Carl Roger’s theory of the self is humanistic and phenomenological. However, in spite of a ‘New Age’ fascination with Rogers, his work is neither ephemeral nor lacking empirical foundations. He always stood for embracing and evaluating evidence from the phenomena and experiences of the people he met and the meanings that they made of their lives.
His theory was based on 19 propositions that I have reduced to the 12 most important for our field and practice:
- All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience of which they are the centre.
- The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual.
- A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self. [This is my favourite: a wonderful description of how we emerge from our background in a way that allows never-ending re-evaluation and renewal! This idea links neatly with the relational psychology of Fairbairn & Sullivan in modern psychoanalysis.]
- As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of interaction with others, the structure of the self is formed – an organized, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the “I” or the “me”, together with values attached to these concepts.
- The organism has a basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the organism. On occasions this can lead to maladaptive behaviour.
- The best vantage point for understanding behaviour is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.
- Behaviour is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.
- Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behaviour. The kind & extent of emotion is related to the perceived significance of the behaviour for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.
- Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are consistent with the concept of self.
- In some instances, behaviour may be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolized. Such behaviour may be inconsistent with the structure of the self but in such instances the behaviour is not “owned” by the individual. It is likely to be dissociated.
- Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigid the self structure becomes to maintain itself.
- Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the self structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.This is the best outcome of the interaction known as therapy.
- Additionally, Rogers is known for practicing “unconditional positive regard,” which we have adapted for our practice as a ‘culture of acknowledgment’. Please note that this is NOT the same as ‘positive thinking!’ You will find many more examples of the influence of Roger’s on my thinking and practice here, published in the IJMR (International Journal of Market Research, May 2012): Paper Website Version
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