On Becoming a Person: the Therapist View of Psychotherapy, is widely viewed as the seminal work of Carl Rogers. He wrote it at the height of his career, thus having brought to maturity his therapeutic approach.
Rogers states his objective in therapy as follows:
I have stated that in a favorable psychological climate a process of becoming takes place; that here the individual drops one after another of the defensive masks with which he has faced life; that he experiences fully the hidden aspects of himself; that he discovers in these experiences the stranger who has been living behind these masks, the stranger who is himself.[i]
It is essential to understand that virtually every aspect of this quote is referring to emotions. When Rogers talks about dropping defensive masks, he is referring to fears that he assumes people have of discovering their genuine emotions, which causes them to an employ various defense mechanisms to hide those feelings from themselves. He views the goal of therapy to be the unmasking of those feelings, which leads to wholeness of the personality. This results in a person functioning effectively because those feelings comprise the self-actualizing tendency, the ultimate guide to human growth and success.
Rogers’ evolutionary orientation leads him to the position that just as the sprout from an acorn finds its way through the crack in the concrete and thrives, growing into a mighty oak, so human beings possess that same innate guidance system. Like the guidance system of the acorn, the human guidance system is not comprised of the intellect assessing and guiding and the volition implementing, but rather the self-actualizing tendency flows out of our emotional makeup.
Consequently, if the individual can arrive at emotional wholeness, integration, being in touch with all of his feelings, then the self-actualizing tendency will be intact and effective in enabling the individual to grow and succeed.
How does a person achieves this emotional wholeness? Rogers believed that the key resided in the individual experiencing a therapeutic environment that he describes as follows:
Throughout the discussion which follows, I shall assume that the client experiences himself as being fully received. By this I mean that whatever his feelings—fear, despair, insecurity, anger, whatever his mode of expression— silence, gestures, tears, or words; whatever he finds himself being in this moment, he senses that he is psychologically received, just as he is, by the therapist. There is implied in this term the concept of being understood, empathically, and the concept of acceptance. It is also well to point out that it is the client’s experience of this condition which makes it optimal, not merely the fact of its existence in the therapist.[ii]
Consider Rogers’ emphasis on the significance of not only producing an environment characterized by unconditional acceptance but also assuring that the client feels the acceptance that is being extended to him.
In working with clients, often they met together for 50 or 80 hours of therapy, extending over approximately that many weeks. Therefore, this person has experienced this environment of being absolute acceptance, being received unconditionally, across sufficient time to shape his personality.
This approach is diametrically opposite to that found in Scripture. One of the earliest counseling sessions in history is recorded in Genesis 4:6-7 in which God counsels Cain regarding his anger because the offering of his brother, Abel, was accepted and his was not. God did not establish an environment in which Cain felt accepted regardless of his emotions. To the contrary God asked, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” God begins by asserting that Cain had no right to his negative feelings and goes on to point out that his problem is his own fault, and that if he corrects his behavior you will receive the same favor as his brother. This conveys that a biblical perspective does not put the emotions but the mind in charge, dealing with emotions objectively, rationally, and morally. Failure to do so allows emotions to dictate the course of one’s life, which produces profound chaos and disaster.
If Rogers’ theory were confined to the therapist’s office, the damage it inflicts would still be significant, but our culture has applied it to our population in general, breeding widespread psychological disease and behavioral catastrophe.
In the next post I plan to provide a glimpse of an outcome of this approach that Rogers himself describes in this book.