Home PsychologyLegendary Psychologists Legendary Psychologists: Carl Rogers

Legendary Psychologists: Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers will forever be remembered as one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century. Over the course of a 56-year career, Rogers was able to leave his mark on the field of psychology by developing a number of important brain and behavior theories. His ideas about person-centered therapy, personality development, congruence, and acceptance still hold weight in psychology communities today. Rogers also worked alongside Abraham Maslow, another highly decorated psychologist, to develop the humanistic psychological approach. Based on his lengthy list of accomplishments, it is clear to see why Rogers is considered to be one of the most prominent psychologists in the field has ever known.

Carl Rogers Profile:

Carl Rogers headshot.Born: January 8th, 1902

Died: February 4th, 1987 (age 85)

Occupation: Psychologist

Focused On: Humanistic Psychology, Personality, & Person-Centered Therapy

Carl Rogers Overview:

On January 8th, 1902, Walter A. Rogers and his wife Julia welcomed their fourth of six children into the world. Walter and Julia, who were living in Oak Park, Illinois at the time, would name their newly born son Carl Ransom Rogers. For the devoutly religious couple, it was not only important to raise Carl and the rest of their children with Christian values but also to teach them the importance of hard work, discipline, and education. It is said that Carl didn’t start his formal education until the second grade because he was already reading at kindergarten age. As Carl moved into his adolescence, he became rather self-sufficient and showed interest in more age-advanced concepts such as the scientific method.

During his college years, Carl explored a variety of different educational and career paths. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he spent his time studying agriculture, religion, and history. Initially, Rogers planned on working in the agricultural industry, but after traveling to China as part of a religious study group, he came to believe that he should pursue a more meaningful career. Upon graduating with his bachelor’s degree from University, he made the decision to enter the Union Theological Seminary in hopes of becoming a minister.

Rogers would stay in the seminary for two years, but after attending a thought-provoking seminar titled ‘Why am I entering the ministry?’ he once again made the decision to switch his career focus. It wasn’t until 1926, at the age of 26, that Carl Rogers decided to enroll at Columbia University’s Teachers College to study clinical psychology, and by 1931 he had received both his master’s and Ph.D.

Over the next 56 years, Carl Rogers would go on to build a psychology legacy that has only been matched by a select few. During this time, he would not only work as a clinical psychologist, but also lecture, write, research, and formulate psychological theories that still hold weight in psychology communities today. Over the course of his career, Rogers would spend time working at the University of Rochester, Ohio State University, the University of Chicago, and the Western Behavioral Science Institute. He also returned to teach at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, from 1957 to 1963. It was during his time in Madison that he published what would become one of his most popular books, ‘On Becoming a Person.’

Along with fellow psychologist Abraham Maslow, Rogers would pioneer a new psychological perspective called humanism. The duo’s positively focused approach differed greatly from approaches taken by other prominent psychologists like Sigmund Freud. Whereas Freud believed that human behavior and decision-making were based upon repressed and unconscious desires, Rogers believed that humans make decisions and take action in hopes of finding fulfillment and moving closer toward self-actualization. Furthermore, instead of looking at a patient from the eyes of an outsider, Rogers, Maslow, and other humanistic psychologists aimed to see things from the patient’s subjective point of view.

A diagram that shows Carl Rogers' ideas about incongruence and congruency.Individually speaking, Rogers is best known for his theories about personality, congruency, person-centered therapy, and acceptance. He believed that the individual self, or personality, was made up of three unique and related components: Self-worth, Self-image, and the Ideal-Self. Rogers told us that an individual’s self-image and ideal self would have to be in congruency with one another for that person to become self-actualized. Furthermore, he believed that individuals should strive to accept themselves and others without withdrawing acceptance after perceived mistakes.

Carl Rogers passed away in 1987 at the age of 85. Throughout his career, Rogers published a number of highly influential psychology books and journal articles. Besides the previously mentions ‘On Becoming a Person,’ his most well-known works are ‘A Way of Being’ and ‘Client-Centered Therapy.’ During his career, Rogers also served as the President of the American Psychology Association (APA) and won a number of distinguishable rewards. In 1956, he won the APA’s Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions, in 1964, he won the American Humanistic Association’s Humanist of the Year Award, and in 1972, he won the APA’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Applied Psychology as a Professional Practice.

3 Messages to Take from his Teachings:

  • Aim for Your Fullest PotentialIn order for us to inch closer to our deepest desire for self-actualization, it is vital that we continuously aim for our fullest potential. Rogers believed that the primary goal of all human beings is to accomplish their deepest held wishes, but unless they are consistently pushing themselves to grow as a person, they will remain unsatisfied with life. Rogers told us that by moving toward our ideal self, we move closer to becoming fully-functioning individuals. He described such a person with five distinctive characteristics:
    • They openly accept both positive and negative experiences, emotions, and feelings.
    • They have the ability to live in and fully appreciate the present moment.
    • They trust themselves to make the right decisions by listening to their intuition.
    • They creatively think about life and seek new experiences with a willingness to take risks.
    • They find fulfillment through the process of continuous personal growth.
  • Move Towards Congruency: There isn’t much debating the fact that each of us holds deeply held desires for becoming the best version of ourselves and creating what we believe is a perfect life. Rogers described the part of ourselves that hold these pinnacle goals as the ideal self and told us that we should continuously focus on moving toward this archetype. In addition to the ideal self, he told us that there is another part of ourselves called the self-image. He believed that this part of one’s self was based upon the thoughts that one holds about the current version of themselves. In order to find congruence, he told us that we need to continuously move our current self-image in the direction of our ideal self. To do this, it is important for individuals to first get in touch with their deepest desires and uncover the components that make up their ideal selves. Once they have an idea about who they want to become as a person, they can move closer to becoming a fully-functioning person by moving their self-image toward their ideal self.
  • Openly Accept Others and YourselfThroughout his career as a psychologist, Carl Rogers came to realize that there is a major issue with how willing individuals are to openly accept others and themselves. He told us that unless an individual is willing to accept themselves as they are, they will be unable to move toward self-actualization and fulfillment. This means that only by accepting yourself as you are and taking responsibility for your problems, current situation, and life circumstances, can you move closer to becoming your ideal self. Rogers also told us that we should similarly accept others just as they are and offer forgiveness to people who have made mistakes. At the deepest level of our beings, we unquestionably can feel the suffering and pain that others feel, so it is important for us to move towards relinquishing our need to control, judge, and condemn others. Rogers told us,

People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at the sunset, I don’t find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right-hand corner.’ I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”

Inspirational Quotes:

  • “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
  • “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.”
  • “Growth occurs when individuals confront problems, struggle to master them, and through that struggle develop new aspects of their skills capacities, views about life.”


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