the client, and that it was imperative for the therapist to establish a set of specific goals for the client (Kramer, 1995).

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The most significant contribution of Carl Rogers’ theories was in the discipline of psychology. In the beginning, he termed his therapeutic methodology as non-directive, since it entailed minimal involvement of the therapist in the process. Currently, psychologists refer to client-centered approach as the Rogerian therapy (Kramer, 1995). Empirical evidence concerning the effectiveness of Carl Rogers’ methodologies to therapy is found in his footage of his counseling sessions.

The initial evidence that depicted how Carl Rogers’ methodology to therapy was successful was documented by Elias Porter of the University of the Ohio State during 1941 (Engler, 2008). The transcripts were based on recorded sessions between the Carl Rogers and his clients and Porter used them to determine the extent to which the counselor engaged in issuing directives. Porter reported that Carl Rogers significantly relied on the client to make his own decision (Thorne, 1992).

Prior to the Client-centered therapy during 1951, Carl Rogers was of the belief that his theory was already being applied in other disciplines beyond psychotherapy. As a result, he renamed it to a person-centered theory, in order to emphasize the diverse applications of his theory. On a similar account, Carl Rogers made significant contributions in education through student-centered learning, stating that the effectiveness of a learning process depended on the student’s commitment (Thorne, 1992).

Critical reception of Carl Rogers’s theories by industry professionals

Rogers theories were rejected the traditional psychoanalytic and medical approaches to psychotherapy and put much emphasis on personality as an effective way of realizing psychological approach. As a result of this, it was subject to criticism. Psychologists who tend to disagree with Rogers’ theory of personal development and a personal centered approach, they cast doubts whether an effective psychotherapist requires creating a relationship with the client based on unconditional positive regard in the case of individuals who might be extremely dangerous and violent. The psychologists who use psychoanalysis and medical approaches to therapy fail to understand how parents might apply Carl Rogers’s ideas in influencing the behavior of their children, which in some cases may turn out to be difficult to tolerate (Kramer, 1995).

Critics to Rogers’s theory are of the view that that his approaches to psychology only functions effectively within a limited number of individuals, who mainly constitute of people suffering from mild neurosis. Despite doubting its effectiveness, they cast doubts on the potential harm of this approach to administration of therapy. The significant problems associated with the Rogers’s theories are primarily related to the vagueness and its deficiency in clarity in handing some cases. An instance is a case whereby clients are not at will to talk about themselves and their personal experiences.

Professional psychologists are of the view that its rejection at psychoanalysis and medical therapy casts doubts in its effectiveness in handling clients who have problem that is somewhat related to mental illness. They also state that the theory does not clearly outline the stages of personal development that an individual undergoes in cases of therapy administration (Engler, 2008). With regard to Rogers’ theory, some human conditions are not totally warrant the application of person-centered therapy. An instance is psychopath individuals who have no bad feelings towards their bad actions. In such a case, inherent personal development is not evident.

Despite the criticisms, Rogers’ theory had been influential in the administration of therapy during the 20th century. The person-centered approach to therapy has not proved harmful in any way; this resulted into its becoming adherent and an influential approach to psychology. Generally, a limited number of professional psychologists embrace Carl Rogers’ person centered approach to therapy. However, it still plays an influential role in the therapeutic procedures because its approach to therapy is considered as more general approach than a specific therapeutic approach (Thorne, 1992).

A personal response to the theory

From my point of view, the person-centered approach is only effective in some cases; it is widely evident that the theory of personal development and client-centered approach cannot be applied in cases that do not warrant the establishment of a relationship between the therapist and the client. Psychoanalysis is an important strategy during therapy administration yet the person-centered approach does not put it into consideration. The person-centered approach is no better than the psychoanalytic and medical approach to therapy.

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Its significant flaw is that it does not put into consideration the negative side of the human personality and the social forces that play a significant role in influencing human personality to do good or bad. Psychology should be multi-dimensional in order to address therapy related issues effectively. From my perspective, the theory is only effective during the first phases of administering therapy since it facilitates the creation of an emotional attachment between the therapist and the client and motivates the client to initiate a personal in initiative towards positive change.


Carducci, B. J. (2009). The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Engler, B. (2008). Personality Theories: An Introduction. New York: Cengage Learning.

Farber, B. A. (1998). The psychotherapy of Carl Rogers: cases and commentary. London: Guilford Press.

Hergenhahn, B. R., & Olson, M. H. (2007). An Introduction to Theories of Personality (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Kramer, R. (1995). The Birth of Client-Centered Therapy : Carl Rogers, Otto Rank, and ‘The Beyond’. Journal of Humanistic Psychology , 34 (10), 54-110.

Thorne, B. (1992). Carl Rogers – Key Figures in Counselling and Psychotherapy series. London: Sage Publications.

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