Rogers, Carl Ransom
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change (1961,19).
First name:
Carl Ransom
20th century
Field of expertise:
Place of birth:
Sundern (USA)
* 08.01.1902
† 04.02.1987
Biography print

American psychologist, leading figure in humanistic psychology and founder of person-centered therapy.


Background and education

Carl Rogers (1902-1987) grew up in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, as the fourth of six children. His parents, devout Pentecostal Christians, raised their children strictly according to their religious beliefs. Their son Carl was a bright, albeit shy and sickly child. Following his graduation from high school, he took up studies at the University of Wisconsin, first in agriculture and then in theology in order to become a priest. A six months stay in Peking helped him to emancipate himself from his parents. He decided to change career and enrolled at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he studied psychology and pedagogy. He obtained his MA in 1928 and his PhD in 1931, the latter about measuring the development of personality in children. Rogers married his wife Helen in 1924. They had two children. Their son David became a medical doctor, their daughter Natalie an art therapist.


Development of the person-centered approach

In 1928, Carl Rogers joined the Child Study Department of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Rochester, NY, and gained his first professional experience while still completing his doctoral thesis. He became director of the Society’s child guidance center in 1930. Over the next ten years, he worked with socially disadvantaged families and developed his therapeutic approach based on Otto Rank’s post-Freudian concepts, and was actively involved in social workers’ professional associations. He also initiated the setting up of the Rochester Guidance Center, where he accepted a senior post in 1939. Between 1936 and 1940, he taught at the University of Rochester and published his first book in 1939 (The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child).


In 1940, he became professor at Ohio State University. He analyzed record recordings of therapeutic conversations, introduced this method into researching the effectiveness of counseling, and developed his “non-directive” counseling technique (Counseling and Psychotherapy, 1942). In marked contrast to expert-centered approaches, he spoke of “clients” instead of “patients” and abstained from directive or controlling interventions. Drawing on the concept of the “phenomenological field” (D. Snygg, A. W. Combs), he developed a psychology of understanding (W. Dilthey) and his theory of the self: Psychological suffering emerges due to an individual’s attempts to cope with a persistent lack of positive regard from others and represents an “incongruence” between the ideal self and the real self in said individual’s self concept (Client-centered Therapy, 1951). According to Rogers, therapy facilitates he client’s further mental growth and maturation development (“self actualization”; K. Goldstein). Regarding the role of the therapist in person-centered therapy, he wrote: “Some years ago I formulated the view that it was not the special professional knowledge of the therapist, nor his intellectual conception of therapy (his ‘school of thought’), nor his techniques, which determined his effectiveness. I hypothesized that what was important was the extent to which he possessed certain personal attitudes in the relationship. I endeavored to define three of these which I regarded as basic – the realness, genuineness or congruence of the therapist; the degree of empathic understanding of his client which he experienced and communicated; and the degree of unconditional positive regard or non-possessive liking which he felt toward his client” (Rogers 1962: 4).


He further elucidated this position in his 1956 dispute with behaviorist B. F. Skinner. Between 1957 and 1963, Rogers taught psychology at the University of Wisconsin, but then left owing to intra-faculty conflicts. He became a resident at the Western Behavioral Science Institute in La Jolla, California, in 1964. In 1968, he founded the Center for Studies of the Person together with a group of 25 colleagues. Rogers increasingly engaged in international activities, which – during the 1970s – conflicted with his wife’s ailing health and need for care. He also witnessed the failure of his children’s marriages. He became involved in extramarital affairs and compensated the resulting tensions with increased drinking (Hinz & Behr 2002). After his wife’s death in 1979, he intensified his commitment to promoting group therapy and political grassroots processes. Together with his daughter, Natalie Rogers, he convened a number of group-based programs ("encounter“), e. g. in Northern Ireland, South Africa and Brazil, which focused on personal growth, self-empowerment, cross-cultural understanding and learning for social change. He emphasized this conceptual broadening by explicitly referring to his approach as “person centered”. Carl Rogers died after an accident in February 1987 in La Jolla, aged 85.


Rogers published his most important autobiographcical under the title This is Me in 1961. His literary estate is kept at the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.) and at a special archive at the University of California (Rogers Collection, Santa Barbara).


International impact and criticism

Carl Rogers ranks as one of the leading figures of humanistic psychology, the “third force” in 20th century psychology, following psychoanalysis and behavior therapy. His person-centered approach has gained worldwide recognition as a fundamental strategy in counseling and psychotherapy, and has been adopted and further developed for various psychosocial intervention settings (Cornelius-White et al. 2013; Gahleitner et al 2013; Norcross 2011; Sachse 2005; Gendlin 1978). In (West-) Germany, person-centered therapy became known through the work of Annemarie and Reinhard Tausch (University of Hamburg) in the 1970s. The approach, however, has also attracted criticism: It has for instance been argued that the theory of subjectivity is based on non-verifiable anthropological assumptions, that it is overly optimistic and focuses too much on the individual (Straub 2012). Another line of criticism says that there is insufficient empirical evidence for the effectiveness of the method – which should be applicable to all types of mental problems and disorders (uniformity hypothesis) – and that those effects have been overrated. Others claim that the method cannot be used for in-depth therapeutic processes designed to affect the personality structure of the client.


Significance for psychiatry

Between 1957 and 1963, Rogers tested the client-centered method in his clinical work with chronically schizophrenic patients at Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin (Rogers et al. 1967). A clinical control group study, however, did not show any significant improvement, with only slightly higher discharge rates and slightly better development of the personality (Rogers 1967). Establishing contact with the patients proved rather difficult, as they often refused to speak or talked in monologues. Still, Rogers concluded that “behind the curtains of silence, and hallucination, and strange talk, and hostility, and indifference, there is in each case a person, and that if we are skilful and fortunate we can reach that person, and can live, often for brief moments only, in a direct person-to-person relationship with him. To me that fact seems to say something about the nature of schizophrenia. It says something, too, about the nature of man and his craving for and fear of a deep human relationship. It seems to say that human beings are persons, whether we label them schizophrenic or whatever” (Rogers et al. 1967: 191 f.).


Based on these experiences, Rogers modified his concept and now placed more emphasis on the therapist’s ability to be “genuine” (cf. Haugh 2001). Today, there are several disorder-specific approaches for both inpatient and outpatient treatment (psychosis: Binder 1998; Traynor et al. 2011; depression: Finke & Teusch 1999; panic disorder: Teusch, Böhme & Gastpar 1997; alcoholism: Speierer 2000; Krampe & Ehrenreich 2012).


Functions and awards

1946/47: President of the American Psychological Association (APA)

1955: Nicolas Murray Butler Silver Medal, awarded by the Columbia University)

1956: APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Psychology

1964: Humanist of the Year, awarded by the American Humanist Association

1972: APA Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Psychology

1987: Nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, nominated by Congressman Jim Bates

Honorary doctorates awarded i.a. by the following institutions: Goganza University, University of Cincinnati, University of Hamburg, University of Leiden, Northwestern University.



Binder, U. (1998): Empathy and empathy development with psychotic clients. In: B. Thorne, E. Lambers (eds.): Person-centred therapy. A European perspective. London: Sage, pp. 216-230.

Cohen, D. (2000): Carl Rogers. A critical biography. London: Constable & Robinson.

Cornelius-White, J. H. D., R. Motschnig-Pitrik, M. Lux (eds.) (2013): Interdisciplinary applications of the person-centered approach. New York: Springer.

Elliott, W.R., M. Cooper (2011): Helpful factors and outcomes in person-centered therapy with clients who experience psychotic processes: Therapists’ perspectives. In: Person-centered and experiential psychotherapies 10, (2), pp. 89-104.

Eckert J., E.-M. Biermann-Ratjen, D. Höger (2006): Gesprächspsychotherapie. Lehrbuch für die Praxis. Berlin Heidelberg New York Tokyo: Springer.

Finke, J., L. Teusch (2007): Using a person-centred approach within a medical framework. In: M. Cooper, M. O'Hara, P.F. Schmid, G. Wyatt (Eds.): The handbook of person-centred psychotherapy and counselling. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 279-292.

Gaebel, W. (1984): Modifizierte Gesprächspsychotherapie im Rahmen der ambulanten Nachbehandlung schizophrener Patienten. In: Zeitschrift für personenzentrierte Psychologie und Psychotherapie 3, pp. 87-96.

Gahleitner, S. B., I. Maurer, E. Ploil, U. Straumann (eds.) (2013): Personzentriert beraten: alles Rogers? Theoretische und praktische Weiterentwicklungen Personzentrierter Beratung. Weinheim: Beltz Juventa.

Gendlin, E.T. (1978): Focusing. New York: Bantam.

Gibbard, I., T. Hanley (2008): A five-year evaluation of the effectiveness of person-centred counselling in routine clinical practice in primary care. In: Counselling and Psychotherapy Research 8 (4), pp. 215-222.

Groddeck, N. (2002): Carl Rogers. Wegbereiter der modernen Psychotherapie. Darmstadt: Primus.

Hinz. A., M. Behr (2002): Biografische Rekonstruktionen und Reflexionen - Zum 100. Geburtstag von Carl Rogers. In: Gesprächspsychotherapie und Personzentrierte Beratung 33, (2), pp. 197-210.

Haugh, S. (2001): A historical review of the development of the concept of congruence in person-centred therapy. In: G. Wyatt (ed.): Roger's therapeutic conditions: Evolution, theory and practice – Congruence. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books, pp. 1-17.

Kirschenbaum, H.: The life and work of Carl Rogers. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.

Krampe, H., H. Ehrenreich (2012): Therapeutische Allianz und multiple Beziehungsgestaltung im Kontext der Therapeutenrotation: Erfahrungen bei ALITA. In: Neurology, Psychiatry and Brain Research 18, pp. 153-168.

Norcross, J.C. (2011): Psychotherapy that works (2nd edition). New York: Oxford University Press.

Rogers, C. R., R. Sanford (1984): Client-centered psychotherapy. In: H. Kaplan, B. Sadock (eds.): Comprehensive textbook of psychiatry. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, pp. 1374-1388.

Rogers, C. R. (1967): The findings in brief. In: Rogers C. R., E. T. Gendlin, D. J. Kiesler, C. B. Truax, (eds.): The therapeutic relationship and its impact. A study of psychotherapy with schizophrenics. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 73-93.

Rogers, C.R. (1967a): Autobiography. In: E. G. Boring, G. Lindzey (eds.): A history of psychology in autobiography. Vol. 5. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, pp. 341-384.

Rogers C. R., E. T. Gendlin, D. J. Kiesler, C. B. Truax (eds.) (1967): The therapeutic relationship and its impact. A study of psychotherapy with schizophrenics. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Rogers, C. R. (1962): Some learnings from a study of psychotherapy with schizophrenics. In: Pennsylvania Psychiatric Quarterly 2, (2/3), pp. 3-15.

Rogers, C. R. (1961): This is Me. In: C. R. Rogers: The Carl Rogers Reader. Hg. von H. Kirschenbaum, V. L. Henderson. New York: Houghton Mifflin 1989, pp. 6-29.

Rogers. C.R. (1959): A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. In: S. Koch (ed.): Psychology: a study of a science. Vol. 3. Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill, pp. 184-256.

Rogers, C. R., B. F. Skinner (1956): Some issues concerning the control of human behavior. A symposium. In: Science 124, (No. 3231), pp. 1057–1066.

Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton. Mifflin Company.

Rogers, C.R. (1942): Counseling and psychotherapy. Newer concepts in practice. Oxford, England: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. R. (1939): The clinical treatment of the problem child. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C.R. (1931): Measuring personality adjustment in children nine to thirteen years of age. New York, Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Sachse, R. (2005): Von der Gesprächspsychotherapie zur Klärungsorientierten Psychotherapie: Kritik und Weiterentwicklung eines Therapiekonzeptes. Lengerich: Pabst.

Speierer, G.-W. (1994): Das differenzielle Inkongruenzmodell. DIM – Handbuch der Gesprächspsychotherapie als Inkongruenzbehandlung. Heidelberg: Asanger.

Straub, J. (ed.) (2012): Der sich selbst verwirklichende Mensch. Über den Humanismus der Humanistischen Psychologie. Bielefeld: transcript.

Tausch, R. (1970): Gesprächspsychotherapie. Göttingen: Verlag für Psychologie.

Teusch, L., H. Böhme, M. Gastpar (1997): The benefit of an insight oriented and experiential approach on panic and agoraphobia symptoms: Results of a controlled comparison of client-centered therapy and a combination with behavioral exposure. In: Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 66, pp. 293-301.

Teusch, L., J. Finke (2002): Personzentrierte Psychotherapie in der Psychiatrie. In: W. Keil: Die vielen Gesichter der Personzentrierten Psychotherapie. Vienna: Springer, pp. 477-497.


Burkhart Brückner, Ansgar Fabri


Photo: Didius at nl.wikipedia / Source: Wikimedia / Licence: CC-BY 2.5


Referencing format
Burkhart Brückner, Ansgar Fabri (2015) : Rogers, Carl Ransom.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:21.07.2024)