present the research design you will be using in your final research investigation

You are really nervous before a first date, so your mother gives you some advice: “Just be yourself. Your true self.” But that advice doesn’t seem too helpful. Well intentioned though she may be, Mom raises two problems. First, you want to impress your date and get him or her to like you. What if your date does not like your “true self”? Even if you do like Mom’s plan, there is a second problem: What exactly is your “true” self? The nature of the self, and the tension between being yourself versus wanting to be liked by other people, are central concerns in the personality theory developed by Carl Rogers. Rogers first addressed these concerns in his work as a clinical psychologist. He combined his clinical insights with systematic empirical research to develop a theory of the totality of the individual that highlighted the person’s efforts to develop a meaningful sense of self. In addition to being a self‐theory, Rogers’s work also can be categorized as a phenomenological theory. A phenomenological theory is one that emphasizes the individual’s subjective experience of his or her world—in other words, his or her phenomenological experience. As a therapist, Rogers’s overarching goal was to understand the client’s phenomenological experience of the self and the world in order to assist the client in personal growth. As a theorist, his overarching goal was to develop a framework to explain the nature and development of the self as the core element of personality. Rogers’s phenomenological self‐theory can also be described by another term: humanistic. Rogers’s work is part of a humanistic movement in psychology whose core feature was to emphasize people’s inherent potential for growth. This chapter, then, introduces you to the theory—the phenomenological, humanistic, self‐theory—that is the enduring legacy of one of the great American psychologists of the 20th century, Carl Rogers. Questions to be Addressed in this Chapter What is the self, and why might one not act in a manner consistent with one’s true self? Freud viewed motivation in terms of tension reduction, the pursuit of pleasure, and intrapsychic conflict. Is it possible to view human motivation, instead, in terms of personal growth, self‐actualization, and feelings of congruence? How important is it for us to have a stable self‐concept? How important is it for our internal feelings to match our self‐concept? What do we do when feelings are in conflict with our self‐beliefs? What are the childhood conditions that produce a positive sense of self‐worth? In the previous chapters, you learned about Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality and related psychodynamic positions. We now introduce a second, entirely different perspective. It is that of the American psychologist Carl Rogers. His work exemplifies a phenomenological approach to the study of persons. At the outset, you should consider how these conceptions, Freud’s and Rogers’s, are related. Rogers did not disagree with everything Freud said about persons. He recognized that Freud provided some insights about the workings of the mind that are of enduring value. Also, Rogers worked in a style that was similar in some ways to that of Freud. Rogers, like Freud, began his career as a therapist and based his general theory of personality primarily on his therapeutic experiences. However, these affinities are less important than are some deep differences. Rogers disagreed sharply with major emphases of Freudian theory: its depiction of humans as controlled by unconscious forces; its assertion that personality is determined, in a fixed manner, by experiences early in life; its associated belief that adult psychological experience is a repeating of the repressed conflicts of the past. To Rogers, these psychodynamic views did not adequately portray human existence or human potential. Rogers thus provided a new theory of the person. It emphasized conscious perceptions of the present rather than merely unconscious residues of the past, interpersonal experiences encountered across the course of life rather than merely parental relations in childhood, and people’s capacity to grow toward psychological maturity rather than merely their tendency to repeat childhood conflicts. Rogers expands our conception of human nature, and in a very positive direction. To many contemporary psychologists, his positive conception of the person, developed during the mid‐20th century, is of enduring importance. “Half a century on from when Rogers first developed his theory, it still has profound consequences for the person and their ability to maintain and enhance themselves” (McMillan, 2004, p. ix). Carl R. Rogers (1902–1987): A View of the Theorist “I speak as a person, from a context of personal experience and personal learning.” This is how Rogers describes himself, in a chapter entitled “This Is Me,” in his 1961 book On Becoming a Person. The chapter is a personal, very moving account by Rogers of the development of his professional thinking and personal philosophy. Rogers states what he does and how he feels about it: This book is about the suffering and the hope, the anxiety and the satisfaction, with which each therapist’s counseling room is filled… It is about me as I try to perceive his (the client’s) experience, and the meaning and the feeling and the taste and flavor that it has for him. It is about me as I rejoice at the privilege of being a midwife to a new personality as I stand by with awe at the emergence of a self, a person, as I see a birth process in which I have had an important and facilitating part. Source: Rogers (1961, pp. 4–5). Carl R. Rogers was born on January 8, 1902, in Oak Park, Illinois. He was reared in a strict and uncompromising religious and ethical atmosphere. His parents had the welfare of their children constantly in mind and inculcated in them a worship of hard work. Rogers’s description of his early life reveals two main trends that are reflected in his later work. The first is the concern with moral and ethical matters. The second is the respect for the methods of science. The latter appears to have developed out of exposure to his father’s efforts to operate their farm on a scientific basis and Rogers’s own reading of books on scientific agriculture. Rogers started his college education at the University of Wisconsin, majoring in agriculture, but after two years, he changed his professional goals and decided to enter the ministry. During a trip to Asia in 1922, he had a chance to observe commitments to other religious doctrines as well as the bitter mutual hatreds of French and German people, who otherwise seemed to be likable individuals. Experiences like these influenced his decision to go to a liberal theological seminary, the Union Theological Seminary in New York. Although he was concerned about questions regarding the meaning of life for individuals, Rogers had doubts about specific religious doctrines. Therefore, he chose to leave the seminary, to work in the field of child guidance, and to think of himself as a clinical psychologist. Carl R. Rogers. Rogers obtained his graduate training at Teachers College, Columbia University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1931. His education included exposure to both the dynamic views of Freud and the rigorous experimental methods then prevalent at Teachers College. Again, there were the pulls in different directions, the development of two somewhat divergent trends. In his later life, Rogers attempted to bring these trends into harmony. Indeed, these later years represent an effort to integrate the religious with the scientific, the intuitive with the objective, and the clinical with the statistical. Throughout his career, Rogers tried continually to apply the objective methods of science to what is most basically human. In 1968, Rogers and his more humanistically oriented colleagues formed the Center for the Studies of the Person. The development of the center expressed a number of shifts in emphasis in Rogers’s studies from work within a formal academic structure to work with a collection of individuals who shared a perspective, from work with disturbed individuals to work with normal individuals, from individual therapy to intensive group workshops, and from conventional empirical research to the phenomenological study of people. Rogers believed that most of psychology was sterile and generally felt alienated from the field. Yet the field continued to value his contributions. He was president of the American Psychological Association in 1946–1947, was one of the first three psychologists to receive the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (1956) from the profession, and in 1972 was the recipient of the Distinguished Professional Contribution Award. With Rogers, the theory, the man, and the life are interwoven. In his chapter “This Is Me,” Rogers lists 14 principles that he learned from thousands of hours of therapy and research. Here are some illustrations: In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not. Experience is, for me, the highest authority. It has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction. Source: Rogers (1961a, pp. 16–17). Rogers’s View of the Person The Subjectivity of Experience Rogers’s theory is built on a deeply significant insight into the human condition. In our daily living, we believe we experience an objective world of reality. When we see something occur, we believe it exists as we saw it. When we tell people about the events of our day, we believe we are telling them what really happened. We are so confident in our objective knowledge of an objective reality that we rarely question it. But Rogers does. He explains: “I do not react to some absolute reality, but to my perception of this reality” (Rogers, 1951, 1977, p. 206, emphasis added). The “reality” we observe is really a “private world of experience … , the phenomenal field” (Rogers, 1951, 1977, p. 206). This phenomenal field—the space of perceptions that makes up our experience—is a subjective construction. The individual constructs this inner world of experience, and the construction reflects not only the outer world of reality but also the inner world of personal needs, goals, and beliefs. Inner psychological needs shape the subjective experiences that we interpret as objectively real. Consider some simple examples. If a child sees an angry look from its mother, or you detect a disappointed look from a dating partner, these emotions—anger, disappointment—are the reality that is experienced. But this so‐called reality could be wrong. Personal needs (to be accepted by the mother, to be attractive to the dating partner) may contribute to our perceiving the other as angry or disappointed. Yet people commonly fail to recognize this influence of inner needs on perceptions of the outer world. Failing to recognize this, the individual “perceives his experience as reality. His experience is his reality” (Rogers, 1959, 1977, p. 207). We are sure things really exist as we saw them. Yet our seeing is not an objective recording of the world of reality but a subjective construction that reflects our personal needs. Feelings of Authenticity Two additional aspects of Rogers’s analysis of the subjectivity of experience define his core view of the person. The first is that people are prone to a distinctive form of psychological distress. It is a feeling of alienation or detachment—the feeling that one’s experiences and daily activities do not stem from one’s true, authentic self. Why do these feelings arise? Because we need the approval of others, we tell ourselves that their desires and values are our own. The child tries to convince himself that it really is bad to hit his baby sister, just as his parents say, even though it feels good to do so. The adult tries to convince herself that it really is good to settle down into a traditional career and family lifestyle, as valued relatives instruct, even though she really prefers a life of independence. When this happens, the individual thinks but does not feel an attachment to his or her own values. “Primary sensory and visceral reactions are ignored” and “the individual begins on a pathway that he later describes as ‘I really don’t know myself’” (Rogers, 1951, 1977, p. 213). Rogers relates the case of a client who described her experiences as follows: “I’ve always tried to be what the others thought I should be, but now I’m wondering whether I shouldn’t just see that I am what I am” (Rogers, 1951, 1977, p. 218). Maybe you’ve got the wrong job? Rogers’s theory of personality stressed that people can get caught up in activities that do not feel right, or “authentic,” for them. A lack of authenticity creates distress. Note how Rogers’s conception of the deliberate/thoughtful and the instinctive/visceral aspects of the organism differs from Freud’s. To Freud, visceral reactions were animalistic impulses that needed to be curbed by the civilized ego and superego. Distorting and denying these impulses was part of normal, healthy personality functioning. But to Rogers, these instinctive visceral reactions are a potential source of wisdom. Individuals who openly experience the full range of their emotions, who are “accepting and assimilating [of] all the sensory evidence experienced by the organism” (Rogers, 1951, 1977, p. 219), are psychologically well adjusted. Conflict between instinctive and rational elements of mind thus is not an immutable feature of the human condition in Rogers’s view. Rather than conflict, persons can experience congruence. They can realize a state in which their conscious experiences and goals are consistent with their inner, viscerally felt values. The Positivity of Human Motivation The final key aspect of Rogers’s view of persons is his conception of human motivation. Rogers’s clinical experiences convinced him that the core of our nature is essentially positive. Our most fundamental motivation is toward positive growth. Rogers recognized that some institutions may teach us otherwise. Some religions, for example, teach that we are basically sinful. The institution of psychoanalysis teaches that our basic instincts are sexual and aggressive. Rogers did recognize that people can, and often do, act in ways that are destructive and evil. But his basic contention is that, when we are functioning freely, we are able to move toward our potential as positive, mature beings. To those who called him a naive optimist, Rogers was quick to point out that his conclusions were based on decades of experience in psychotherapy: I do not have a Pollyanna view of human nature … individuals can and do behave in ways which are incredibly … [yet I] work with such individuals … to discover the strongly positive directional tendencies which exist in them. Source: Rogers (1961, p. 27). Here is a profound respect for people, a respect that is reflected in Rogers’s theory of personality and his person‐centered approach to psychotherapy. A Phenomenological Perspective Rogers takes a phenomenological approach to the study of persons. Here at the outset of our coverage of his work, then, we should explain what is meant by this lengthy term. In psychology or other disciplines, such as philosophy, a phenomenological approach is one that investigates people’s conscious experiences. The investigation, in other words, does not try to characterize the world of reality as it exists independent of the human observer. Instead, one is interested in the experiences of the observer: how the person experiences the world. A bit of reflection on the material of the previous two chapters should reveal why Rogers’s position was so noteworthy within personality psychology. The psychodynamic tradition was not particularly interested in phenomenology. To Freud, conscious phenomenological experience is not the core of personality. Indeed, conscious experience may be related in only the most indirect ways to that core, which involves unconscious drives and defenses. As you will see in subsequent chapters, some other theories that initially were developed at around the same time as Rogers’s (e.g., trait theory, behaviorism) devote relatively little attention to the textures and dynamics of everyday phenomenological experience. Rogers, then, was an important voice in promoting the psychological study of phenomenology. Rogers’s View of the Science of Personality What does Rogers’s concern with phenomenological experience have to do with his view of the science of personality? Are these two independent things: a phenomenological perspective on psychology on the one hand and a viewpoint on science on the other? Or might one have an implication for the other? A bit of reflection suggests that a marriage between a traditional conception of science and a concern with phenomenological experience may be difficult. Science, as usually conceived, rests on clear‐cut data: Laboratory instruments inform us about entities’ objective physical features (size, mass, electrical charge, etc.). Rogers, however, argues that personality psychology must address subjective internal experiences. These experiences cannot be measured in the manner of objective physical qualities. Instead, they have a subjective quality; their meaning rests on the interpretations of the individual having the experience (the subject who is experiencing things). Rogers’s work can be understood as an attempt to draw on the best of two worlds, that of traditional science and that of the clinical understanding of subjective experience. In therapy, his main goal was not to classify his client within a scientific taxonomy or to identify some past causal factor that was a key determinant of his client’s behavior. Instead, his goal was to gain a deep understanding of how his clients experienced their world. His efforts in this regard were similar to a reader’s efforts to understand the world as experienced by the narrator of a first‐person novel or the author of an autobiography. On the other hand, Rogers had great respect for the scientific method and felt that psychology could eventually establish itself as a lawful science. He was particularly careful to subject his ideas about the effective forms of therapy to scientific testing. Rogers made a valiant effort to wed the scientific and the human sides of personality science.

The Personality Theory of Carl Rogers

Having introduced Rogers, his overall view of human nature, and his conception of personality science, we now turn to the details: the specifics of Rogers’s theory of personality.


The Self

In Chapter 1, we distinguished between the structure and process aspects of personality theories. This distinction, useful in understanding the work of Freud, is valuable again in learning about the theory of Carl Rogers. Let’s first examine the structure aspects of Rogerian theory, whose key structural concept is the self.

According to Rogers, the self is an aspect of phenomenological experience. It is one aspect of our experience of the world, that is, one of the things that fill our conscious experience is our experience of ourselves, or of “a self.” Phrased more formally, according to Rogers, the individual perceives external objects and experiences and attaches meanings to them. The total system of perceptions and meanings make up the individual’s phenomenal field. That subset of the phenomenal field that is recognized by the individual as “me,” or “I” is the self. The self, or self‐concept, represents an organized and consistent pattern of perceptions. Although the self changes, it always retains this patterned, integrated, organized quality. Because the organized quality endures over time and characterizes the individual, the self is a personality structure. To Rogers, the self is not a little person inside of us. The self does not independently control behavior. Rather, the self is an organized set of perceptions possessed by the individual, who is ultimately responsible for his or her actions.

The pattern of experiences and perceptions known as the self is, in general, available to awareness. That is, people are consciously aware that it includes conscious self‐perceptions. Although individuals do have experiences of which they are unaware, the self‐concept is primarily conscious. (Note that Rogers’s use of the term self differs from that of Carl Jung, whose views were discussed in the previous chapter. Jung thought of the self as an unconscious archetypal force, whereas Rogers uses the term self to refer to our conscious self‐concept.)

Rogers did recognize two different aspects to the self: an actual self and an ideal self. Rogers recognized that people naturally think about not only themselves in the present but also their potential selves in the future. They thus generate an organized pattern of perceptions not only of their current self but also of an ideal self that they would like to be. The ideal self, then, is the self‐concept that an individual would most like to possess. It includes the perceptions and meanings that potentially are relevant to the self and that are valued highly by the individual. Rogers thus recognizes that our views of ourselves contain two distinct components: the self that we believe we are now and the self that we ideally see ourselves becoming in the future.

Rogers maintained that he did not begin his theoretical work by deciding that it was important to study the self. In fact, he first thought that self was a vague, scientifically meaningless term. However, he listened carefully to his clients, who commonly expressed their psychological experience in terms of a self; clients would report that they “did not feel like themselves”, “were disappointed in themselves”, and so forth. It became clear to Rogers, then, that the self was a psychological structure through which people were interpreting their world.

Measuring Self‐Concept

The Q‐Sort Technique

Once he recognized the centrality of self‐concept, Rogers knew that he needed an objective way to measure it. To this end, he primarily used the Q‐sort technique, which had been developed by Stephenson (1953).

In the Q‐sort, the psychologist administering the test gives the test‐taker a set of cards, each of which contains a statement describing a personality characteristic: “Makes friends easily”, “Has trouble expressing anger”, and so forth. Test‐takers sort these cards according to the degree to which each statement is seen as descriptive of themselves. This is done on a scale labeled Most characteristic of me on one end and Least characteristic of me on the other. People are asked to sort the cards according to a forced distribution, with most of the cards going in the middle and relatively few being sorted at either extreme end; this ensures that the individual carefully considers the content of each personality attribute in comparison to the others.

Two features of the Q‐sort are particularly noteworthy. One is that it strikes an interesting balance between fixed and flexible measures (see Chapter 2). The same statements are given to all test‐takers; in this respect, the measure is fixed. But the tester does not merely give a person a score by adding up test responses in a fixed manner that is the same for all persons. Instead, the test is flexible in that test‐takers indicate which subset of items is most characteristic of themselves, from their own point of view. Different subsets of items are characterized as “most like me” and “not like me” by different individuals. The test, then, yields a more flexible portrait of the individual than is obtained by other measures, whose content is entirely fixed (as you will see in subsequent chapters). Yet it is not entirely flexible. People must use statements provided by the experimenter, instead of their own self‐descriptions, and must sort the statements in a manner prescribed by the psychologist rather than according to a distribution that makes the most sense to them.

The second feature is that the Q‐sort can be administered to individuals more than once in order to assess both the actual self and the ideal self. In the latter assessment, people are asked to categorize the statements according to the degree to which they describe the self that they ideally would like to be. By comparing the two Q‐sorts, ideal and actual self, one can obtain a quantitative measure of the difference, or discrepancy, between the two aspects of self‐concept. As you will see in Chapter 6, these discrepancies are important to psychopathology and therapeutic change.


  • How much congruence do you think there is between your actual, ideal, and ought selves? How does this affect how you think, feel, and act?
  • Briefly summarize your thoughts on Rogers’s major concepts of the self, self-actualization, and unconditional positive regard.
  • What research design(s) did Rogers use in his studies?
  • Do you think Rogers conducted his research ethically? Why or why not?


present the research design you will be using in your final research investigation.

ARTICLES . Overlap Between General Factors of Personality in the Big Five, Giant Three, and Trait Emotional Intelligence

Tract two-Topic 1

Attachment Theory and Research: Resurrection of the Psychodynamic Approach to Personality


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