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Old Tuesday, September 15, 2009
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Post Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers was from Oak Park Illinois which is kind of like Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek is a middle class bedroom community for San Francisco which is what Oak Park was for Chicago only Rogers was born in 1902. Rogers was a middle child and was born into an extremely religious family who believed, like Allport’s family did, in hard work and Protestant piety. However the family thought that the children were being morally corrupted by living in the town. So they moved away from the town so they would not have forces outside of the family correcting their children. They moved to a farm when Rogers was twelve and became farmers.

Rogers was a very brilliant home schooled student and decided that he wanted to study agriculture scientifically so he enrolled in an agronomy program at the University of Wisconsin. He lasted a little less than a year a which point he said that he was depressed and suicidal. He decided that he had bigger questions to deal with and so he enrolled in the Union Theological Seminary which was at that time, 1920, the foremost school of religion in the United States. He lasted there about a year and he dropped out and went to Columbia University to study psychology instead. What happened is that Rogers radically rejected his parent’s religion. All of his life he resented them for forcing him into what he regarded as unnatural beliefs.

He got his PhD in 1928 at the age of 26, which even then was kind of young, and he started working in a counseling center. He began writing books. Remember that he is roughly a contemporary of Allport so that he knew about Russell and Whitehead and since he started out in science he was very familiar with their ideas and of Einstein, of Relativity, of Uncertainty and of the limits of rational inquiry. So Rogers came into psychology at a point of time in which the big debate was between Psychoanalysis and the newer versions of Behaviorism. Throughout his career he was kind of the antagonist of B.F. Skinner who was a radical Behaviorist at Harvard. So Rogers was his nemesis in a way. They loved attacking each other intellectually although they were very cordial when they met in person.

Rogers started writing books about psychology while he was working at the counseling center and they rapidly became popular enough to where he was hired by Ohio State as a full tenured professor. Rogers said, “I recommend starting in the academic world at this level. I have often been grateful that I never had to live through the degrading competitive process of step by step promotion where individuals learn only one lesson, not to stick their necks out.” So what is he doing? He is rebelling against the academic establishment just as he did against his parents.

He taught later at the University of Chicago, which at that time was one of the two or three best schools in the country, and then at the University of Wisconsin and then in 1963 he moved to La Hoya where rich people gave him the money to found the Center for the Studies of the Person at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute and he spent the rest of his career there.

What does Rogers have to say about psychology and people’s mind? He said that what we need is an entirely individual or personal centered psychology. We have got to acknowledge that there is not objective reality. What we need to do is “we need to understand the person from their own point of view.” Each point of view is valid for the person who holds it. What we actually are is an experiencing organism and experience itself is reality. If you think about science, all science ultimately depends on human experience. There is no scientific principle that does not go back to individual humans having particular experiences and thinking about them in particular ways. There is no objective science; there is only the science of agreement among individual human beings based on their subjective experience. He is saying that the only reality that we have is subjective, it is experience, there is nothing else except the stories that we make up about it. And the truth is that there is no one reality. Physics and logic tells us that. We know it is true. We also know it is true in everyday experience. You get six people together, they see the same thing, and they have six different, although often related, experiences. There is no objective reality and the only way to understand someone is from their unique personal experience. This is the basic reality on which we have to base things. Is this true? Do you believe me when I say that science is ultimately dependent on the subjective experience of human individuals and it does not exist apart from that? What do you think? Is all we have really got is an agreement among people who see the world differently about some aspects of it?

All science rests on subjective verification, on individual human experience. We know that there is no ultimate logic. We know there is no single point of view or single reality. There are an unlimited number of realities according to theoretical physics. We know that time does not follow the course that we think it does. We have a subjective world and we try to make experience predictable and science is the best way that we have ever found of doing that. It works pretty good.

Consciousness is actually only part of experience. Have you ever noticed when you were at a crowded party and were talking with one person and there is a lot of other stuff going on and you kind of don’t hear it unless somebody across the room says your name and then all of a sudden you hear it? How is it that you heard your name out of the whole cacophony of background noises? Well, according to Rogers you actually have the experience of all of this but you are not conscious of it. Experience is greater than consciousness. Consciousness is actually only the conceptualized portion of experience.

There is no objective reality. Do you believe that? Is there an objective reality or is everything simply a set of ideas that we create about experience? Is it somehow there in some form apart from us or is it only because of our perception that there is any reason to think about things? There are various versions of that. One is that there are actually multiple realities, which is the point of view that Rogers takes. That everybody has their own reality and we know there is no objective reality. The hard sciences have led with this point. And so we might as well assume that each person’s individual reality is the truth for them and it is, although we all know that our reality is in some way limited and not always accurate. You recall that we often have mistaken ideas about our own reality, but reality from Rogers’ point of view is not our ideas about it, it is experience itself. So reality is experience. What we need to do is to take a person centered approach and understand everybody from their own point of view. What we find if we do that is when you are talking and interacting with people, you find that their consciousness is a limited part of their experience. Experience is broader than consciousness. So with this point of view we are all having experience, however we are conscious only of the portion that we have put into symbolic form. So we are conscious of our symbolic form, which is only a portion of our full experience. And you can see that experience is wider in a number of ways.

One way is the Cocktail Party Phenomenon that I mentioned last time. You are talking with somebody in a crowded room and there are twenty other people talking and you do not hear anything else until somebody says your name across the room. You must have had that other stuff as being part of your experience even though you were not conscious of it. You can also notice that experience is greater than consciousness because sometimes you know things and you do not know how you know them. We usually call this empathy or intuition or something of that sort. So we can know without being conscious that part of our experience is not conscious. However, if we are paying attention to our bodily wisdom, we utilize that experience, conscious or not. One of the things that we want to do is that we want to expand our understanding to include more and more of experience in our consciousness. And Rogers said that most growth occurs when experience is consciously considered and clearly symbolized. So when we notice and think about something, that is when we can actually incorporate it into our consciousness.

Rogers says that consciousness is only the tip of the iceberg. Experience is actually vast at any point in time. For instance, if I were to ask somebody here: how does your left big toe feel? Does anywhere on your foot have a definite sensation that you could describe? Do you feel the pressure your foot on the floor? Answer: Yes. Question: Now were you conscious of that before I asked? Answer: No.

We are not conscious of most parts of our experience at any one time but not one of you would say that you were not experiencing all of the things that we have ready access to. So we are not experiencing the feeling of the pen in our fingers, our feet on the floor or our back against the chair. They are not conscious because consciousness is a string of symbols and the part that comes to consciousness, actually what we see is not exactly what is there, it is the way that we put it together and in many ways we gloss over things, we miss things, even though we can see them, we somehow do not notice them.

Given this, that each individual is unique and their experience is reality, what then is motivation? Rogers says that motivation is that if you look at all of our experience, we have one basic drive and that is to actualize the experiencing organism. What we want is to do what is good for our developing self, not separating self from body, because we clearly are in some sense an organism, we need to eat, we need to breath and we need things that are not so obvious. Sometimes we just need to move, we need to dance, and we need all kinds of things that do not necessarily make sense except in that moment. So motivation is not something apart from the individual, it is an aspect of experience itself, sometimes conscious and sometimes not, but always experience, and always connected with our inherent bodily wisdom. Our bodily wisdom can see the difference between things that help us actualize and those that do not. Our thinking mind does not necessarily work. A rational figuring out often does not work. It is only your gut feeling that is always right, although sometimes we mistake that because we believe ourselves to be different than we actually are, so experience is the highest authority and in some sense the only authority.

Rogers says that self is conscious. It is an intellectual construction that never exactly matches our experience and is best the more it is brought into line and expanded to include experience. So we all have an understanding of our self but it is incomplete. It may or may not fit reality, but what we need to do is make it fit the reality of our experience and include more and more of experience in it. So what we need is a constantly developing sense of self that includes more and more of our experience and is more and more accurate at mapping our experience, and less and less dependent on what other people want us to be.

All of us distort our sense of self to fit what we believe is desirable by those people who are important to us. We have this inherent need for their positive regard. It is simply part of everybody’s experience and we never get over it. So what we tend to do is that we tend to want not to be in the ways that do not fit other people’s desires for us. So we tend to evaluate our self in terms of the way other people see us, sometimes at least, at the expense of our inherent bodily wisdom. If we were to receive unconditional positive regard from others, then there would be no need to ever create a sense of self that was at variance with experience and so there would be no incongruence. There would be incompleteness in our self, but it would not mismatch our actual experience. We never fully know ourselves so our sense of self is never exactly the same as our experience, but wouldn’t create any big mismatches like we do when we are trying to be the person that other people want us to be. So even if we experience nothing but unconditional positive regard, we would still have a constant task of expanding our understanding of our self to include more and more of experience, but it would never be grossly out of line with our self.

We actually disown parts of our experience. We pretend that we are other than we are. When there is incongruence between self or self-concept and experience, than we feel anxious. We do not like it. It simply by itself makes us uncomfortable and our behavior does not work because we act to fulfill the needs of the self, which is different than who we are, and so we do things and often instead of making us feel better, they make us feel worse, because we are acting to fulfill someone else’s idea of what we should want rather than actually what we want.

If you can be accepted by someone else in terms of your real experience, that helps you to accept that experience. Accepting that experience and incorporating it in your understanding of self is what you need to move forward.

So we have this inherent need for the positive regard of others. If we only experience positive regard, than we would never create a discrepancy between our experience and our understanding of self. There would be no neurosis. We would still need to learn, but there would be no need to create an idea of our self that was at variance with our experience. We would have to develop our understanding of self because experience grows and changes and conceptual schemes are never complete, but we would never misunderstand who we are in the gross kind of way that we do otherwise. Nor would be act at such marked variance to the reality of our experience, because even if we hadn’t adequately conceptualized some aspect of our self, we would quickly recognize that we didn’t like what we were doing if we were in touch with the experience that is our bodily wisdom.
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