The “person-centered approach” began in the United States in the 1940s with the work of a former ministry-student-turned-psychologist named Carl R. Rogers (1902-1987). He was trained in clinical psychology at Columbia University in the 1920s when the field was in its infancy. Rogers’ training was eclectic, with exposure to psychoanalysis, testing and measurement, and the techniques of child guidance. At Columbia, he was particularly influenced by the progressive education movement with its emphasis on helping students to become self-directed learners and work cooperatively in groups.
Rogers also introduced his “non-directive” method. He credited others with working in a similar “newer direction,” but his own description of effective counseling and psychotherapy was more clearly articulated and more extreme than other models. His method was based on a core hypothesis about human growth and personality change, which Roger’s summarized a few years later:
“This hypothesis is that the client has within himself the capacity, latent if not evident, to understand those aspects of his life and of himself which are causing him pain, and the capacity and the tendency to reorganize himself and his relationship to life in the direction of self-actualization and maturity in such a way as to bring a greater degree of internal comfort. The function of the therapist is to create such a psychological atmosphere as will permit this capacity and this strength to become effective rather than latent or potential.”
Rogers’ initial non-directive method totally avoided questions, interpretation, suggestions, advice, or other directive techniques. Rather it relied exclusively on a process of carefully listening to the client, accepting the client for who he or she is, no matter how confused or anti-social that might be at the moment, and skillfully reflecting back the client’s feelings. Reflecting back the client’s feelings with full acceptance creates a level of safety for deeper exploration and a mirror in which the client could further understand and reflect upon his or her own experience, which would lead the client to further insight and positive action.
While one would understand the uniqueness of Roger’s approach, it is not widely known that Carl Rogers studied with Alfred Adler from 1927 to 1928, when Adler was a visiting instructor and Rogers was an intern at the Institute for Child Guidance in New York City. Shortly before his own death, Rogers offered this tribute:
"I had the privilege of meeting, listening to, and observing Dr. Alfred Adler. Accustomed as I was to the rather rigid Freudian approach of the Institute--seventy-five-page case histories, and exhaustive batteries of tests before even thinking of "treating" a child. I was shocked by Dr. Adler's very direct and deceptively simple manner of immediately relating to the child and the parent. It took me some time to realize how much I had learned from him."
The purpose of Roger’s humanistic therapy is to increase a person’s feelings of self-worth, reduce the level of incongruence between the ideal and actual self, and help a person become more of a fully functioning person. However, if one would examine the similarities between the basic assumptions of Roger’s humanistic theory, and Adlerian theory, one would safely determine that both the theories are very similar. Most notably, both the theorist emphasized the importance of empathy and encouragement for therapeutic change. Out of twelve basic assumptions of Adlerian theory, person centered therapy appears to match Adlerian theory on at least nine basic assumptions, which includes: Holism, Teleology, Creativity, Phenomenology, Self-determinism, Motivation as striving, Psychology of use, Acting as if, and Self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore, it can be said that person-centered therapy is Neo-Adlerian.
While there are many similarities between two theories, they are unique in their own ways, and some of the unique features are discussed below.
Rogerian therapists strive to be models of congruence for clients; Adlerian therapists strive to be models of social interest. However the two approaches diverge when Rogers's approach to therapy states that the core conditions are both necessary and sufficient for therapeutic change to occur, whereas Adler suggests that empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard are necessary but not usually sufficient.
In Adlerian therapy idiographic orientation is very important for example; specific details (with whom, why, when), whereas in humanistic therapy therapist meets the client where he/she is without emphasizing on “with whom, or why” etc. Roger’s did not emphasize much on social embeddedness, while it is an important construct in Adlerian theory. It is also important to note that Adler did not think people are either fundamentally good or bad, could be either, or it largely depends on many factors. However, Rogers believed that all human beings are inherently good.
Despite the fact that Roger’s approach is unique in its own way, however one would notice that there are more similarities between Roger’s approach and Adlerain theory.
Kirschenbaum, H. (2009). The life and work of Carl Rogers. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association. Also published by PCCS Books, Ross-on-Wye, UK, 2007.
Rogers, C.R. (1950). A current formulation of client-centered therapy. Social Service Review, 24, 442-450.
Sweeney, T. J. (2009). Adlerian counseling and psychotherapy: A practitioner’s approach, 5th Ed. New York, NY: Taylor & Routledge.
Watson, G. (1940). Areas of agreement in psychotherapy. Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 10, 4, 698-710.
For further reading consider the following resources:
Rogers, C.R. (1955). On becoming a person: a therapist's view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Watts, R.E. (1998). The remarkable parallels between Roger’s core conditions and Adler’s social interest. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 54 (1), 4-9.