On Spiritual Mentors: Carl Rogers

In 1970, my new wife and I headed off to Bloomington Indiana where I was to begin my journey toward becoming a helper. I survived the first year (barely!) and entered my second year looking forward to my first course in psychotherapy and my first clients. The course, however, was research-oriented and so I sought out a fourth-year student and asked him to recommend something I could read to help me help my clients. In a grace-filled moment, he recommended On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers.

As I read this book, I resonated to it, in part because I was drawn to Rogers’ gentle, respectful approach, in part because his theory met my darker needs for rebellion. Indiana University at that time was a bastion of behaviorism!

Rogers’ approach taught me the fundamental importance of listening. He taught me the power of meeting someone with respect and an absence of judgment. He taught me to listen with my heart, not just my head.

Being that arrogance was and is one of my character defects, after a time I concluded I’d found a flaw in Rogers’ theory. Rogers said we had to have acceptance yet also be real. Suppose I become angry with my client, I reasoned. Do I express the feeling or withhold it out of positive regard for the client? Clearly I’d uncovered a problem with his theory. So I wrote to Rogers, outlining my discovery.

Can you imagine? What arrogance! Yet even more amazing was the fact that Rogers responded to my letter. Rather than praise my brilliance, however, he suggested that, if I were angry with a client, perhaps I was the one with the problem.

Needless to say, this made me angry. But as time passed and as I faced my own woundedness, I saw the wisdom of his response. As they say in AA, if you’re pointing a finger at someone, the rest of the fingers are pointing back at you. In his own gentle manner, Rogers tried to point me towards looking within before judging, an important lesson for all of us, not just therapists. His response also reminded me that, as I strove to be a good listener, I also had to cultivate a capacity to listen to myself.

Before studying psychology, Carl Rogers considered the ministry. I believe that spiritual foundation informed his psychology. The nature of his psychology also has played an important role in my own quest for a bridge between psychology and spirituality. His psychology provides a path for pursuing the almost universal spiritual directive: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Further Reflections: 1. Have you had the experience of feeling listened to? How did it affect you?

2. Did you ever think you knew more than some wise person in your life? How did that play out for you?

Further Reading: Even now, some 40 years later, I still believe On Becoming a Person is of great value not just to therapists but to anyone on a spiritual quest

Further Viewing: There is a famous series of videos in which the same client was interviewed by 3 different therapists: Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, and Fritz Perls. An excerpt from Rogers’ session can give you a good feel for his approach. It can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=m30jsZx_Ngs




About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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5 Responses to On Spiritual Mentors: Carl Rogers

  1. Susan says:

    Did I ever think I knew more that some wise person in my life? Yes, I thought I knew more than God. I was pretty ticked off at Him and I let Him know it. I felt a great deal of shame after that and I later received much forgiveness. With regard to the behaviorist model, I work with quite a few psychologists who believe greatly in that model. I told one of them that I was using a behavioral contract with my son regarding video games. She said, “Look at you! Being all behavioral. Do you do that with your clients?” I don’t, which is interesting. Great video series. Carl Rogers is so attentive.


  2. mulchmantrc@aol.com says:

    great meaty saga — do unto others — you have an endearing quality to you — like a slice of granteeds pizza


  3. Susan says:

    Okay, here is an example of my being arrogant. Everyone has heard of Fritz Perls and no one has heard of me. Still, I felt uncomfortable when he told the client she was a “phony” because her verbal and non-verbal communication were incongruous. I realize that I am criticizing from a period in time that is long past when the remark was made. Still, some therapists like Carl Rogers, seem to have a timeless approach. Fritz Perls is in good company, because I criticize God too which might be the ultimate in arrogance.


  4. Winston st clair Joseph peters says:

    I care for Carl Rogers also ,just knew his name nothing more he has a pose of someone I got to really liked ,blessed Paul the v 6 th same strength but also softness ,conviction ,he said in the book of pope Francis ,that he was amaized that the infinatley merciful God wanted to save him especially since he him self was misery it self ,that he could want to save us him ,this is not verbatim ,but I really liked him he was so honest as I see you are I failed but usually tried to make up for it,I do not have a morbid fear of death but would like to age more gracefully if possible I believe that God hears all prayers goods ones and the ones not good ,God knows the human frame ,I told a lot of my sins in confession in the last fifty two years ,my present Pasteur ,as I would go to tell my sins I pull say ” judged a family member swore or cursed but did not damn them I know that when one goes to tell my sins I get a blessing just for going ,I also know if a person goes to tell there sins to a fifth step person ,that is good Jesus says I believe to confess your sins to one another ,I had seven uncles on my mothers side who were veterans and they had aa meetings at there house and I don’t think they went to confession ,there were six over seas they all come back all seven were alcoholics ,I never had a drinking problem but drank a lot of pop Pepsi not cola perhaps two bottles ,ate a lot of bars and chips smoked a lot and bummed a lot at the hospital ,tried to give back the cigarettes still felt guilty ,I was telling my sins in confession but felt guilty ,now I realize it was the false kind ,my dad hardly drink at all I heard from my older brother that when my uncle came drinking he would drink so he would not get in an accident ,I was not on street drugs either as I did not socialize very much ,my son is a alcholic has a twenty year chip he only drank a short time but says he would like to a lot ,but bye my friend dr Richard ,winston


  5. Winston st clair Joseph peters says:

    Just one thing more I wanted to say the priest that I went to tell my sins said about three months ago ,told me you don’t have to go to confession at all ,you do not have any sins you don’t tell and but the things I wrote about to you ,he said come once a month and if you do anything that you think hurts you receiving the bless Eucharist ,then make and act of contrition and tell it at the month,I was so excessive compulsive I thought nearly everything was a sin ,beside if a person is like that then he likely it is not as bad as if he said I shall do what it want then if this deliberate the and I know it if is likely a serious sin ,anyway I do not say a lot to my sister but she does not think I should go often anyway ,I often find when I think it over the wrong it is not a sin or it is because I am paranoid ,any way it is good so far ,I want to go over my days and have clearer till I can have an understanding what I have to confess , anyway I am off to my sisters down by the waterfront apartment ,you know I always had good people around me ,and I want to always be thankful for them ,I believe there is good in every one ,I like your self do not want to judge ,I am rather in the morning ,thank you for being my friend ,tell me if you want to have me leave a comment after I am done reading the blogs ,I would really like to ,that is if you don’t mind ,how often do you send new material ,I like this but would like to get the regular stuff ,bye bye for now ,Dr Richard ,winston


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