The Coconstruction of Congruency: Investigating the Conceptual Metaphors of Carl Rogers and Gloria

Article excerpt

The counseling session between Carl Rogers and Gloria, which was documented in the training film Three Approaches to Psychotherapy (E. L. Shostrom, 1965), is one of the most widely used teaching tools in the field of counselor education. G. Lakoff and M. Johnson's (1980, 1999) framework for investigating conceptual metaphor provided a useful method for understanding how meaning negotiation took place within the session as well as how Rogers and Gloria arrived at a meaningful therapeutic outcome by coconstructing a Utopia metaphor that reframed perfect as whole in a way that was congruent with Gloria's metaphoric structures for self and knowing.


In 1964, a 30-year-old recently divorced European American woman named Gloria consented to be filmed as she received counseling by founders of three contrasting approaches to psychotherapy. One of those approaches, Carl Rogers's client-centered counseling, later became foundational for many counselor education programs. Rogers's session with Gloria in the training film Three Approaches to Psychotherapy (Shostrom, 1965) is among the most written-about sessions in the history of counseling and continues to be used as an instructional model in many helping professions (Farber, Brink, & Raskin, 1996; Glauser & Bozarth, 2001).

Conceptual Metaphor and Counseling

During the session with Rogers, Gloria struggled with conflicting ideas about self and knowing. As suggested by Gloria's language (e.g., "haywire," "devil"), her existing frameworks for self-understanding and decision making were no longer congruent with her new circumstance of being a recently divorced single mother. Likewise, Rogers's language back to Gloria incorporated metaphors such as "no-man's-land" and "subterfuges" to express his understanding of her dilemma.

The seeming importance of metaphor in this session is consistent with Lakoff and Johnson's (1980, 1999) theory of conceptual metaphor. In general, conceptual metaphor theory posits that people make sense of abstract concepts and events through concrete experiences. For example, it is common to understand life in terms of a journey. Therefore, people get "stuck at a crossroad" and "don't know which way to turn," but sometimes "find their way" to "get back on track." These metaphors for understanding have a bodily basis; that is, the metaphors reflect what people have experienced with their bodies or know vicariously about other bodies in the world (Johnson, 1987). Thus, at an unconscious level, people make sense of abstract concepts and experiences metaphorically. The specific metaphors that structure individuals' understanding are reflected in the patterns of recurring words, phrases, and literal concepts that emerge in their language. Consequently, the words people use represent much more than random verbal selections; they are, instead, a "surface realization" (Lakoff, 1993, p. 203) of people's underlying frameworks for understanding the concepts and experiences being described.

Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 1999) noted that within Western culture, there is a litany of pervasive metaphors that people use to make sense of their lives. That is, people's automatic, nonconscious perceptions of the events and circumstances they experience are delineated by personal life experiences and metaphors to which they have been exposed within their culture. For example, Lakoff and Johnson suggested that knowing is understood as either seeing (e.g., "I see what you mean"), hearing (e.g., "that sounds right to me"), or feeling (e.g., "I have a gut-level feeling that...."). Similarly, perceiving the psychological self as a container of thoughts, emotions, ideas, and so forth is a common conceptual metaphor (Lakoff&Johnson, 1980, 1999). People unconsciously construct their concept of self in terms of the normal properties of a container, such as being a three-dimensional object with the capacity to hold certain contents but with limits on how much or the kind of content. …