The Modern Western Philosophical and Psychological Humanistic Tradition
The Philosophical Context of Bloch Healing (Part 2)
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Carl Rogers (1902-1987)
Carl Rogers is generally considered to be one of the most important and influential psychologists of the twentieth century, and as a psychotherapist perhaps the most influential since Freud.* He was an academic psychologist, with impressive credentials in research and publication, an educational theorist, a groundbreaking philosopher of psychotherapy and a noted psychotherapist. The influence of his thinking and his research has spread far beyond his original fields to influence the practise of most fields in which human values are considered. Rogers was, first and foremost, an academic psychologist, with an appreciation of the scientific method, and his influence owes much to his research on the process and the outcomes of psychotherapy.
Rogers built upon Maslow’s description of the healthy person, which he called “The Fully Functioning Person”. His approach emphasizes that therapy is not only of value in helping people with severe psychological problems. It is equally, if not more relevant to the interests of relatively healthy people who are interested in exploring their own human potential. For Rogers, the “fully functioning person” is able to trust in their own feelings and judgement and able to choose behaviour that is appropriate for each moment. They are open to experience, live fully in each moment, and can be trusted to act constructively in the world. They are free to relate fully and honestly with other people. The aim of the therapeutic situation is the provision of the best conditions in which the client can move in these directions.
Rogers’ research showed that for a person to "grow" in therapy, whatever model of therapy is used, they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure by the therapist), acceptance (being seen in an unconditionally positive way by a therapist that is able to trust that people can solve their own problems, given the right conditions), and empathy (being listened to and understood). He called these the ‘Core Conditions’ for successful therapy, all of them concerned with the nature of the therapeutic relationship. This was because Rogers was able to provide good research evidence to show that the relationship between the therapist and client was the most significant determining factor in all measures of success in therapy. Nearly all the research that has been performed since Rogers has supported his conclusions that the therapeutic relationship as defined by the ‘Core Conditions’, most especially the Condition of empathy, is the primary healing agent, and this has become the sine qua non of most forms of psychotherapy and is an increasingly influential idea in other fields, such as education and the social sciences.
Rogers emphasised the importance of a therapist’s ability to relate honestly and deeply with their clients, and was not impressed by ‘qualifications’ and professional memberships. According to Rogers’ biographer, he “had no confidence that academic qualifications, medical expertise or even psychological sophistication endowed people with the capacity to help others…By his emphasis on the personal qualities of therapists Rogers threatened those whose professional identity depended on the length of their training or their accumulation of higher degrees.” (Thorne, ‘Carl Rogers’, p. 60)
By 1957, Rogers’ own experience and the results of his scientific research, (more than anyone had ever done on the best conditions for and the results of psychotherapy), gave him the confidence to make his most important theoretical statement, on which modern ‘person-centred psychotherapy’ is based: it is that these ‘Core Conditions’, when experienced by the client, were both ‘Necessary and Sufficient’ for therapeutic personality change. The remarkable thing about studies on the results of Rogers’ method of therapy is that, in spite of being pointedly general and non-directive in its approach to helping a person, aiming only to help a person to become healthier in the broadest sense, its results, even when measured in the treatment of specific conditions, such as depression, are as good as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, which devotes most of its attention directly to the repair of the particular problem that has been presented for therapy.**
It has been suggested by some commentators that Rogers tended to focus on the development of the individual self (“self-actualization”), whereas Buber emphasised the development of the individual in relation with other people. This difference was highlighted in the famous public dialogue between the two men in 1957, although it may be overstated, in that for both men the ‘effective moments’ in therapy occurred when a deeper relating took place, their differences turning upon Buber’s view that the therapist-client relationship must always be denied full mutuality because of the different role of each party in the relationship. In any event Rogers’ later development, consciously influenced by Buber to the extent that he would subsequently often refer to an ‘I-Thou’ quality as the goal of therapeutic relating, and with several decades of further experience, moved very much in the direction of the relational view of healing. Whereas he had earlier thought that healing came about principally through the therapist’s understanding of the client, and their ability to communicate this understanding to the client, it is clear that he later understood healing to occur also in the therapist’s meeting with the client. This requires of the therapist that they are available to relate with the client more deeply, based upon the application of the ‘Core Conditions’, yet somehow going beyond them in order to transcend the gap between therapist and client.
“When I am at my best, as a group facilitator or a therapist, I discover another characteristic. I find that when I am closest to my inner, intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me… then whatever I do seems to be full of healing. Then simply my presence is releasing and helpful. There is nothing I can do to force this experience, but when I can relax and be close to the transcendental core of me…At those moments it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes a part of something larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present.” (Rogers, Last Interview, see ‘Further Reading’)
*In an empirical study using six criteria such as citations and recognition, Rogers was found to be second only to Freud among clinicians as the most eminent psychologist of the 20th Century, and overall the sixth most eminent. Maslow was ranked in tenth place. (Haggbloom et al. The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century, Review of General Psychology, 6, 139-152, 2002).
In a 2006 survey reported in the March/April 2007 ‘Psychotherapy Networker’ Carl Rogers was named (by a landslide) as the single most influential psychotherapist of the past quarter-century. The previous survey, in 1982, yielded the same result, including Freud.
**It should be said that Cognitive-Behavioural therapists generally do study and apply Rogers’ ‘Core Conditions’ on the grounds that they accept them to be necessary, although they do not believe them to be sufficient for therapeutic change.
The modern therapeutic humanistic tradition is based upon a restating of ancient ideas explained, elucidated, practically demonstrated and scientifically tested for a modern audience of academic philosophers and psychologists. It is a testament to the quality of their work that these principles are the fundamental basis for theory and practice in most of psychotherapy, social sciences and education, as well as in many other fields today.
Buber, Maslow and Rogers were from very different backgrounds and had distinctive personalities. Each had a unique path to discovery and each offered an individual restatement of the principles of Healing. Yet all three are placed in the ‘humanistic tradition’, locating psychological and ‘spiritual’ health and happiness within and between people. All three were academics, but only Rogers was a working therapist. A lifetime of practice, and the struggle to assist his clients, together with extensive scientific research had led him, he believed, to discover what worked and what did not, a process that he called “Theory from Experience”.
Although Bloch Healing is original, in that its theory and practice have grown out of particular skills, knowledge and experience, it is very much within the humanistic tradition. As with Rogerian person-centred psychotherapy, BH started with personal and practical experience, out of which came theory. It is unlikely that Buber, Maslow or Rogers would have seen any important contradiction to their work in the BH 'hands-on' approach to Healing. As Buber wrote;
“for a conversation no sound is necessary, not even a gesture. Speech can renounce all the media of sense, and it is still speech…For where unreserve has ruled, even wordlessly, between men, the word of dialogue has happened sacramentally”. (Between Man and Man, pp.3-5, trans. Ronald Gregor-Smith, Routledge)