Carl Rogers Theories in Counselling – 1000 words



Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987) was born in Illinois, Chicago and studied at the University of Wisconsin as an agricultural major. After moving on to study theology, he then took a full professorship at Ohio State University in 1940. It was after setting up a counselling centre back at Chicago University that he wrote his book Client Centred Therapy in 1951. He then went on to write On Becoming a Person (1961). He relied on his extensive academic background and his accomplished experience as a therapist to formulate his theories outlined in these books. His theories are well thought out and logically sound.


The humanistic approach sees each individual as very much in charge of their own destiny. People have an inbuilt tendency to realise their full potential by resolving any problems which face the person.  This is an active way of approaching life rather than just sitting back and being submissive. This approach differs from others such as the psychoanalytical or behavioural in that it put the emphasis for resolving problems on the shoulders of the individual rather than encouraging reliance on the counsellor. The name for this process is person centred therapy. Each person always has the resources present within himself to resolve conflict. It should be noted that this is a very positive and optimistic way of looking at therapy.


The theory is built around the concept of the actualizing tendency. He sees the individual as having an innate desire and determinism to provide self-motivation to stretch himself to the ultimate. Rogers says that everyone has this tendency and if a person fails to make the most of his life it is not the lack of desire. This tendency is crucial in counselling because it is stating that each client has the potential to make the best possible outcome – it may just be a case of helping the client to find this inner potential. It may be that the potential for self-actualisation is held deep within the person and calls for that person to dig deep within their emotions. Rogers believed, however, that it was important to concentrate on the present to achieve this. Psychoanalytical and behavioural theories concentrate on past events. Rogers argued that the problems encountered by the client are in the here and now so it was unproductive to look at the past.


Rogers saw a direct link between the process of self-actualisation and the surrounding culture and society. A person can develop his own individual concept of self but it is then consequently affected by the social interaction with other individual, other beliefs and expectations. Rogers theory concentrated on the ‘I’ and ‘me’ of a person but there has to be a direct influence on ones perception of self biased by those around us. This happens from early childhood. Every child looks for positive feedback from peers and adults when doing something. People with a negative self-concept usually have experience of a lack of positive feedback while they have been developing. Despite what might seem a negative situation, Rogers states that the positive element is always present. This is termed the real or organismic self. It is just a case of trying to bring about the correct situation to real this self. Sometimes it takes a crisis situation for this to come about.


Rogers states that conditions of worth are important to this theory. Often we are subjects of conditional positive regard. Any positive feedback of well being is dictated by an action thought to be good or positive according to society.  This can lead to conditional positive self – regard whereby we only think we are doing well if we perceive ourselves to be looking good to others. We need to be doing well for ourselves’ own inner standards.


There are three core conditions in Roger’s theory. He states that the counsellor should show empathy with the client and strive to an awareness of what the client is actually feeling. There also need to be unconditional positive regard. The counsellor should never be judgemental at any time of the client. It is also important for the counsellor to be himself and to be genuine while with the client.


I believe this method is a highly successful in a wide variety of situations. The success is dependent, however, on a good rapport between counsellor and client. This is where the issues of empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard come in. They are all important to encouraging the individual to reach self-actualisation. There are a number of skills which will facilitate this outcome –

“active listening, responding to clients through reflections of feeling and content, paraphrasing and summarising, asking open questions and responding appropriately to silence and client non-verbal communication “ (Hough page 125).


It is now considered that client-centred counselling is the most prominent type carried out in the United Kingdom and the USA. It has a vast spectrum of applications in different sections of the general community. The method is used in human resources, educational and institutional settings where it is important for individuals to learn to have  a positive outlook towards other people and to encourage interpersonal skills. I would propose that bereavement counselling and marital concerns would benefit from this approach as it would allow the individual to concentrate on his self-worth and self-esteem. On the other hand, there are situations where alternative methods may be more appropriate or indeed are needed within an eclectic approach. Whereas the humanistic theory concentrates on the present there are situations where there is  unresolved conflict in a person’s past – I would suggest the psychoanalytical approach here. Where there are phobias, depression or anxiety issues, I would suggest the behavioural approach using learning theories such as systematic desensitisation. I would see the humanistic approach as being used as a part of this eclectic form of treatment.


In conclusion, Carl Rogers’ contribution to the field of counselling is immense and intensely influential.






HOUGH, M (1998) Counselling Skills and Theory (2nd edition), Hodder Education, London


CARDWELL, CLARK & MELDRUM (2000) Psychology for A level (2nd edition), Collins, London