Psychotherapy of Carl Rogers

How It Seems To Me

By Will Stillwell

How It Seems To ME

In this project, I’d like to look at several instances of Roger’s work as a clinical psychotherapist. These are three therapeutic interviews with individual volunteer clients; demonstrations Rogers made in the early to mid-1980’s. Each takes place in front of a learning audience. At the conclusion of each interview, Rogers invites himself, and the client, and members of the audience to comment on “how it seemed” to each of us.

He solicits the thoughts, opinions, questions and feelings of us all. That we participate in sharing our hunches and perceptions seems more important to Rogers on these occasions than initiating a teaching of his own plausible explanations. This is a typical Carl Rogers’ approach: he is asking us to learn by first committing ourselves to an experience, thinking and feeling our responses, opening ourselves to allow our own experiences to change our understandings. Here in an instructional film made thirty years earlier he shares his feelings about a client’s work, then invites us, “See what you think.”

Vital to the kind of therapy he undertook, Rogers understood his practice — and more importantly himself — as living out a philosophy of attitudinal trust.

As he often did, he expresses his concepts personally. I like that Rogers catches himself from seeming to sell his philosophy to us, because in that, I see Rogers living the science he teaches; a science attempting to discern the inherent order of intra- and interpersonal phenomena. His philosophical statements show in his personal example one of the two prominent aspects of all persons that Rogers’ psychology is concerned to integrate.

The philosophy expressed is part of Rogers’ own “self-concept,” his generalized abstracted belief or metaphysical faith in how he can operate, who he is. All of us seem to construct for ourselves any number of ideas and concepts that universalize or summarize who we are as a person and how we can be. When Rogers contrasts the trust he holds in this articulated concept with an even deeper conviction of his, we can see the second aspect of his person, the “experiencing-self.” In this second aspect, Rogers suggests we live by approaching our lives — including other people — through our own awareness of our ongoing sensory experiencing. A healthy person for Rogers is consistently testing the evidence of her true experiencing with her rather more consonant ideas or beliefs of who she is; and trusting the living, organismic, qualities of satisfaction to modify or evolve her ideas. How does that seem to you?

Many people are attracted to Rogers and his ideas by the warmth, personal involvement, and hopes he expresses in his extensive writings. He comes forth; his words can seem a revelation, a freedom, an ideal. Above all, he says, a therapist strives to be “what he is and what he feels.”

And some ask, “Does he walk his talk? I hear this not so much as a question about Rogers’ potential hypocrisy, but as the important question internal to the questioner:

  • “Shall I follow? Can I follow?” Does Rogers really become “himself?”
  • Is he “being” person-centered? Might I walk this kind of talk? Each of us wonders.
  • “How does it seem to me?” In this project I’m going to take up his offer in the form of a question:
  • “Who is Carl Rogers here?”

In these specific interviews with these particular clients Rogers never tells of his life, never explicitly mentions any theory that may inform his actions, never lays out a favored outcome for a client. How do I experience him as he carries on, “walks” his therapy? Is his own “talk” (about who and what he is) really a sufficient or best reflection or expression of his “walk?”

I can not ignore concepts and carefully-thought language through which Rogers and many of his students express themselves: the core conditions and attitudes of the therapist, the “actualizing” tendency, correct understanding of meaning, the necessary and sufficient conditions for therapy. Rogers was a self-aware person. What he says about himself in relation to others is an excellent guide to the person he is. In addition to his own intentional self-concepts, who he is can fruitfully include experiences of other participants such as you and me. In my attempt to understand I will contextualize Rogers – use words that place him in (perhaps new) categories. This way to understanding a person through labeling his categories of thought or membership is a process that Rogers himself steadfastly avoided in his therapy. And I shall not insist that my understandings agree with his, or yours.

I knew and was fond of Carl Rogers. I am familiar with his work and his ideas. What I’m doing here is my active involvement carrying forward some of Rogers’ thought, activity, and spirit in life. If, as he claims for all of us, I am influentially formed through my significant meetings with other people, then this essay as well continues his companionship in my formation. Through these four interviews and their “how it seems” commentaries from people like you and me, my hope is to experience afresh and learn refreshed. It’s about us, Rogers and me-the-person-I-am. This is how it seems to me.

Carl Rogers is an original and accomplished psychotherapist. He invents, initiates and sustains a face-to-face interaction in conjunction with a client. Here is his singular artistry, grown from his native talent. To me it seems to suit well who he was as I knew him. Long before he rigorously tested his hypotheses, in the early 1940’s, Rogers’ hunch was that the client-therapist relationship is key, “relationship itself is a growth experience”. Sensitive to qualities of relationship – his tact – enables him to avoid some usual cultural practices of social relating, and often surprising and therapeutically effective action occurs. I hope to witness his unique presence, learn from it, and be present.