Anyone who practices therapy or has an interest in it will have probably been influenced by Carl Rogers. He developed person-centered therapy and was one of the key founders of humanistic psychology. His knowledge and influence is still present today in many therapeutic approaches and his books are still widely read. He is certainly one of my influences because he makes sense. His theories are practicable by everyone and he speaks to all of us equally.
Rogers did a lot of work on self actualization and development. He agreed with the main assumptions of Alfred Maslow ( that some human needs were more powerful than others. He divided those needs into five general categories, from most urgent to most advanced: physiological, safety, belonging/love, esteem, and self-actualization) but added that to achieve human needs, one also needs an environment that fosters such growth. Rogers believed that, we as humans have a natural tendency to want to self-actualize, to meet our own needs and goals. Rogers believed that everyone could self-actualize if the conditions were correct.
Rogers wrote that people are inherently good and creative. They become destructive only when a poor self-concept or external constraints override the valuing process. He believed that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence. This means that self-actualization occurs when a person’s ideal self (i.e., who they would like to be) is congruent with their actual behavior (self image). Rogers describes an individual who is actualizing as a fully functioning person. The main determinant of whether we will become self-actualized is childhood experience.
The “ideal self” or “fully functioning person” described by Rogers has been widely criticized as unrealistic and a product of western culture. Critics note that in “eastern cultures”, the needs of the group or community take precedence. However, when one observes the elements of the “fully functioning person”, we can all learn something about how we can improve our lives. Rogers himself, described the process as mostly unattainable and didn’t see it as a journey, rather a concept that is constantly evolving and changing. It is how we “perceive” the change that counts. What he did recognize though was that a key element of this concept was the ability to be in touch with feelings and to stay in the “here and now”. The five key elements of the “ideal self” as described by Rogers are:
- Open to experience and lesson learning. Acceptance of both positive and negative experiences and a curiosity to learn from both. Negative feelings are best worked through and not denied or subdued using defense mechanisms.
- Living Existentially. Being open to new experiences without prejudging or preconceptions. Being present in the moment without the influence of past experience or future fear.
- Trust feelings. Any feeling had should be trusted and listened to. Decisions made with confidence in own ability.
- Creativity. Creative thinking and risk taking are features of a fulfilled life. Experiences are sought out without fear but with the idea that consequences could occur and they would need to be dealt with.
- Fulfillment. A person is satisfied with his/her life as it stands and is open to further experiences.
Rogers firmly believed that a person who might reach the “ideal self” described above are well balanced, interesting to know, are empathetic, compassionate to self and others and open to new experiences and risk-taking.