Tuesday, April 12

Carl Rogers - Humanistic psychologist

The influential psychologist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Carl Rogers is probably best known for his humanistic theory of how people can 'self-actualise' and become a complete, fulfilled human being given the right choices and conditions.  This should in turn lead to better mental health and creativity.

Rogers believed that the human mind can only grow 
healthily in good conditions, rather like a plan
Like a plant sprouting from seed, any human has great potential, Rogers believed - but a potential that may never be achieved.  Fulfilling potential depends greatly on whether out minds experience healthy conditions.  But we also, uniquely among life forms, have the power to make choices about our destiny.

So what should we be striving towards?  In his book 'On Becoming a Person', he lists the characteristics of a 'fully functioning person', which include:
  • A growing openness to experience – they move away from defensiveness and other strategies to prevent troubling things from entering consciousness.
  • An increasingly existential lifestyle – living each moment fully.  This results in excitement, daring, adaptability, tolerance.
  • Increased trust in their own judgment and their ability to choose behaviour that is appropriate for each moment - relying less on social norms.
  • Freedom of choice, being able to make a wider range of choices more fluently.  They believe that they play a role in determining their own behaviour and so feel responsible for their own behaviour.
  • Creativity – they will feel more free to be creative. They will also be more creative in the way they adapt to their own circumstances without feeling a need to conform.
  • Reliability and constructiveness – they can be trusted to act constructively. An individual who is open to all their needs will be able to maintain a balance between them.

Rogers states that the process of growing as a person is not for the faint-hearted: "It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities.  It involves the courage to be.  It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life."

His influence is enormous in the world of psychotherapy, but he is not particularly well-known in the wider world (compared to Freud, who is considered to have a similar level of influence on Psychology.  Apart from generally improving as a person, what does Rogers have to say to writers and artists?    Here are three picks:

  • A warning to creative writing tutors: "The very essence of the creative is its novelty, and hence we have no standard by which to judge it."
  • Something which links in to my earlier post about perception: "In a person who is open to experience each stimulus is freely relayed through the nervous system, without being distorted by any process of defensiveness."
  • And one that will make a lot of sense to developing writers: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."

Rogers, C. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable.

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