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Rogers' Therapeutic Relationship - Its Development, Influence and Effectiveness

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Rogers' Therapeutic Relationship - its Development, Influence and Effectiveness.

Carl Rogers was a founder of humanistic psychology whose contributions to psychology and psychotherapy continue to resonate throughout the field, according to contemporary literature (see for example Kirschenbaum & Jourdan, 2005; Myers & White, 2010). His theory and practice shifted the paradigm of therapist-led psychotherapy toward a client-centered practice, focussed on the client's self-knowledge and enabling them to gravitate toward healing their own problems (Rogers & Russell, 2002).

Rogers was an applied psychologist, well-versed in the theory and practices of his predecessors, such as Freud and Jung. Using what he learned while practicing psychotherapy, he developed his own theories about the human condition and human relationships, particularly the relationship of client and therapist (Rogers & Russell, 2002). This paper discusses Carl Rogers as the founder of client-centered therapy. It first describes and examines his humanistic theory of personality and how it contributed to his view of the therapeutic relationship. It then examines the ways that Rogers' concept of the therapeutic relationship has permeated the field of psychotherapy today, and the evidence of it's effectiveness in achieving successful outcomes for individuals.

Rogers' (1951) client (or person)-centered approach evolved within a humanistic theory of personality. Humanistic approaches emerged during the 1950's and 60's as an alternative to psychoanalysis and behaviourism (Burger, 2008). Humanistic approaches focussed on aspects of personality that are distinctly human - not shared by other animals (Moss, 2001). Many humanistic psychologists found that scientific methods, borrowed from the natural sciences. were inappropriate for studying people. Human actions, they saw, as reflecting the way individuals understand and experience themselves and the world (Moss, 2001). They presumed a rat or a monkey, unlike many humans, is not concerned with issues such as finding meaning in life or attempting to remain true to themselves when faced with pressures to accommodate other people's wishes and preconceptions (Moss, 2001).

Rogers' (1951) theory was based on his belief that human beings are basically good, but their personalities become distorted by interpersonal experiences - especially in childhood. In his view, psychologists should try to understand individuals' phenomenal experience - the way they conceive of reality and experience themselves and their world. He postulated that we all naturally strive to reach an optimal sense of satisfaction in our lives. People who reach this goal he described as fully functioning. Accordingly, people should not be studied as objects in investigations, but as subjects who construct meaning. As such, he believed that the fundamental tool of the psychologist was not a projective test, an experiment or a questionnaire, but, the capacity to understand another person's experience cognitively and emotionally (Rogers, 1959).

Rogers (1959) suggested that individuals have what he termed a true self - a core aspect of being, untainted by the demands of those around them. This is often distorted into a false self - a fa├žade they project and ultimately come to believe is their true self. In Rogers view, the false self emerges because of people's natural desire to gain the positive regard of others. As children develop, they learn that to be loved and gain their parents approval, they must meet certain standards. They internalise these conditions of worth, distorting themselves into what significant others want them to be.

Rogers (1959) defined one's self-concept as an organised pattern of thoughts and perceptions about oneself. However, individuals also conceptualize a view of what they should be like - an ideal-self. When the self-concept diverges too much from the ideal-self, an individual may distort their behaviour or the way they see themself to avoid a state of anxiety (Rogers, 1959). Thus, people's internalised expectations of what others want them to be may lead them to abandon their own talents or inclinations and ignore their own needs and feelings. As an example, a gifted artist may pursue a career as a lawyer because that's what their parents wanted them to be. Essentially, they are sacrificing their true self to meet internalised conditions of worth, according to Rogers' (1959) theory.

A central tenet of Rogers' (1951) theory was that the primary motivation in humans is an actualising tendency. This he described as a desire to fulfil the full range of needs that human's experience - from the basic needs for food and drink, to the need to be open to experience and to express one's true self. Opposing the actualising tendency, however, is the need for positive regard from others and for positive self-regard, which often requires distorting the self to meet imposed standards, potentially resulting in psychological problems (Rogers, 1951).

Rogers (1959) referred to people who sought treatment as clients rather than patients. He rejected the disease model implied by the term "patients" and suggested that people come to therapy seeking help in solving problems, not cures for disorders. Thus his therapy became known as client-centered therapy. It is based on the view - developed in his theory of personality - that people experience psychological problems, such as anxiety, when their concept of self is incongruent with their actual experience (Rogers, 1959).

The aim of client-centred therapy is to help clients experience themselves as they actually are (Rogers, 1959). Thus, Rogers' personality theory contributed to his view of the therapeutic relationship because it outlined how psychological problems may develop when we experience anxiety and respond with psychological defences as a response to experiences of conditioned positive regard. In order to overcome psychological dysfunction, the therapist must provide an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard. This is facilitated via the therapeutic relationship - a supportive environment in which clients can start again where they left off at an earlier time, possibly years ago, when they denied their true feelings in order to feel worthy and esteemed by significant others (Rogers, 1959).

Rogers (1957) specified core conditions that are crucial to the success of the therapeutic relationship. In his view, if these six conditions exist and continue over a period of time, therapeutic personality change can occur. The conditions place an onus on both the client and the therapist and were described by Rogers (1957) as follows:

1. Two persons are in Psychological contact.

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