We have been considering some of the perspectives advanced by Carl Rogers. In his book, On Becoming a Person, he addresses the concern expressed by some that his approach to therapy might unleash evil in the individual.
An even more common reaction to the path of life I have been describing is that to be what one truly is would mean to be bad, evil, uncontrolled, destructive. It would mean to unleash some kind of a monster on the world. This is a view which is very well known to me, since I meet it in almost every client. “If I dare to let the feelings flow which are dammed up within me, if by some chance I should live in those feelings, then this would be catastrophe.” This is the attitude, spoken or unspoken, of nearly every client as he moves into the experiencing of the unknown aspects of himself. But the whole course of his experience in therapy contradicts these fears. He finds that gradually he can be his anger, when anger is his real reaction, but that such accepted or transparent anger is not destructive. He finds that he can be his fear, but that knowingly to be his fear does not dissolve him. He finds that he can be self-pitying, and it is not “bad.” He can feel and be his sexual feelings, or his “lazy” feelings, or his hostile feelings, and the roof of the world does not fall in. The reason seems to be that the more he is able to permit these feelings to flow and to be in him, the more they take their appropriate place in a total harmony of his feelings. He discovers that he has other feelings with which these mingle and find a balance. He feels loving and tender and considerate and cooperative, as well as hostile or lustful or angry. He feels interest and zest and curiosity, as well as laziness or apathy. He feels courageous and venturesome, as well as fearful. His feelings, when he lives closely and acceptingly with their complexity, operate in a constructive harmony rather than sweeping him into some uncontrollably evil path.[i]
In this book Rogers tends to describe the result of his therapy in ideal terms such as these. He views his clients as ideal even in their imperfections in that these show them to be real human beings, who have not arrived but are in the process of becoming, who convey flawed feelings, but not to the extent of being evil.
In fact he asserts this to be the case regarding the person who pities himself. “He finds that he can be self-pitying, and it is not ‘bad.’” His list of innocent character flaws also includes anger, fear, sexual feelings (the contexts seeming to refer to illicit ones), and laziness.
One wonders whose assessment Rogers is depicting in this quote. Is this the evaluation of the client or of the therapist? In either case one suspects that these evaluations are not accurate. I base this conclusion on the outcome of the major experiment Rogers did with the Immaculate Heart of Mary school system in California. This school system was comprised of 60 schools including a college. The order at the outset of the project consisted of 560 nuns. William Coulson, a colleague of Rogers for many years, was project coordinator.
Coulson reports that within a year, 300 of the 560 nuns “were petitioning Rome to get out of their vows.” One major negative result resided in a number of the nuns falling prey to sexual promiscuity. The ultimate result of Rogers’ project was the closing of all but one of the schools, including the college. Of the 560 nuns, Coulson estimates that there may be only a couple of dozen remaining. Coulson recalls: “(W)e called off the study after two years, because we were alarmed about the results. We thought we could make the IHM better than they were; and we destroyed them.”[ii]
It appears that those concerned about Rogers unleashing evil were on the right track. It is interesting how liberals can be so confident regarding their theories even in the face of realities to the contrary.