Carl Rogers's Life and Work: An Assessment on the 100th Anniversary of His Birth

By Kirschenbaum, Howard | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Carl Rogers's Life and Work: An Assessment on the 100th Anniversary of His Birth


Kirschenbaum, Howard, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Carl Rogers (1902-2002) was America's most influential counselor and psychotherapist--and one of its most prominent psychologists. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, it seems fitting to review his life, work, and professional contributions and to assess his historical and current influence on counseling and counseling psychology.

EARLY YEARS

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Rogers was the third son in a family of five brothers and a sister. His parents, Walter and Julia Rogers, were conservative, Protestant Midwesterners who led family prayers daily and tried to keep their children free from society's corrupt influences. Hence, Carl had few real friends outside the family. He was a sensitive child, easily hurt by the family's teasing. The expression of feelings was not encouraged in the Rogers family, so Carl's emotions and imagination were often expressed in creative school papers and childhood games. (Biographical detail throughout is derived from Kirschenbaum, 1979, 1995; Rogers, 1967; and Rogers & Russell, 2002.)

Walter Rogers owned a successful construction company business, and when Carl was a teenager, his father purchased a working farm and manor house in Glen Ellen, Illinois, where he moved the family. Here Carl developed a love of nature and a serious working knowledge of scientific method, as he and his younger brothers conducted agricultural experiments on a plot they managed. As a result, Rogers decided to become a farmer.

He enrolled in the University of Wisconsin at Madison, following in his father and older siblings' footsteps. There he made his first close friends, and after a series of Christian revival meetings, he experienced the call to religious work, switching majors from agriculture to history as a better preparation for the ministry. In his junior year, he was selected as 1 of 10 American students to attend an international Christian youth conference in China--a trip that lasted 6 months and helped broaden his religious and social philosophy. Now motivated more by the "social gospel" than theological conviction, he applied to the liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Upon college graduation, he married his childhood friend and college sweetheart, art student Helen Elliott--a union that would last 55 years.

NEW YORK CITY-CHOOSING A PROFESSION

In addition to studying at the Seminary, Rogers a[so took psychology courses at the adjoining Teachers College of Columbia University. There his religious doubts combined with his fascination with psychology and progressive education. Influenced by instructors Leta Hollingworth, Goodwin Watson, and William Heard Kilpatrick, the leading interpreter of John Dewey's education philosophy, Rogers transferred to Teachers College to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology.

At Columbia he was exposed to the testing and measurement movement of E. L. Thorndike, but this was balanced by his clinical fellowship at the Institute for Child Guidance, where he encountered Freudian thought, a lecture by Alfred Adler, Rorschach testing, and other psychoanalytic and psychiatric approaches. Seeking to integrate psychological measurement with clinical practice, Rogers came to appreciate the importance of understanding clients' inner world while also objectively assessing the outcomes of treatment.

Rogers's (1931a) doctoral dissertation, in which he created a test for measuring personality adjustment in children 9 to 13 years of age, combined both subjective and objective measures, from children's self-reports of their feelings to assessment by outside observers. On the basis of his dissertation, Rogers's (1931b) Personality Adjustment Inventory was published by the YMCA's press and sold a hall million copies over a period of 50 years.

ROCHESTER-YEARS OF EXPERIMENTATION

While working on his dissertation, Rogers needed to find a job to support himself, Helen, 2-year-old David, and Natalie, who was on the way. …

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