The French existentialism movement during the early and mid twentieth century influenced many areas outside of the philosophical world. Among those affected was uprising humanistic psychology. Carl Rogers played a principal role in this new concentration. Rogers’s psychological contributions consisted mainly of his practice of client-centered therapy and his idea of the self and self-actualization. Both of these theories have strong existentialist connections. Rollo Mays the Origins and Significance of the Existential Movement in Psychology also presents interesting relationships between Rogers and prominent existentialists. Rogers, while not an existentialist philosopher, incorporated existentialist themes and ideas into his contributions to the humanistic psychology movement.
Table of Contents
Introduction Page 4
Existential Movement Page 7
To understand Carl Rogers’s ideas, it is important to first briefly examine his life history. Rogers was born in 1902 in Chicago. His family life was that of a strict, religious household that held the family unit to the utmost importance. Rogers made few friends growing up and in college did not stray much from his religious foundations. Originally planning on a life as a minister, Rogers did not turn to psychological studies until he started working with abused children at the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Here Rogers formed the basis for many of his ideas regarding client-centered therapy and the self (www.psychology.jrank.org, Retrieved 11/27/2008). Rogers would continue studying these ideas throughout his career. In examining Rogers place in existentialist history, it is interesting to note how Rogers himself viewed it. Rogers considered himself an existentialist by nature. A book titled “Carl Rogers the Man and His Ideas” details an interview with the author, Richard Evans (1975) and during the interview Rogers comments on a lecture that he once gave, titled: How to be an Existentialist without really trying (p. 69). He believed that instead of trying to think like an existentialist, he discovered many main existentialistic ideas through his research with patients and their quest for self-actualization. In respect to American versus European existentialism, Rogers felt that he related more to the positivism of the American movement, but still connected with Europeans like Soren Kierkegard and Martin Buber (Evans, p. 69).
Rogers’s ideas on existentialism are obvious in the work that he did and the contributions he made to the humanistic psychology movement. As one of the forerunners in this movement, Rogers contributed many ideas and theories. One of the most influential was client-centered therapy, which is actually one of the oldest forms of humanistic therapies. In client-centered therapy the therapist listens to the client (the word client is used in place of patient) in order to gain an exact and perceptive understanding of the client’s experiences. From this understanding, the therapist helps turn the attention of the client on to the experience of the moment. One of the main themes in existentialism is the concept of a moment as many existentialists experience moments where they are acutely self-aware. William James Varieties on Religious Experience, a collection of detailed accounts of religious moments, shows how the existentialist experiences painfully enlightened moments and often is at a loss for how to cope with the insight that remains after the...