Client-centered Approach (Carl Ransom Rogers)
The Fully Functioning Person
Optimal development, as referred to in proposition 14 (see below the ninteen propositions),
results in a certain process rather than static state. He describes this as the good life where the
organism continually aims to fulfil their full potential. He listed characteristics of a fully
functioning person (Rogers 1961):
A growing openness to experience – they move away from defensiveness and have no need
for subception (a perceptual defense that involves unconsciously applying strategies to
prevent a troubling stimulus from entering consciousness).
An increasingly existential lifestyle – living each moment fully – not distorting the moment to
fit personality or self concept but allowing personality and self concept to emanate from the
experience. This results in excitement, daring, adaptability, tolerance, spontaneity, and a lack
of rigidity and suggests a foundation of trust. "To open one's spirit to what is going on now,
and discover in that present process whatever structure it appears to have"(Rogers 1961)
Increasing organismic trust – they trust their own judgment and their ability to choose
behaviour that is appropriate for each moment. They do not rely on existing codes and social
norms but trust that as they are open to experiences they will be able to trust their own sense
of right and wrong.
Freedom of choice – not being shackled by the restrictions that influence an incongruent
individual, they are able to make a wider range of choices more freely. They believe that they
play a role in determining their own behaviour and so feel responsible for their own behaviour.
Creativity – it follows that 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. Even aggressive
needs will be matched and balanced by intrinsic goodness in congruent individuals.
A rich full life – he describes the life of the fully functioning individual as rich, full and
exciting and suggests that they experience joy and pain, love and heartbreak, fear and courage
more intensely. Rogers' description of the good life:
The aspect of one's being that is founded in the actualizing tendency, follows organismic
valuing, needs and receives positive regard and self-regard, Rogers calls the "real self". It is
the "you" that, if all goes well, you will become. On the other hand, to the extent that our
society is out of sync with the actualizing tendency, and we are forced to live with conditions
of worth that are out of step with organismic valuing, and receive only conditional positive
regard and self-regard, we develop instead an "ideal self". By ideal, Rogers is suggesting
something not real, something that is always out of our reach, the standard we cannot meet.
This gap between the real self and the ideal self, the "I am" and the "I should" is called
Rogers describes the concepts of congruence and incongruence as important ideas in his
theory. In proposition #6 he refers to the actualising tendency. The drive to become what one
can be, to realise one's potential. At the same time he recognises the need for positive regard.
In a fully congruent person realising their potential is not at the expense of experiencing
positive regard. They are able to lead lives that are authentic and genuine. Incongruent
individuals, in their pursuit of positive regard, live lives that include falseness and do not
realise their potential. Conditions put on them by those around them make it necessary for
them to forego their genuine, authentic lives to meet with the approval of others. They live
lives that are not true to themselves, to who they are on the inside.
He suggests that the incongruent individual who is always on the defensive and cannot be
open to all experiences is not functioning ideally and may even be malfunctioning. They work
hard at maintaining/protecting their self concept. Because their lives are not authentic this is a
difficult task and they are under constant threat. They deploy defense mechanisms to achieve
this. He describes two mechanisms: distortion and denial. Distortion occurs when the
individual perceives a threat to their self concept. They distort the perception until it fits their
self concept. Denial follows the same process except instead of distorting they deny the threat
This defensive behavior reduces the consciousness of the threat but not the threat itself. And
so, as the threats mount, the work of protecting the self concept becomes more difficult and
the individual more defensive and rigid in their self structure. If the incongruence is
immoderate this process may lead the individual to a state that would typically be described
as neurotic (although Rogers himself preferred to avoid labels)(Hjelle & Jiegler 1981). Their
functioning becomes precarious and psychologically vulnerable. If the situation worsens it is
possible that the defenses cease to function altogether and the individual becomes aware of
the incongruence of their situation. Their personality becomes disorganised and bizarre,
irrational behaviour, associated with earlier denied aspects of self, may erupt uncontrollably.
Rogers originally developed his theory to be the foundation for a system of therapy. He
initially called this "non-directive therapy" but later replaced the term "non-directive" with the
term "client-centred" and then later used the term "person-centred".
The theory of Carl Rogers is considered to be humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology
is a school of psychology that emerged in the 1950s in reaction to both behaviorism and
psychoanalysis and phenomenological Phenomenology (psychology).
In psychology, phenomenology is used to refer to subjective experiences or their study. The
experiencing subject can be considered to be the person or self. His theory is based directly on
the "phenomenal field" personality theory of Combs and Snygg (1949). Rogers' elaboration of
his own theory is extensive. He wrote 16 books and many more journal articles describing it.
His theory (as of 1951) was based on nineteen propositions:
1. All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience
(phenomenal field) of which they are the centre.
2. The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual
field is "reality" for the individual.
3. The organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field.
4. A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self.
5. As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of
evaluational interaction with others, the structure of the self is formed - an organised,
fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and
relationships of the "I" or the "me", together with values attached to these concepts.
6. The organism has one basic tendency and striving - to actualize, maintain and
enhance the experiencing organism.
7. The best vantage point for understanding behaviour is from the internal frame of
reference of the individual.
8. Behavior is basically the goal directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as
experienced, in the field as perceived.
9. Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behaviour, the
kind of emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behaviour for the
maintenance and enhancement of the organism.
10. Values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values
introjected or taken over from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had
been experienced directly.
11. As experiences occur in the life of the individual, they are either, a) symbolized,
perceived and organized into some relation to the self, b) ignored because there is no
perceived relationship to the self structure, c) denied symbolization or given distorted
symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.
12. Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are
consistent with the concept of self.
13. In some instances, behaviour may be brought about by organic experiences and needs
which have not been symbolized. Such behaviour may be inconsistent with the
structure of the self but in such instances the behaviour is not "owned" by the
14. Psychological adjustment exists when the concept of the self is such that all the
sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or may be, assimilated on a
symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of self.
15. Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies awareness of
significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized
and organized into the gestalt of the self structure. When this situation exists, there is
a basic or potential psychological tension.
16. Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self
may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more
rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself.
17. Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the self
structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined,
and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.
18. When the individual perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated system
all his sensory and visceral experiences, then he is necessarily more understanding of
others and is more accepting of others as separate individuals.
19. As the individual perceives and accepts into his self structure more of his organic
experiences, he finds that he is replacing his present value system - based extensively
on introjections which have been distortedly symbolized - with a continuing
organismic valuing process.
Additionally, Rogers is known for practicing "unconditional positive regard," which is
defined as accepting a person "without negative judgment of [a person's] basic worth."
With regard to development, he described principles rather than stages. The main issue is the
development of a self concept and the progress from an undifferentiated self to being fully
In the development of the self concept he saw conditional and unconditional positive regard
as key. Those raised in an environment of unconditional positive regard have the opportunity
to fully actualize themselves. Those raised in an environment of conditional positive regard
only feel worthy if they match conditions (what Rogers describes as conditions of worth) that
have been laid down by others.
Carl Ransom Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) was an influential American
psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology.
Rogers is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy research and
was honored for his pioneering research with the Award for Distinguished Scientific
Contributions by the American Psychological Association in 1956.
The Person-centered approach, his own unique approach to understanding personality and
human relationships, found wide application in various domains such as psychotherapy and
counseling (Client-centered therapy), education (Student-centered learning), organizations,
and other group settings.
For his professional work he was bestowed the Award for Distinguished Professional
Contributions to Psychology by the APA in 1972. Towards the end of his life Carl Rogers
was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with national intergroup conflict in
South Africa and Northern Ireland.
In an empirical study by Haggbloom et al. (2002) using six criteria such as citations and
recognition, Rogers was found to be the sixth most eminent psychologist of the 20th Century
and among clinicians, second only to Sigmund Freud.