by Jon Russell with excerpts from the works of Carl Rogers
The goal of this site is to provide information about using the work of Carl Rogers and Marshall Rosenberg towards creating relationships where mutual growth can occur in ways, and at rates, which are quite surprising. This idea of relationships being a vehicle for our growth is of course not new; however, I believe that the degree to which we can grow through our interpersonal relationships is not widely recognized, and in addition, the precise qualities of a relationship which make real, often dramatic growth occur are not well known.
The nice thing about this is that it's not just a theory anymore. At one time it was, back in the late 40's, when Carl Rogers first formulated his now famous paper on the necessary and sufficient conditions for positive change. That paper was directed toward therapists, and Rogers, as a scientist at the time, was more than anything, simply trying to bring clear information about what really did work into the field of psychology, which was filled with many theories and various conflicting schools of thought, but which had very little real research into what worked and what didn't.
As you might imagine, his findings, although verified by many other independent researchers around the world, caused a lot of upset amongst the established psycotherapuetic and psychiatric communities, since it verified why they often got such poor results with their clients. In addition, Rogers believed that almost anyone could learn the skills which promoted growth, and that was a very unpopular idea amongst the professionals. And if that wasn't enough, Rogers definition of growth, as you will see in the excerpts below, were thought by some as too "freeing." He had discovered that each person could choose his/her own direction of growth, and that the most effective therapist/listener was really just a facilitator of this natural growth process. This upset not only those profesionals who felt they knew how to best "direct" others to grow, but also many religious and political leaders. But this "freeing" quality, the becoming more who we really are, is what many of us want.
So that's a little of the history, just so you can get a perspective on some of the social and political issues regarding personal growth of this particular "type."
What I primarily want to do here is to describe how truly amazing and workable this process is. Decades of research has verified that, as well as his successful client-centered therapy model; but the step that Rogers wasn't able to get very far with in his lifetime, was in bringing this information into use in the every-day relationships between average people. That goal is a monument task, especially with still a large percentage of the world either scraping for mere survival, or at war, or in intense conflict. With such overwhelming needs, it's too much to imagine those heavily stressed humans finding much interest in personal growth - it's hard enough just to keep their bodies alive. But Rogers did speak of how now, with many in the West freed from the struggle for mere survival, there was the urge in many to develop themselves in new directions - psychologically and spiritually.
This is an area where Marshall Rosenberg has done tremendous work on bringing basic growth and conflict resolution skills to the average person. Marshall was a student of Rogers and saw how clearly these discoveries were needed at the "street level." Marshall's work is for me the easiest to understand description of what it takes for two people to communicate deeply and honestly about themselves. The growth potential of his model of commmunication, I believe, is however sometimes missed due to it's tremendous success as a conflict resolution process, which gets a lot of it's attention. But Marshall's work is not just useful at the conflict level, it has many of the essential aspects of Rogers discoveries within its model, and I consider the skills of Marshall's model essential toward making personal growth even possible. So in addition to Carl Rogers' work, this site also emphasises Marshall's work in detail, and especially within the larger context of personal evolution. Marshall himself has talked in depth about his work in this regard, and has a wonderful book "Nonviolent Communication - The Language of the Heart."
So the attempt here is to make clear how one might use these discoveries within an interpersonal relationship to enable dramatic mutual growth. I will start here by depending greatly on Carl's written words. He has described the conditions and the process in such detail and with such clear warm language that it makes sense to do it no other way. Occasionally I will edit some of it for clarity, but as little as possible.
An important point should be noted: Rogers often made the point that even though his writtings were directed toward therapists - the audience he believed at the time to be most interested in his discoveries - that indeed it applied to every relationship. This is the main point of this whole site - that you and I can enter into a relationship in which we both can grow in amazing ways, unexpected before. So when you read him refering to the therapist and client realize that he never intended it to only apply to those relationships, but it can be used in any relationship between any two people.
I hope you will be as impressed as I am with the information here and
with the possibilities of having these kinds of relationships in your life.
It has changed and continues to change my life in ways I never could have
Excerpts from Carl Rogers
Here is the first of my excerpts from Carl Rogers, from the section
titled "Characteristics of a Helping Relationship" in his book "On Becoming
A Person." In this essay Rogers describes the three basic conditions which
facilitate personal growth. Mastering these three conditions is the key
to being the type of "listener" which assists another in being able to
explore themselves deeply and grow in their own chosen direction - that
is, with no direction being given by the listener. Rogers had a deep trust
that every person is naturally inclined to grow in a direction which is
positive not only for him/herself but for his society and community as
well, therefore he concluded that it is a mistake to try to direct a person,
and he did in fact prove through research, that trying to
direct the person, or giving them advice, or interpreting for them, actually
slows down or prevents growth! Also in this essay he describes what it's
like to both be the listener and the client, how sometimes frightening
it is for both of them to participate in such an adventure, and how this
is not just a one-sided process, but how it's also exciting and growth-promoting
for BOTH of them. So with that introduction, here's Carl:
"I would like, in the first part of this talk, to summarize what we know of the conditions which facilitate psychological growth, and something of what we know of the process and characteristics of that psychological growth. Let me explain what I mean when I say that I am going to summarize what we "know." I mean that I will limit my statements to those for which we have objective empirical evidence. For example, I will talk about the conditions of psychological growth. For each statement one or more studies could be cited in which it was found that changes occurred in the individual when these conditions were present which did not occur in situations where these conditions were absent, or were present to a much lesser degree. As one investigator states, we have made progress in identifying the primary change-producing agents which facilitate the alteration of personality and of behavior in the direction of personal development. It should of course be added that this knowledge, like all scientific knowlede, is tentative and surely incomplete, and is certain to be modified, contradicted in part, and supplemented by the painstaking work of the future. Nevertheless there is no reason to be apologetic for the small but hard-won knowledge which we currently possess.
"I would like to give this knowledge which we have gained in the very briefest fashion, and in everyday language.
"It has been found that personal change is facilitated when the psychotherapist is what he is, when in the relationship with his client he is genuine and without "front" or facade, openly being the feelings and attitudes which at that moment are flowing in him. We have coined the term "congruence" to try to describe this condition. By this we mean that the feelings the therapist is experiencing are available to him, available to his awareness, and he is able to live these feelings, be them, and able to communicate them if appropriate. No one fully achieves this condition, yet the more the therapist is able to listen acceptantly to what is going on within himself, and the more he is able to be the complexity of his feelings, without fear, the higher the degree of his congruence.
"To give a commonplace example, each of us senses this quality in people in a variety of ways. One of the things which offends us about radio and TV commercials is that it is often perfectly evident from the tone of voice that the announcer is "putting on," playing a role, saying something he doesn't feel. This is an example of in-congruence. On the other hand each of us knows individuals whom we somehow trust because we sense that they are being what they are, that we are dealing with the person himself, not with a polite or professional front. It is this quality of congruence which we sense which research has found to be associated with successful therapy.
"The more genuine and congruent the therapist in the relationship, the more probability there is that change in personality in the client will occur.
"Now the second condition. When the therapist is experiencing a warm, positive and acceptant attitude toward what is in the client, this facilitates change. It involves the therapist's genuine willingness for the client to be whatever feeling is going on in him at that moment, - fear, confusion, pain, pride, anger, hatred, love, courage, or awe. It means that the therapist cares for the client, in a non-possessive way. It means that he prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way. By this I mean that he does not simply accept the client when he is behaving in certain ways, and disapprove of him when he behaves in other ways. It means an outgoing positive feeling without reservations, without evaluations. The term we have come to use for this is unconditional positive regard. Again research studies show that the more this attitude is experienced by the therapist, the more likelihood there is that therapy will be successful.
"The third condition we may call empathic understanding. When the therapist is sensing the feelings and personal meanings which the client is experiencing in each moment, when he can perceive these from "inside," as they seem to the client, and when he can successfully communicate something of that understanding to his client, then this third condition is fulfilled.
"I suspect each of us has discovered that this kind of understanding
is extremely rare. We neither receive it nor offer it with any great frequency.
Instead we offer another type of understanding which is very different.
"I understand what is wrong with you"; "I understand what makes you act
that way"; or "I too have experienced your trouble and I reacted very differently";
these are the types of understanding which we usually offer and receive,
an evaluative understanding from the outside. But when someone understands
how it feels and seems to be ME, without wanting to analyze me or judge
me, then I can blossom and grow in that climate. And research bears out
this common observation. When the therapist can grasp the moment-to-moment
experiencing which occurs in the inner world of the client as the client
sees it and feels it, without losing the separateness of his own identity
in this empathic process, then change is likely to occur.
"THE DYNAMICS OF CHANGE
"You may well ask, "But why does a person who is seeking help change for the better when he is involved, over a period of time, in a relationship with a therapist which contains these elements? How does this come about?" Let me try very briefly to answer this question.
"The reactions of the client who experiences for a time the kind of therapeutic relationship which I have described are a reciprocal (a mirror) of the therapist's attitudes. In the first place, as he finds someone else listening acceptantly to his feelings, he little by little becomes able to listen to himself. He begins to receive the communications from within himself - to realize that he is angry, to recognize when he is frightened, even to realize when he is feeling courageous. As he becomes more open to what is going on within him he becomes able to listen to feelings which he has always denied and repressed. He can listen to feelings which have seemed to him so terrible, or so disorganizing, or so abnormal, or so shameful, that he has never been able to recognize their existence in himself.
"While he is learning to listen to himself he also becomes more acceptant of himself. As he expresses more and more of the hidden and awful aspects of himself, he finds the therapist showing a consistent and unconditional positive regard for him and his feelings. Slowly he moves toward taking the same attitude toward himself, accepting himself as he is, and therefore ready to move forward in the process of becoming.
"And finally as he listens more accurately to the feelings within, and
becomes less evaluative and more acceptant toward himself, he also moves
toward greater congruence. He finds it possible to move out from behind
the facades he has used, to drop his defensive behaviors, and more openly
to be what he truly is. As these changes occur, as he becomes more self-aware,
more self-acceptant, less defensive and more open, he finds that he is
at last free to change and grow in the directions natural to the human
"Now let me put something of this process in factual statements, each statement borne out by empirical research. We know that the client shows movement on each of a number of continua. Starting from wherever he may be on each continuum I will mention, he moves toward the upper end.
"In regard to feelings and personal meanings, he moves away from a state in which feelings are unrecognized, unowned, unexpressed. He moves toward a flow in which ever-changing feelings are experienced in the moment, knowingly and acceptingly, and may be accurately expressed.
"The process involves a change in the manner of his experiencing. Initially he is remote from his experiencing. An example would be the intellectualizing person who talks about himself and his feelings in abstractions, leaving you wondering what is actually going on within him. From such remoteness he moves toward an immediacy of experiencing in which he lives openly in his experiencing, and knows that he can turn to it to discover its current meanings.
"The process involves a loosening of the cognitive maps of experience. From construing experience in rigid ways, which are perceived as external facts, the client moves toward developing changing, loosely held construings of meaning in experience, constructs which are modifiable by each new experience.
"In general, the evidence shows that the process moves away from fixity, remoteness from feelings and experience, rigidity of self-concept, remoteness from people, impersonality of functioning. It moves toward fluidity, changingness, immediacy of feelings and experience, acceptance of feelings and experience, tentativeness of constructs, discovery of a changing self in one's changing experience, realness and closeness of relationships, a unity and integration of functioning.
"We are continually learning more about this process by which change
comes about, and I am not sure that this very brief summary conveys much
of the richness of our findings.
"THE SUBJECTIVE PICTURE
"Up to this point I have spoken of the process of counseling and therapy
objectively, stressing what we know, writing it as a crude equation in
which we can at least tentatively put down the specific terms. But let
me now try to approach it from the inside, and without ignoring this factual
knowledge, present this equation as it occurs subjectively in both therapist
and client. I want to do this because therapy in its occurrence is a highly
personal, subjective experience. This experience has qualities quite different
from the objective characteristics it possesses when viewed externally.
"THE THERAPIST'S EXPERIENCE
"To the therapist, it is a new venture in relating. He feels:
"THE CLIENT'S EXPERIENCE
"And the client, for his part, goes through
far more complex sequences which can only be suggested. Perhaps schematically
his feelings change in some of these ways:
"What I have just presented doesn't happen rapidly. It may take years.
It may not, for reasons we do not understand very well, happen at all.
But at least this may suggest an inside view of the factual picture I have
tried to present of the process of psychotherapy as it occurs in both the
therapist and his client."
The above essay has helped me immensely in my own growth. It's hard to describe how afraid I've been of the feelings that have gone on inside of me, wondering if I was strange or abnormal. The fact was, I see now, that no one else around me had been talking of similar feelings, either because they hadn't felt them themselves yet, or perhaps just as likely, they were also keeping quiet because they were also unsure of what these feelings meant or afraid of showing this part of themselves. Unfortunately we live in a culture that does not encourage one to feel what we are feeling. We are trained since childhood to not trust our feelings, and also to do what we are told even if something doesn't feel right to us about it. The type of listening Rogers developed, or more appropriately "discovered," is a listening which encourages the person to trust their own feelings and their own experience more. It happens slowly at first, but the inner trust develops more and more as one is able to be in an acceptant environment which encourages that trust and growth.
So when I started reading these descriptions of what others were going through as they were taking these first scary steps of trusting themselves, of revealing seeingly strange and personally judged feelings and personal meanings, I suddenly felt very much at home. Here were descriptions of others going through the same hesitations and inner conflicts that I was, and these descriptions were descriptions of what happens as we are growing! All the sudden I could let myself, with a new freedom, start feeling many things I had been afraid of, and to admit what inner meanings I had for these things without feeling I was sounding stupid or crazy. All I can say is that it was quite a relief to get this type of assistance, through just reading a few essays, and it accelerated my own personal process dramatically. For this reason I am putting these excerpts here, hoping it facilitates others the way it has for me. I have read them many times, and each time it sinks in a little deeper and lets me feel a little bit more self-assured as I explore my inner world.
The next excerpt is another that has been immensely helpful in trusting
where I am heading as I change and grow. Sometimes the changes are quite
shocking, and it would be easy to imagine that something is happening that
is not so good - especially when we are growing as the result of an open
understanding relationship with another who is like us and not with a professionally
trained therapist who can reassure us that we are actually developing in
a positive direction rather than a feared, negative one. This excerpt is
just a very brief summary of what is known as "The Stages of Growth". This
is taken mostly from Chapter 7 of "On Becoming a Person." Again, here is
"THE EMERGING CONTINUUM
"In trying to grasp and conceptualize the process of change, I was initially looking for elements which would mark or characterize change itself. I was thinking of change as an entity, and searching for its specific attributes. What gradually emerged in my under- standing as I exposed myself to the raw material of change was a continuum of a different sort than I had conceptualized before.
"Individuals move, I began to see, not from a fixity or homeostasis through change to a new fixity, though such a process is indeed pos- sible. But much the more significant continuum is from fixity to changingness, from rigid structure to flow, from stasis to process. I formed the tentative hypothesis that perhaps the qualities of the client's expression at any one point might indicate his position on this continuum, might indicate where he stood in the process of change.
"I gradually developed this concept of a process, discriminating seven
stages in it, though I would stress that it is a continuum, and that whether
one discriminated three stages or fifty, there would still be all the intermediate
"SEVEN STAGES OF PROCESS
"Let me then try to portray the way in which I see the successive stages of the process by which the individual changes from fixity to flowingness, from a point nearer the rigid end of the continuum to a point nearer the "in-motion" end of the continuum. If I am correct in my observations then it is possible that by dipping in and sampling the qualities of experiencing and expressing in a given individual, in a climate where he feels himself to be completely received, we may be able to determine where he is in this continuum of personality change.
"First Stage. Communciation is about externals. There is an unwillingness to communicate self. Feelings and personal meanings are neither recognized as such nor owned. Constructs are extremely rigid. Close relationships are construed as dangerous.
"Second Stage. Feelings are sometimes described but as unowned past objects external to self. The individual is remote from his subjective experience. He may voice contradictory statements about himself with little awareness that they are contradictory. He expresses himself somewhat freely on nonself topics. He may show some recognition that he has problems or confiicts, but they are perceived as external to the self.
"Third Stage. There is much description of feelings and personal meanings which are not now present. These distant feelings are often pictured as unacceptable or bad. The experiencing of situations is largely described as having occurred in the past, or is cast in terms of the past. There is a freer flow of expression about self as an object. There may be communication about self as a reflected object, existing primarily in others. Personal constructs are rigid but may at times be thought of as constructs, with occasionally a questioning of their validity. There is a beginning recognition that any problems that exist are inside the individual rather than external.
"Fourth Stage. Feelings and personal meanings are freely described as present objects owned by the self. Feelings of an intense sort are still described as not now present. There is a dim recognition that feelings denied to awareness may break through in the present, but this is a frightening possibility. There is an unwilling, fearful recognition that one is experiencing things. Contradictions in experience are clearly realized and a definite concern over them felt. There is an initial loosening of personal constructs. It is sometimes discovered that experience has been construed as having a certain meaning but that this meaning is not inherent nor absolute. There is some expression of self-responsibility for problems. The individual is occasionally willing to risk relating himself to others on a feeling basis.
"Fifth Stage. Many feelings are freely expressed in the moment of their occurrence and are thus experienced in the immediate present. These feelings are owned or accepted. Feelings previously denied now tend to bubble through into awareness, though there is fear of this occurrence. There is some recognition that experiencing with immediacy is a referent and possible guide for the individual. Contradictions are recognized as being between attitudes in different aspects of the personality - indicated by statements such as, "My mind tells me this is so but I don't seem to believe it." There is a desire to be the self-related feelings, "the real me," and a questioning of the validity of many personal constructs. The person feels he has a definite responsibility for the problems that exist in him.
"Sixth Stage. Feelings previously denied are now experienced with both
immediacy and acceptance. Such feelings are not something to be denied,
feared, or struggled against. This experiencing is often vivid, dramatic,
and releasing for the individual. There is full acceptance now of experience
as providing a clear and usable referent for getting at the latent meanings
of the individual's encounter with himself and with life. There is also
the recognition that the self is now becoming this process of experiencing.
There is no longer much awareness of the self as an object. The individual
often feels somewhat "shaky" as his solid constructs are recognized as
construings that take place within him. The individual risks being himself
in process in the relationship to others. He takes the risk of being the
flow that is himself and trusting another person to accept him as he is
in this flow.
"SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING THIS PROCESS CONTINUUM
"Let me try to anticipate certain questions which may be raised about the process I have tried to describe.
"Is this the process by which personality changes or one of many kinds of change? This I do not know. Perhaps there are several types of process by which personality changes. I would only specify that this seems to be the process which is set in motion when the individual experiences himself as being fully received.
"Does it apply in all psychotherapies, or is this the process which occurs in one psychotherapeutic orientation only? Until we have more recordings of therapy from other orientations, this question cannot be answered. However, I would hazard a guess that perhaps therapeutic approaches which place great stress on the cognitive and little on the emotional aspects of experience may set in motion an entirely different process of change.
"Would everyone agree that this is a desirable process of change, that it moves in valued directions? I believe not. I believe some people do not value fluidity. This will be one of the social value judgments which individuals and cultures will have to make. Such a process of change can easily be avoided, by reducing or avoiding those relationships in which the individual is fully received as he is.
"Is change on this continuum rapid? My observation is quite the contrary. My interpretation of Kirmer's study, which may be slightly different from his, is that a client might start therapy at about stage two and end at about stage four with both elient and therapist being quite legitimately satisfied that substantial progress had been made. It would occur very rarely, if ever, that a client who fully exemplified stage one would move to a point where he fully exemplified stage seven. If this did occur, it would involve a matter of years.
"Are the descriptive items properly grouped at each stage? I feel sure
that there are many errors in the way I have grouped my observations. I
also wonder what important elements have been omitted. I wonder also if
the different elements of this continuum might not be more parsimoniously
described. All such questions, however, may be given an empirical answer,
if the hypothesis I am setting forth has merit in the eyes of various research
"I have tried to sketch, in a crude and preliminary manner, the flow of a process of change which occurs when a client experiences himself as being received, welcomed, understood as he is. This process involves several threads, separable at first, becoming more of a unity as the process continues.
"This process involves a loosening of feelings. At the lower end of the continuum they are described as remote, unowned, and not now present. They are then described as present objects with some sense of ownership by the individual. Next they are expressed as owned feelings in terms closer to their immediate experiencing. Still further up the scale they are experienced and expressed in the immediate present with a decreasing fear of this process. Also, at this point, even those feelings which have been previously denied to awareness bubble through into awareness, are experienced, and increasingly owned. At the upper end of the continuum living in the process of experiencing a continually changing flow of feelings becomes characteristic of the individual.
"The process involves a change in the manner of experiencing. The continuum begins with a fixity in which the individual is very remote from his experiencing and unable to draw upon or symbolize its implicit meaning. Experiencing must be safely in the past before a meaning can be drawn from it and the present is interpreted in terms of these past meanings. From this remoteness in relation to his experiencing, the individual moves toward the recognition of experiencing as a troubling process going on within him. Experiencing gradually becomes a more accepted inner referent to which he can turn for increasingly accurate meanings. Finally he becomes able to live freely and acceptantly in a fluid process of experiencing, using it comfortably as a major reference for his behavior.
"The process involves a shift from incongruence to congruence. The continuum runs from a maximum of incongruence which is quite unknown to the individual through stages where there is an increasingly sharp recognition of the contradictions and discrepancies existing within himself, to the experiencing of incongruence in the immediate present in a way which dissolves this. At the upper end of the continuum, there would never be more than temporary incongruence between experiencing and awareness since the individual would not need to defend himself against the threatening aspects of his experience.
"The process involves a change in the manner in which, and the extent to which the individual is able and willing to communicate himself in a receptive climate. The continuum runs from a complete unwillingness to communicate self, to the self as a rich and changing awareness of internal experiencing which is readily communicated when the individual desires to do so.
"The process involves a loosening of the cognitive maps of experience. From construing experience in rigid ways which are perceived as external facts, the client moves toward developing changing, loosely held construings of meaning in experience, constructions which are modifiable by each new experience.
"There is a change in the individual's relationship to his problems. At one end of the continuum problems are unrecognized and there is no desire to change. Gradually there is a recognition that problems exist. At a further stage, there is recognition that the individual has contributed to these problems, that they have not arisen entirely from external sources. Increasingly, there is a sense of self-responsibility for the problems. Further up the continuum there is a living or experiencing of some aspect of the problems. The person lives his problems subjectively, feeling responsible for the contribution he has made in the development of his problems.
"There is change in the individual's manner of relating. At one end of the continuum the individual avoids close relationships, which are perceived as being dangerous. At the other end of the continuum, he lives openly and freely in relation to the therapist and to others, guiding his behavior in the relationship on the basis of his immediate experiencing.
"In general, the process moves from a point of fixity, where all the
elements and threads described above are separately discernible and separately
understandable, to the flowing peak moments of therapy in which all these
threads become inseparably woven together. In the new experiencing with
immediacy which occurs at such moments, feeling and cognition interpenetrate,
self is subjectively present in the experience, volition is simply the
subjective following of a harmonious balance of organismic direction. Thus,
as the process reaches this point the person becomes a unity of flow, of
motion. He has changed, but what seems most significant, he has become
an integrated process of changingness."
I hope this has given you an idea of what changes can happen in the way we view life, our relationships, our problems, and our feelings and experiences, when we embark on a such a path of becoming more and more who we really are. While it is relatively rare for individuals to be able to come together and create a relationship which facilitates these kinds of changes in both individuals, it is only rare since it hasn't been described well yet, and I hope this site will help change that situation. I welcome comments of this article and any others on this site, and I 'm also open to sharing more of my personal growth process, as well as my experiences and experiments with this growth promoting relationship model with anyone who is interested.
With warm regards