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Review of On Becoming A Person (Rogers,1961)

Robert Waxman

In On Becoming a Person by Carl R. Rogers, the author speaks about his unique approach to psychotherapy as an alternative to the Freudian model of psychoanalysis. Rogers’ theories shift the therapist’s control of a counseling session over to a ‘client-centered’ (non-directive) psychological model. This shifting of control away from the therapist, allows the ‘client’ to use ‘knowledge of self’ to heal his own problems. The client wants to grow, mature, and confront his problems and resolve them. When given the opportunity, the client will engage in self-exploration and work his problems through. Using client-centered therapy, the client begins to understand his feelings, gathers insights, and takes appropriate actions to improve many aspects of his life. This type of therapy is not trying to solve just one problem, but is a fully integrated approach intending to help the client accept and understand himself.

     Rogers understands that personal development is a continual process of becoming. This type of personal growth should be a ‘natural’ process of self-actualization. Unfortunately, the individual experiences many set-backs in this developmental process, and becomes lost and confused. However, each person has a ‘driving inner force’ that wants to help him learn and grow. This strong desire allows the person to become his own teacher, and he can lead himself back to his natural process of becoming. Developing one's self, and helping others realize their potential is a main theme throughout this book.

     Rogers says a person feels good when in the process of developing the self. Since the client is his own teacher, Rogers supplies the model for teaching and listening to the self. Early in the therapist-client relationship, a feeling of congruence should be established. Rogers defines congruence as: “an accurate matching of experience and awareness” (Rogers, 1989, p. 282). The therapist must feel accepting, honest, and open with the client, so his reactions reflect an accurate awareness of his feelings and experience. He cannot appear to be feeling one way, yet truly be feeling another way.

     Rogers is not in favor of giving advice to the client or directing, persuading, interpreting or diagnosing him. His concept of self-directed growth gives the client freedom and choices. The client has the potential to understand himself by observing and critiquing his own behavior and beliefs. Rogers’ techniques change the way therapists view the client. Instead of seeing the client as a project that the therapist needs to fix, Rogers views the client as a person who is sharing a unique experience with therapist. The therapist should see positive potential in the client. He needs to help the client become aware of his attitudes, self-image and self-directed behaviors.  

     Each individual is in a process of becoming and is always evolving. Many people think they need a ‘false face’ to play by societal rules. In certain situations, the person is feeling he must use a ‘face mask’ for pretending to be someone he is not. Rogers accepts the client as he is, and wants him to remove the false mask and expose his true face. The process of removing the mask helps the client discover his true-self. This leads to the realization that the outer persona is not flowing from the organism. The solution to this problem is for the client to reach the part of himself that has been denied or covered-up. He allows himself to ‘feel and be’ who he truly is, without needing the psychological crutch of a face mask. Taking off the mask is frightening for the client, because he is exposing a hidden part of himself.  According to Rogers, when the individual experiences his feelings at “an organic level” he understands the reality within himself (1989, p. 111). Rogers quotes Kierkegaard, who offers valuable psychological insights into the causes of despair. Kierkegaard posits that the most common form of despair stems from not choosing to be oneself (p. 110). As a solution, Kierkegaard says that when a person chooses to be his true-self, he will feel the opposite of despair (p. 110). 

     The client should allow himself to experience what he is feeling. He should not try to convince himself that he is feeling a certain way when he is feeling differently. There are parts of his personality he needs to uncover, so he can experience his true feelings “freely and fully” (Rogers, 1989, p. 111). To experience his true feelings, Rogers says, the client must break out of his shell. The client needs to experience “pure culture” (p. 112). This phenomenon occurs when the person - ‘is’ - the feeling itself, and is experiencing his feelings to an extreme. At this stage, the client is starting to become who he actually is. He is experiencing himself.    

      During the process of becoming a person, the client is more open to his experience (Rogers, 1989, p. 115). His experience is his past and present, and the time he spends with those around him. ‘Openness’ relates to envisioning other options for future behavior, and eliminating patterns of feeling one way, but acting another (incongruence). Rogers says that openness “is the opposite of defensiveness” (p. 115). By opening himself up, the client becomes more realistic when interacting with people, encountering new situations, and overcoming challenges.  Rogers stresses the importance of opening-up to the awareness of the moment “in oneself and in the situation” (p. 116). 

     The client will discover his ‘self’ through experience. The individual is becoming himself as his experiences lead him to an understanding of who he truly is. The real-self is revealing itself through individual meanings that are derived from life experiences. These experiences will communicate their meaning, and the client should not rush to judgment by labeling them. By not making assumptions, the client is becoming himself. He is stopping himself from conforming to the wishes of others, and is not denying his true feelings. He is not pretending to be someone he is not, and is recognizing that he lives in an ever-flowing, fluctuating process of life experience.

          Another process to use for ‘living the good life’ is by living existentially. This involves living in the moment (without being defensive), and allowing one’s self to feel the continuity of existence. The client becomes “a participant and observer” rather than the ‘controller’ of an ongoing process of becoming (Rogers, 1989, p. 188). This way of living is unstructured and does not include preconceived ideas about the way things ought to be. No judgments or evaluations are necessary because the person is living each experience as it comes his way. Existential living allows the client to live ‘outside the box’ of societal norms, and gives the client freedom to adapt and react to each situation.

     Trusting in one’s organism relates to trusting a wide variety of feelings and tendencies that exist at the ‘organic level’. The person becomes his organism “without self-deception and without distortion” (Rogers, 1989, p. 102). Instead of trying to understand what others expect of him – or second-guessing himself based on the opinions of others – he begins acting on the basis of his own satisfaction. He comes to be fully aware of who he is, while having the experience (p. 104). This awareness helps him to become a whole, functioning organism. By becoming whole, the person can understand his true feelings at the organic level. This leads to self-acceptance and trusting one’s own instinctual wisdom. Subsequently, the person’s consciousness is living comfortably with itself, and does not need to constantly monitor fearful thoughts and feelings.

     The process of functioning more fully allows the client to experience his feelings and to overcome fear associated with his feelings. The client develops a system whereby, he is choosing who he wants to become. He is open-minded and makes decisions based on whether or not the situation helps him become the person he wants to be. He is interested in gathering as much information as possible to act in ways that will produce positive results. He is becoming a fully integrated person. When a person is honest with himself, he accepts his feelings as an integral part of the person he is becoming. By trusting himself, the client can recognize his feelings about events that are happening around him, and is aware of future possibilities. He begins to understand why he is – where he is in life, and how to find meaning in each experience.

     The client begins to feel he possesses has an internal locus of evaluation (Rogers, 1989, p. 118). He understands that he is the decision-maker and does not need the approval of others. He is comfortable looking internally to evaluate a situation, and is no longer relying on the external world for making decisions. Especially for the creative person, the manner in which he is living and expressing himself is very important. Freedom of self-expression allows him to live the way he wants to, and affords him the opportunity to express his unique individuality at all times. The face mask is no longer necessary because he is not trying to please anyone other than himself. His internal evaluation process gives him the ability to decipher what is true for him. He moves away from people, places and things that are not in alignment with his true-self. The client understands that he is responsible for steering his life in the right direction. However, when the client realizes he is the ‘chooser’ and “the one who determines the value of the experience”, it can be either an energizing or frightening realization (p. 122).

      Another characteristic of a person becoming himself is to have a willingness to be a process. Rogers points out that the client should view himself as a process rather than a product (Rogers, 1989, p. 122). When the client enters therapy, he may have preconceived ideas about how he wants to ‘turn-out’ after he is ‘fixed’. He may have specific goals, in which he is expecting a certain outcome. Rogers says expectations can lead to disappointments. Therefore, Rogers recommends that specific goals should be put aside, since there is no fixed psychological state that can be achieved between therapist and client (p. 122). When the client realizes there is no perfect state of permanent balance, he may become confused, disappointed and upset. He comes to the realization that his life will continually be in a state of flux, and he will continually be solving problems. However, because of psychotherapy, he is now better equipped with the psychological tools that are necessary to help him maximize his happiness and minimize despair.

     The client continues to peel-off layers of the false-self, and moves toward realizing the true-self. He learns to trust the organism and wants to move forward. However, sometimes he will not be moving forward or going in a positive direction. As part of the learning process, he will find his way back to where he wants to be. Eventually, he will find meaning in every moment, no matter which direction he chooses. When making the wrong decision, he seeks new possibilities or acceptable solutions.

     Rogers wants the client to become himself. During therapy, Rogers is not directing the client to think in any specific direction. He gives the client total freedom to choose the conversational direction he feels most comfortable with. Rogers’ intentions, however, are to encourage the client to complete a letting-go process of discarding old masks, false beliefs, false images, harmful relationships, and self-destructive behavioral patterns. Rogers wants to build a trusting relationship with the client, and help him become self-motivated. He wants the client to pursue his passions, and express his creativity (and individuality), without thinking about it intellectually. Rogers’ therapeutic techniques are designed to support the client’s efforts to heal the personality, while gaining true knowledge of the self.

Other important ideas in this book:

1) Autonomic functioning;

2) Importance of creativity;

3) Experience of Psychotherapy;

4) Feeling meaning;

5) Free will;

6) Goals of science;

7) The Good life concept;

8) Importance of Listening;

9) Outcome of therapy;

10) Predictions of behavior;

11) Q-technique;

12) Elements of relationships;

13) Interpersonal relationships and;

14) Emphatic Understanding.


                                                              Works Cited  

Rogers, C.R. (1989). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.