Carl Rogers and His Theory of Personality

1 January 2017

Mainly covering topics such as his philosophy of theory, his theory of personality, how we acquire dysfunction and how we treat dysfunction. Carl Rogers’ approach has often been called the ‘Third Force’ in psychology (Casemore, 2011). The development of his theory stemmed from Rogers’ own experience of being a client, and his experience of working as a therapist. This gave rise to the views he developed about Behaviourism and the Psychoanalytical approach to therapy.

These approaches are viewed as the other two forces in psychology; the first force to psychology being Freud and his psychoanalysis and the second being the Behaviourists such as Pavlov, Skinner and Watson. Rogers strongly challenged these two views of human nature as he believed that Behaviourists seemed to take the view that all human beings are organisms that only react to stimuli and that they develop habits learned from experience. Behavioural theorists also maintain that humans are helpless and are not responsible for their own behaviour (Casemore, 2011).

Rogers also thought that Freud and his psychoanalytical approach had shortcomings due to the belief that human beings are never free from primitive passions orienting in their childhood fixations and that they are solely the product of powerful biological drives. The psychoanalysts emphasised a ‘dark side of human nature’ (Casemore, 2011:5) to which humans seemed to have no control over. Both of these theories have commonalities in that they are deterministic in nature and do not believe that humans have free will (Thorne, 2003).

Rogers disagreed with these two theories and developed his own theory which is non-deterministic and views humans as has having free will. This approach is called the person centred approach. The person centred approach was developed from three philosophical beliefs, phenomenology, existentialism and humanism. Phenomenology refers to the way in which individual’s perceive and interpret their own individual events (Merry, 2002). It is not the actual event which causes people to behave in a certain ways it is the way in which people uniquely perceive themselves that determine their responses (Casemore, 2011).

This concept in person centred theory is called the internal frame of reference; this is also a main theory of humanism. Rogers had said that only individuals themselves can really know what is going on it their own subjective world (Dryden and Mytton, (1999). A main existentialist concept is that every person has the right to make their own choices based on experiences, beliefs and biases, and that these choices are unique to us. Existentialists believe that there are no guidelines for most decisions and that there are no rules to which we have to live by (Casemore, 2011).

The underlying concepts of existentialism are that humankind has free will, life is a series of choices creating stress, few decisions are without negative consequences and that some things are irrational with no explanation as to why (Merry, 2002). Humanistic philosophy is based on the concept that people are rational beings who possess within themselves the capacity of truth and goodness. Humanist approaches also emphasises the dignity and worth of each individual and that individual growth is based on the person striving to create, achieve or become (Casemore, 2011).

The need for self- actualisation is a concept in humanist theories and is regarded as a fundamental human drive. Self-actualisation is a key concept in the work of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs model. The hierarchy of need model identifies five basic human needs. The first of these is the physiological need, those basic needs for continuing life, for example, water, oxygen, bodily elimination, avoidance of pain and sexual expression. The second is safety and security, the third is love and belonging, the forth is self-esteem and the fifth is to self-actualise (Hough, 2010).

In developing his person centred approach Rogers was highly influenced by Maslow and the concept of Self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is a person’s basic desire is to be all that they are capable of becoming. The actualising tendency is the term which Rogers used to describe this human urge to grow, to develop and to reach maximum potential (Kirshenbaum, 1989). In the words of Dryden and Mytton (1999:67), ‘Plants have an innate tendency to grow from a seed towards their full potential, flowering and bearing fruit’. Rogers believed that the same is true for all human beings.

He believed that the actualising tendency is a positive, formative, instinctual and developmental tendency inherent in all human beings, and other organisms, from birth onwards. An infant knows what good and bad experiences are, they embrace positive experiences and avoid experiences in which are bad for them. Rogers also believed that the actualising tendency in humans can be supressed and twisted by our experiences, although if given the right conditions and the right opportunities the infant will stride towards autonomy and self-direction (Rogers, 1961).

The actualising tendency, despite every kind of opposition or hindrance, will insure that individuals will continuously try to grow towards their maximum potential (Mearns and Thorne, 2007). Individuals who are blessed with a loving and supporting environment throughout their childhood will receive the necessary reinforcement to guarantee the nourishment of their actualising tendency. If this ideal environment were present, the individuals organismic valuing process would be in good order, this would be enable them to ‘move through life with a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment’ (Mearns and Thorne, 2007:12).

The individual would be on their way to becoming a fully functioning, or a fully actualised person. The development of the self and the self-concept plays a big part in Rogers’ actualising tendency. Rogers states that as the infant develops, they begin to recognize a portion of their private world as ‘I’ ‘Me’ ‘Myself’. These elements that the infant controls from their experiences are part of the self. If they don’t control these experiences they become less part of the self (Simanowitz, 2003), the ‘self’ is said to be the ‘real inner life of a person’ the organismic self (Dryden and Mytton, 1999:71).

As children develop, a self-concept emerges that is often different from the ‘real’ organismic inner self. The self-concept is the individual’s personal construction of themselves, which has developed in response to significant others (Simanowitz, 2003). As parents, carers and teachers praise or blame, show warmth or repress and criticize, the child begins to believe these evaluative messages and they start to accept them as an integral part of themselves (Dryden and Mytton, 2007). The organismic valuing process is a concept which is of great importance to Rogers’ person centred theory, and as well as the actualisation tendency it s on-going throughout an individual’s life. It is a biologically driven valuing process to which each of us have to assess our own experiences of which are enhancing or/and maintaining our organismic needs. For example it is a biological human drive to crave food when hungry and water when thirsty, when we feel theses sensations we are motivated to feel and satisfy the sensations by seeking food and water (Gillon, 2007). As the individual grows older they value their experiences as to whether they are going to pleasure or provide for them (Merry, 2002).

If the individual is getting positive outcomes such as maintenance or enhancement from their experiences, they are going to view them positively. If the individual feels as though their development is being threatened then they will view this experience as being negative (Merry, 2002). With regards to the organismic valuing tendency and weighing up positive or negative experiences Dryden and Mytton (2007:69) had the following to say: In order to satisfy the actualising tendency (the drive to grow physically and psychologically), we need to know what is of value to that growth.

Person centred theory calls this ability to weigh up and value experiences positively or negatively, the organismic valuing process. The individuals own organismic valuing process becomes distorted when they start to value expressions of positive regard towards them from somebody significant in their lives. Infants will begin to believe that they are only accepted as long as they feel, think and behave in ways which are positively valued by significant others (Merry, 2002). Rogers had said this need was ‘persuasive and persistent’ (Rogers, 1959:223).

The individual is in conflict as their own actualising tendency prompts them to be open to all experiencing, but their need to retain positive regard from others makes them absorb values which conflict the actualising tendency into their ‘self-concept’. This process happens without the individual being aware of it (Merry, 2002). Infants begin to evaluate these negative experiences from others accordingly, and because they need to retain positive regard they acquire conditions of worth (Gillon, 2007). Children may sometimes only receive positive regard from significant people, notably their parents when they meet certain conditions.

For example, a child may feel that he is loved when he’s told that he is being a ‘good boy’ but not when he has misbehaved. This creates conditions of worth, where the child feels that he becomes worthy of love only when his actions are consistent with what is expected of him (Merry, 2002). If an individual only receives unconditional positive regard they would develop no conditions of worth. Their need for positive regard from others and their need for positive self-regard would not ‘come into conflict’ (Merry, 2002).

Tony Merry in his book ‘learning and being in person centred counselling’, states that this situation is only ‘hypothetically possible, and never occurs in reality’ (2002:27). Humans will always acquire conditions of worth in their lives at some stage, whether it is because they want to feel good about themselves, want to be loved, or are seeking approval for something (Thorne, 2003). If hypothetically the individual should not develop any conditions of worth the self-concept would not distort or reject any of the experiences that the individual has had, they would be their ‘authentic self’ (Merry, 2002).

They would then be on their way to becoming a fully functioning person, the ‘real’ unconditioned self. Rogers described a fully functioning person as someone who is open to experiences which in the past have been too threatening. They also trust in their own organism because they can deal with the consequences of their decisions, and if the wrong decision is made they are able to correct it. They also express feelings freely, act independently, are creative and live a richer life, these concepts are described as ‘the good life’ (Rogers, 1961:184).

Rogers had said that the fully functioning process is on-going and does not indicate an end point of an individual’s development (Merry, 2002). As it is only a hypothetical theory that a child could develop no conditions of worth, a question could be asked about, what happens when the imposition of conditions of worth does happen? Merry (2002) described this as the child not being their true or organismic self, but instead being a ‘false’ or ‘conditioned’ self. As said in a previous paragraph the child is conditioned to feel and behave the way in which they think others want them to behave, this can then lead to an introjection of values.

An introjection of values can occur when the values and beliefs of an over powering significant other bear nothing in comparison to that of an individual’s organismic self (Thorne, 2003). It is a constant struggle for the individual to gain positive regard from their significant other, due to the apposed values, and due to a total lack of self-regard the organismic roots in which the individual started life with become further away. The introjections lead to conditions of worth which make it almost impossible for them find their authentic self (Merry, 2002).

Rogers had said that if an individual has lost touch with their actualising tendency because they have been with little positive regard or high conditions they will have a weak or external ‘locus of evaluation’ (Simanowitz, 2003). People with a weak or external frame of reference will not have faith in their opinions or decisions, individuals will no longer trust their inherent conditions of worth. They will also have a low esteem and will find it hard to make their own decisions (Thorne, 2003).

Due to a continuous and persistent need for positive regard an incongruity emerges over a period of time between the self which is conditioned and the authentic organismic self (Thorne, 2003). This incongruity makes the individual vulnerable, which in time will lead to them feeling anxious and confused as they are uncertain as to whether certain experiences are incongruent with their self- concept. If the individual feels their self- concept is under threat defence mechanisms of denial or distortion will take place. An individual’s defence mechanisms will protect them from the anxiety and confusion that they feel.

They will deny their learnt conditions of worth into their awareness and only let in experiences that are ‘consistent with their self-concept’ (Merry, 2002:28), they will confront experiences that do not make sense in terms of their self-concept. This process of internalising conditions of worth by using defence mechanisms can result in what Rogers (1951:248) terms a ‘state of disorganisation’ within the self. The above paragraphs have focused on how individuals acquire dysfunction through not receiving unconditional positive regard.

Subsequent sections will focus on how Rogers viewed how these dysfunctions should be treated. In 1957 Rogers accepted an appointment at the University of Wisconsin and published a paper called ‘The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change’. In this paper he proposed that there were six necessary and sufficient conditions which need to be present in order for his clients to experience a positive psychological change (Gillon, 2007). These conditions are (Rogers, 1957:96): 1. Two persons are in psychological contact. 2.

The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious. 3. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent or integrated in the relationship. 4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client. 5. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference and endeavours to communicate this experience to the client. 6. The communication to the client of the therapist’s empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved.

Rogers stated that as long as these six conditions exist in the relationship throughout a period of time then the process of ‘constructive personality change will follow’ (Rogers, 1957:96). It was during his time as Wisconsin that Rogers had his chance to lead a project and see if his hypothesis about the necessary and sufficient conditions of personality change would work (Thorne, 2003). The clients in whom he would help during this project were mainly suffering from schizophrenia, and the results from the project were not very satisfactory.

Rogers had described this as ‘without doubt the most painful and anguished experience of my whole professional life’ (1972:62). After the disappointment of the Wisconsin project Rogers realised that one of the major limitation of the study was that in order for there to be a constructive personality change the client must be able to perceive the therapists’ attitudes; these attitudes would not have been perceived by a schizophrenic client due to the very nature of the mental health condition.

If the necessary and sufficient conditions exist in the therapeutic relationship then the client will be on their way to dissolving there conditions of worth, which will lead them towards being a fully functioning person. The psychological environment is also important for there to be personality change. If the psychological environment is right then then clients will ‘discover for themselves, the resources they need for change and growth’ (Merry, 2002:56). Rogers believes that the therapist should be non-judgemental, accepting and empathetic, these attitudes must be firmly rooted and not just adopted.

If these three conditions are apparent in the relationship then the client will experience unconditional positive regard (UPR). The client has their conditions of worth because they had not experienced UPR from their significant other. If they receive UPR from the therapist then this will be a ‘corrective experience’, this will in time help the client develop an increase in positive self-regard (Merry, 2002). If UPR is present the client will feel they can be truthful and feel safe when exploring sensitive issues. Empathy is also a fundamental therapeutic condition in the treatment of dysfunction.

Empathy has been described as ‘a fearless exploration of another’s inner world’ (Tolan, 2003:18). In order to be empathetic and to see the world from the clients ‘frame of reference’, the therapist should adopt the frame of reference of the client. They should experience their client’s inner world by experiencing the client’s events from their frame of reference; they can sense how the client is feeling about the events in which they talk about (Mearns and Thorne, 2007). The therapist should do this without getting lost in their clients world; this is called maintaining the ‘as if’ factor.

Empathy is important as it shows that the therapist fully understands what the client is experiencing. Congruence is another important aspect to the clients personality change. Congruence can also be described as genuineness (Tolan, 2003). Rogers believed that all therapists should possess the qualities of sincerity, authenticity and honesty. The counsellor has to be themselves in the relationship by not putting on any pretences or facades. The therapist should be a ‘whole’ person; they must be self-aware and comfortable with their own experiences.

Without congruence it would not be possible to form attitudes of openness and honesty in relation to the clients. Rogers said that it is important for the therapist to not convey false images because then the client will not have any miss conceptions of the therapist being superior and having the answers (Mearns and Thorne, 2007). This essay has discussed how Rogers derived his theory from three philosophical beliefs. These are Phenomenology, Existentialism and Humanism. Rogers was highly influence by Maslow and his concept of self- actualisation, a person’s basic desire to be all that they are capable of becoming.

From this Rogers developed his theory of the actualising tendency, which is that all humans strive to reach maximum potential. The self and the self-concept are two important aspects of Rogers’ theory, the self being the real authentic self. The self-concept develops throughout a child’s life; it is their own personal construction of themselves which develops in response to significant others. The organismic process is also important to Rogers’s theory. It is a biologically driven valuing process in which we weigh up experiences positively or negatively depending on whether the experiences enhance or maintain us.

This can be distorted by significant other due to our need for positive regard which in turn can lead to conditions of worth. Rogers believed that if hypothetically no conditions of worth were present then the individual would be on their way to being a fully functioning person. If the individual does have conditions of worth it can lead to an introjection of values, a low locus of evaluation and they will become vulnerable. The vulnerability will make the individual feel anxious or confused and they will develop defence mechanisms such as denial or distortion.

It can be said that if the individual has the above conditions that this will lead to dysfunction. Rogers said that in order for dysfunction to be treated there must be six necessary and sufficient conditions involved in the therapeutic relationship. He said that in order for there to be personality change the counsellor must be congruent, empathetic and that the client must receive unconditional positive regard. If all of the above are conditions exist in the relationship then the clients conditions of worth can start dissolve and in time the client will be on their way to becoming a fully functioning person.

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