Carl Rogers, Mental Health & Technology, Person-Centred Approach

What would Carl Rogers do?

Extrapolating the Person-Centred Approach.

By Paul Radin

In 1951 Carl Rogers introduced Client-Centred Therapy to the world.  It was arguably the 1st real milestone of a Thought-Journey that ended too early with Carl’s death in 1987.

In his own words:

“The change which has taken place in me is to say that in my early professional years I was asking the question:
How can I treat, or cure, or change this person?
Now I would phrase the question this way:
How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for their own personal growth?”  Carl Rogers

If Carl Rogers had been around today;

• What directions would his thinking have taken?
• What would be his position on Mental Health in the 21st century?
• How would he have used the technology available to us now?


Evolution of Thinking – Towards the Good Life

Carl’s influence on the world of psychological therapy is widely acknowledged.  His Person-Centred Approach is well known in this context. Less well known is the fact that he didn’t stop there.  He practised what he preached, and continued to grow intellectually right up to the day of his death.  This is what makes me believe that his Person-Centred Approach should be extrapolated into modern times.  In the adjusted words of another great thinker of the 20th century, Gandhi “He became the change he wanted to see in the world.”

Carl’s philosophy had its roots in humanistic psychology, a movement which he helped to
found in the 1950s with Abraham Maslow and Rollo May. It was based on an optimistic view of people as constantly growing and moving towards their true potential.

He describes this as ‘the good life’:

“This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.”  Carl Rogers

To fully appreciate how far Carl’s thinking progressed over his lifetime, it’s worth looking back to the 1940s when the earliest incarnation of Carl’s ideas was actually Non-Directive Therapy. By the time he published ‘On becoming a person’ in 1961, Client-Centred Therapy had become Person-Centred, but there was more progress to come. Much more.

Carl knew that the principles he was advocating could be applied in a wide range of concerns, not just in psychotherapy.  Because of this, he switched to using the term Person-Centred Approach to describe the overall theory.  From this point on, he was obviously trying to change the world, not merely the world of counselling.

Other applications have included:

• A theory of personality and human relationships,
• Education (student-centred learning),
• Cross-cultural & international relations (Rogerian rhetorical method),
• Other ‘helping’ professions including nursing and social work.

He was instrumental in the Encounter Group philosophy of the 1960s, which encouraged open communication between individuals.  He was responsible for the spread of professional counselling into a variety of workplaces, and was a pioneer in attempting to resolve international conflict through more effective communication.

Indeed, Carl’s later years were dedicated to peace; challenging political oppression and conflict.  The application to global cross-cultural relations has included highly stressful conflicts and challenges in South Africa, Central America, and Northern Ireland.
His international work for peace brought national figures together as people who heard one another and established real personal connections.

The Death of Carl Rogers – The Birth of New Technology

My assertion is that Carl Rogers was born at least 50 years too early, and it really is a shame that he didn’t get to see the technological developments that have occurred since his death. His Person-Centred Approach brought into the context of modern technology has the potential to be philosophical dynamite.

When Carl died in 1987, the internet barely existed.  The World Wide Web didn’t arrive until 1991.  The rise of communication & information technology, due to improvements in the internet and the computer, has reduced the barriers to human interaction.  Carl could not have known how the connectivity of computers would change the world.

Mobile technology has improved exponentially and culminated in the smartphone with its countless ‘Apps’. Computers are everywhere now; all pervasive, and integrated into our lives.

Social networking didn’t truly take off until the founding of Facebook in 2004, generating new ways to connect with others and interact. Carl would have been a big fan of social networking.

The Internet has new relevance in global politics. Groups can use the Internet to organise, and this has given rise to Internet activism.  The most notable example being the Arab Spring, where Twitter was given much of the credit for facilitating democratic revolution. Carl would have a Twitter account, if he was alive today. I would follow him, and he would follow me.

Peer-to-peer interaction, increasingly facilitated by technology, has grown and is still growing. The potential for mutually supportive relationships, of a type that would have made Carl Rogers delighted, is unpredictably huge.

Carl couldn’t possibly have known how much things would change, but if he was alive today I believe that he would be advocating the fullest possible use of modern technology.

Gazing into the Crystal Ball

Predicting the future is always going to be problematic.  We’ll probably get lots wrong.  No harm in having a go anyway.  I think it’s safe to say that everything will continue to change, and there will be surprises.  Most of us will not be able to comprehend the level or scope of the change to come.

The use of technology will grow, not retreat. Power will move more and more into the hands of the individual.  What could be more Person-Centred than each of us having in our hands a tool which gives us the power to direct our own lives and to force a better world into being?

The psychiatric profession will increasingly come under threat.  Why would we need experts when everyone is their own expert?  Why would you need to study psychiatry when all you need to do to help someone is listen?  Christmas is coming whether the turkeys vote for it or not.  Carl would have known this, but would have had the generosity to welcome the democratisation of his own profession.

The initial & original Non-Directive Therapy is fast becoming Person-Centred Technologically Supported Democratised Mental Healthcare.  The Person-Centred Approach was in some respects an idea ahead of its time. Now the times are catching up, and the Approach has a much broader potential relevance than Carl could have ever imagined.

The use of tools is the thing that has always made the human species unique on our planet.
Guess what? Our tools are getting better and better and better.

Now here’s a view not often expressed. The future is more ‘tech’ and more human.