Rogerian Counseling

Several radically different approaches to therapy can be identified in the profession of counseling and clinical psychology. In the early 1980s, Smith (1982) reported that the two most influential figures in counseling and clinical psychology were Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis. Years later, these two approaches are still influential. They also provide a good way to contrast different styles of counseling, because in some ways they are completely opposites. Rogers, often called "the father of counseling psychology, practiced non-directive or person-centered therapy. In Rogerian therapy, the client determined his or her own direction of change. Ellis, by contrast, offered a prescriptive therapy—one which gave definite, sometimes sharply worded, advice. We will consider the approach of Rogers first, then Ellis.

How were the approaches of Rogers and Ellis "complete opposites"?

How did the label he put on his clients reflect Rogers's attitudes?

Carl Rogers lived from 1902 to 1987. He was particularly influential after World War II and was president of the American Psychological Association twice in the late 1940s. Psychologists were hungering for an alternative to the traditional psychoanalytic views, and Rogers provided a very different perspective.


          Carl Rogers

Rogers never called the people who came to him "patients" because that word implies an involuntary relationship, like a person who must go to a hospital. For most of his career, Rogers preferred the term client. A client is a person who seeks out a helping relationship voluntarily. Toward the end of his life, Rogers opted for an even less restrictive term. People who came for help were persons and the therapy, previously called client-centered therapy, became known as person-centered therapy.

A counseling psychologist sees people who have problems of living rather than brain diseases or developmental disorders such as those discussed in Chapter 12 (Abnormal Psychology). The phrase "problems of living" covers a lot, however. Here is how Rogers put it in a 1954 lecture.

What sort of problems does a counseling psychologist treat?

In my work at the Counseling Center of the University of Chicago, I have the opportunity of working with people who represent a wide variety of personal problems. There is the student concerned about failing in college, the housewife disturbed about her marriage...the parent who is distressed by his child's behavior, the popular girl who finds herself accountably overtaken by sharp spells of black depression, the woman who fears that life and love are passing her by, and that her good graduate record is a poor recompense...I could go on and on... (p.107)

In the end (Rogers believed) everybody has the same problem, in a sense—the problem of finding the right path, of acting according to one's better inner nature. (pp. 107-198)

In what sense is everybody suffering from the same problem, according to Rogers?

I have however come to believe that in spite of his bewildering horizontal multiplicity, and the layer upon layer of vertical complexity, there is perhaps only one problem.... Below the level of the problem situation about which the individual is complaining—behind the trouble with studies, or wife, or employer, or with his own uncontrollable and bizarre behavior, or with his frightening feelings, lies one central search. It seems to me that at bottom each person is asking, Who am I, really ? How can I get in touch with this real self, underlying all my surface behavior? How can I become myself?"


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