Carl Rogers Dialogues (Psychology/self-help) Paperback – 23 Apr 1990
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A book of dialogues by Carl Rogers
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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.
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To wit: The key to successful therapy is a proper therapeutic climate. And the key to a proper therapeutic climate is establishing certain attitudes within the therapist that can then be communicated to and perceived by the patient as facilitating the success of the therapy. These attitudes must reflect the therapist's belief in the worth and dignity of the patient as well as the therapist's willingness to provide a safe environment in which the client's problems may be confidently and confidentially addressed.
Thus, as Rogers lays it out here, the therapist's attitudes must lead directly to three logically intertwined conditions: first they must be genuine; second they must reflect unconditional positive regard for and complete acceptance of the patient; and finally, they must reflect a sensitive and accurate empathetic understanding of the patient's problems. Taking these one at a time: An attitude of genuineness simply requires the therapist to be himself (rather than deny himself in a false attempt to "woo" the patient). An attitude of complete acceptance, on the other hand, requires that the therapist convey to the client that he prizes him in a total -- if not always in a conditional way. And most difficult of all, the therapist must cultivate an attitude of empathy based on an accurate understanding of the patient's inner problems, and then be able to communicate this back to the patient in language that enables the patient to begin to "own" his own feeling and emotions.
The importance of these attitudes and the logic and order underlying the client-centered process, suggests "a theory of personality change:" the key aspects of which are: (1) the cathartic release of personal feelings in the interview; (2) developing insight into the origins and nature of the client's difficulties; (3) using such insight to re-educate the patient's emotions, so that alone he can then begin making positive choices about his feelings and experiences.
It is these aspects of the client-centered process that suggest the following theory of personality change: A neurotic individual is one whose self-concept has become out of phase with his true inner feelings and thus out of phase with his real world experiences. His self-concept contains false elements not based on the reality of what he is experiencing. The sharp discrepancy between his "real world experiences" and his "conceptualized self" -- this, discrepancy or cognitive dissonance -- is the source of his anxiety. In the safe environment of therapy, with understanding enabled by the therapist, it becomes possible for the client to begin to experience that which he has not been willing to admit into his self-concept. He then can begin to move away from a state in which feelings are unrecognized, unowned, and unexpressed, to a process where feelings are experienced in the moment -- knowingly and acceptingly -- and may then be accurately expressed. Once experienced in an accepting climate, his "real" or "true" feelings gradually can then be incorporated into his self-picture, and he can thereby achieve more unity and integration between the person he is inside and the person he perceives himself as being.
In short, the client-centered process changes the manner of the patient's experiencing from "false" to "honest." Instead of being remote from his own experiencing (such as by intellectualizing, dealing in abstractions, lying, fantasizing, and other mind tricks) -- leaving one quite ignorant of what is actually going on within himself, he begins to move towards an immediacy of experiencing in which he learns to live openly within his own feelings, and knows that he can turn to his own experiencing to discover its current meanings. This loosens the grip the old "false self-constructs" have upon him and then begins to undermine their foundation.
The second part of the book are the dialogues between Rogers, Martin Buber, BF Skinner, Gregory Bateson, Paul Tillich, Michael Polyani, Rollo May, and others.However briefly, I will try to touch on as many of them as I can before running out of time and space.
The first dialogue on the difference between the therapist's "I and You;" and Buber's and God's) "I and thou," left me cold and puzzled. The question left unanswered for me was this: To the extent they differed at all, what was the "real" value of this difference (if any) to the patient/congregant? I simply did not see a clear answer to that question.
In the second dialogue, the differences drawn between Roger's and Skinner's ideas about the control of man however was a much more spirited discussion and also much more to the point.
Roger's viewed the very project of the post-modern man, as one of him defining himself through his "freedom," rather than through "how he is being controlled." In fact by seeing post-modern man as being defined best through his "freedom to be," Rogers is siding with the familiar existentialist, phenomenological, subjectivist dilemma. It is the recognition that we are born naked in a world without props, and must carve out our own meaning and existence within our own minds from whatever debris that remains -- as we go about the business of exercising the courage to be.
This more than anything else is surely at the center of the post-modern man's "self-construction project." Rogers main point here is that man is freest (least controlled) when he is courageous enough to go about the task of "stepping off into the darkness of becoming ..." To his way of thinking, freedom, rightly understood, is a fulfillment by the person of the ordered sequence of his life: "The free man believes that destiny stands in need of him." But this freedom is first and foremost an "inner thing," a "subjective" "phenomenological thing" one that exists within the living person quite aside from controls exercised from the outside. In short, when all else is gone, the last human freedom is that of being able to choose one's own attitude, or one's own way in any given set of circumstances. But it takes courage to make this choice and courage (or lack thereof) is the cost for "choosing to be" (or to not be).
As they moved through the clinical process from confusion to self-acceptance and self-reliance, to self-assurance; and from acceptance of the realities both inside and outside himself as he struggled to become a responsible agent in this world, Rogers wanted his clients to understand that man is not a static end-product, but an emerging process.
And more to the point of his debate with Dr. Skinner, Rogers believed that the phenomenological world is as real as the world of science and cannot wisely be disregarded. He believes that one of the great contributions of the 20th century was the realization that man's moods, attitudes, choices, actions, adaptations and maladaptations, just like the variables used by the behavioralists, can be understood in the same lawful way as events in the physical world can be understood.
In fact Rogers believed that it was precisely this that led to the possibility for Dr. Skinner to suggest that we are able to control human behavior in the first place. But importantly, Rogers also believed that behavioralism led us down a dark road in which man makes an "object" of himself, and thus becomes little more than a complex product of chains of equations and statistics. Yet, the person who develops his potential, is very definitely acting subjectively rather than as an object: When he is angry, it is not just a case of his adrenal gland "acting up" again. Rogers argues that the Behavioralist's point of view leads us to minimize the subjective in favor of the objective, and thus to a disregard of the person in favor of "things," and this is taking us down the wrong path. This was the gauntlet thrown down to Skinner in the middle of this debate.
Skinner, on the other hand, claims that his ideas have been misunderstood. The "control" he is most concerned about is not the subtle unseen kind, that Rogers alludes to, but the "in your face kind," like culture itself, like advertisements, or punitive aspects of social-psychology, even coercive client-centered therapy, and most especially the emerging ability for thoughts to be intercepted, biology to be re-arranged, etc., and the coming ability to change man from a unitary sentient being to a computerized cyborg?
But besides this, control does not have to be total, invisible or evil in order to rob the individual of his ability to continue his quest for freedom through the self-construction project Rogers alludes to. Positive controls have no less an insidious impact on man's freedoms. However, the case against "positive controls" dissolves because they contribute to the well-meaning of mankind as well as to Rogers' individual self-construction projects?
Skinner's main point is that "focussing-in" only on negative controls ignores the fact that most of what enables man to be creative and fulfilled in the world are the "positive controls" on him that go unacknowledged?
In this narrow sense, the concerns of the two intellectual giants are more similar than different. They both seemed to agree that man is freest when he is least controlled by (negative) outside forces. The real difference is that Rogers recognizes and accepts that the center of man's existence is his subjectivity, while Skinner does not believe in the scientific utility of man's subjectivity. But more than that, Skinner believes that genetics and environment play a more dominant role in shaping man's behavior (and thus controlling his freedoms) than Mr. Rogers is willing to acknowledge. Five Stars
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