I am on a life-long path as a Skilled Helper (Egan) with some training in Integrative Psychotherapy. I am currently striving to integrate Carl Rogers’ ideas and practices into my existing knowledge framework whilst attempting to see previously identified phenomena through new eyes. My aim is to use this knowledge to influence my practice as co-creator of therapeutic relationships. My principal aims in this essay are to define some of the basic ideas of Rogers, to then describe how this links and informs his notions of a joint therapeutic endeavour through his Core Conditions.
Rogers’ entire theory is built on a single premise: that we are born with a fundamental motivating drive to become the best person we possibly can be. This “Actualizing Tendency” is a single force of life that moves us constantly towards psychological fulfilment. As Abraham Maslow said, “What a man can be, he must be.” Which includes acceptance of self and others, accurate perception of reality, close relationships, personal autonomy, goal directedness, naturalness, a need for privacy, orientation toward growth, sense of unity with nature, sense of brotherhood with all people, democratic character, sense of justice, sense of humour, creativity, and personal integrity. For example one of my clients ‘James’ lived an enviable lifestyle he had a good marriage, twin daughters, a lovely house in Kent and a prestigious job in advertising and yet somehow all of these things left him emotionally empty. He was therefore left deeply depressed and came into counselling because he knew he could live a more fulfilling and happy life.
Rogers developed a set of ideas about how our characters and personality are formed. The extent to which we can see ourselves he termed Self-Concept. It is “the person’s conceptual construction of himself (however poorly expressed)” (p 10 Mearns and Thorne 2010). The extent to which a client is able to see himself would also be dependant upon how upsetting such self-knowledge(s) would be to them. This contrasts with the Psychoanalytic ideas about self-knowledge where the basic biological drives of the Id are always suppressed by higher forms of the self.
As we grow we form understandings of ourselves through events and relationships in our lives for example:
James had grown up in a family with a distant but authoritative father who barked orders from his study. His mother would fuss about and placate him, and the two sons would follow her lead. Presenting his excellent school reports was James’ only respite to this regime, but as much as he tried he was never as good as his brother.
Rogers would say that James had internalised understandings about himself through the incidental and active interactions around him. We all use responses in our environment to form a sense of “How we actually are” and “How the world actually is”. In early life a person will create very good and adaptive mechanisms for coping in their environment. They then form the blueprint for our behaviours and relationships in daily life. When these mechanisms are formed in dysfunctional circumstances, these notions of The Self and of The World are misplaced and out of step with our adult lives. This is what had happened for James:
“I was always invisible at home” said James (an advertising artist trying for a promotion) “It was just safer that way - to stay out of everyone’s way, to keep my head down. I just got on with school and got good marks ... Now no matter how hard I try I just get passed over [for team leader] each time. My work gets into print often enough, but it’s as though I can’t do anything that gets noticed. It’s like I put on a Harry Potter cloak and can’t take it off”
A person’s “sense of worth, both in their own eyes and in those of...