In a poll of psychotherapists, Carl Rogers emerged as possibly the most influential thinker on psychotherapy after Freud. His client centred approach stresses the importance of relationship between therapist and client, a factor which many studies suggest is more important than the school of therapy a therapist is aligned to.
Rogers is a humane and engaging writer. There is a good selection of his writings in On Becoming a Person, in which he outlines his approach. This is largely non-interventionist and trusting of a client's ability to become him/herself. However, readers wanting a taster of his views, or a good short summary of his approach could not do better than the introductory essay by Rogers himself in this volume, together with the short biography by the editors. There are also helpful short biographical introductions to the people who Rogers is in dialogue with here with such as Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, BF Skinner, Michael Polanyi and Gregory Bateson.
Being the son of a clergyman who later became agnostic, Rogers range interests included philosophy and religious matters. His philosophical leanings were humanistic and existential, and this comes through in his dialogues with Tillich and Buber. They find plenty of common ground in terms of philosophical outlook, though Rogers observes that one of the problems contemporary religion faces is that many of the traditional symbols are no longer doing their work. This also makes for an interesting contrast with the brush Rogers has in correspondence with more conservative theologians recorded later in the book. He finds these people inflexible though, with typical modesty, states that his experience is different to theirs,
Of equal importance are the writings connected with psychology. Probably the most interesting of these is his dialogue with the Behaviourist, BF Skinner. The dialogue is conducted in a friendly manner. The editors report that both men engaged well with the audience. Rogers is perhaps more conciliatory, suggesting that his and Skinner's approach are looking at human nature from opposite ends of a spectrum, though they both also note considerable differences. Supporters will argue about who won. But as the debate between the therapeutic and behavioural/cognitive schools of psychology continues to this day, I think we can most safely say neither did. What is said remains of interest in this debate.
There is also some interesting correspondence between Rogers and his friend, and colleague, in the Humanistic Psychology movement, Rollo May. Here May challenges Rogers about how much a therapist is responsible to society, and the limits of how much positive regard a therapist can give to a client, if the client is behaving antisocially. It's probably a matter to which there is no final, fixed answer. Yet Rogers also shows his openness, acknowledging therapists do have responsibilities beyond those to the client's individual needs.
The book is well presented, and very readable. There is much here for both the general and the specialist reader interested in the wider implications of some of Rogers ideas.