Introduction to Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers was a prominent psychologist and one of the founding members of the humanist movement (Figure 2). Humanistic psychology emphasized the active role of the individual in shaping his/her internal and external world. Rogers advanced the field by stressing that the human person is an active, creative, experiencing being who lives in the present and subjectively responds to current perceptions, relationships, and encounters. He coined the term ‘actualizing tendency’ which refers to a person’s basic instinct to succeed at his/her highest possible capacity. Through person-centered counseling and scientific therapy research, Rogers formed his theory of personality development, which highlighted free will and the great reservoir of human potential for goodness.
Rogers based his personality development propositions on humanistic (person-centered) psychology and phenomenal field (subjective experience) theory. He believed that everyone exists in a constantly changing world of experience in which he/she is the center. A person reacts to changes in his/her phenomenal field in a holistic fashion (Figure 1). All behavior is motivated by self-actualizing tendencies, which drives a person to achieve at his/her highest level. As a result of these interactions with the environment and others, an individual forms a structure of the self—an organized, fluid, conceptual pattern of concepts and values related to the self.
In the development of the self-concept, Rogers elevated the importance of positive regard or feedback. People raised in an environment of unconditional positive regard, in which no preconceived conditions of worth are present, had the opportunity to fully actualize. People raised in an environment of conditional positive regard, in which certain conditions of worth are laid out by others, must match or achieve those conditions to fully actualize. The extent to which a person is forced to develop outside of true actualizing tendency determines personality incongruence—the gap between the real self and the ideal self. Incongruity grows or diminishes based on the conditionality level of positive regard and self-regard, leading to either disorganized and bizarre or organized and functional personalities.
The Good Life
Rogers described life in terms of principles rather than stages of development. These principles existed in fluid processes rather than static states. He claimed that a fully functioning person would continually aim to fulfill his/her potential at each of these processes, achieving what he called the good life. These people would allow personality and self-concept to emanate from experience. He found that fully functioning individuals had several traits or tendencies in common:
- Growing openness to experiences and a lack of defensiveness toward anything new.
- Increasingly existential lifestyle in which each moment is appreciated and lived to its fullest.
- Preponderance for organismic trust of their own judgments and choices.
- Greater freedom of choice and a lack of personal restrictions or rules.
- Higher levels of creativity and adaptability without necessarily conforming.
- Extreme reliability and constructiveness in their dealings with others.
- Tendency toward rich, full lives with exciting and intense experiences.