21 May 2007

Ten Pages of Carl Rogers

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 5:22 pm

Anne is reading Client-Centered Therapy by Carl Rogers (1951). Here are a couple bits she told me about that surprised me.

Rogers asked Miss Cam, one of his clients, to document her experience in therapy. After her fourth session she reported that she was finding it increasingly difficult to reflect on the therapeutic process:

” My energies are pretty well tied up in whatever process is going on, and it takes a tremendous effort to observe and record the proces: my instinct or impulse, or what have you, is all against analyzing and self-regarding — I’m much inclined to leave myself alone and just enjoy the results, or let them wash over me when I don’t enjoy them: some way or other, the whole counseling process seems to militate against any sort of introspection or preoccupation with self.”

Rogers makes this observation about his client’s reflections:

The client is, in the therapeutic hour, focusing all her attention upon self, to a degree that she has probably never known before. Yet this situation is experienced as a process which leads away from preoccupation with self. The question is worth raising as to whether therapy is not an experiencing of self, not an experience about self.

This speaks to a concern I expressed in my last post, that encouraging someone to talk about herself might just feed the addiction, encourage the obsession with oneself. Self-absorption is a way of reifying the ego as an object with a particular personality, status, self-image, history, resume of accomplishments, set of problems, plans for the future, etc. But maybe, if somebody is ready to listen to you regardless of your self-proclaimed right to be heard, you can get past all that.

During the fourth session Miss Cam experienced Rogers as “present” to her, indispensible to her happiness, someone with whom she entered into “a communion, a mutuality.” The next session didn’t go as well, and her reactions to Rogers were completely different:

“So flat and hopeless, like being up against a flat blank wall — immovable, impenetrable, unscalable, a dead end to life and growth, a sterile, uncaring wall of mystery cutting me off from myself… You might just as well not be there for all the good you can do… But you see, last time your face suddenly looked different — as if it had been black with coal dust, and then was washed clean to reveal an altogether unexpected freshness and individuality… And there’s something awfully wrong and confusing about the way you look to me now. I keep wanting to rub my eyes, as if I were brushing away cobwebs. And I’d like to wash your face. I can see it with black coal dust, and it’s a little relief to imagine taking lots of soap and water and a nice rough cloth and washing it shiny clean.”

Now Rogers consciously presents himself as pleasantly engaged and supportive in these sessions, without revealing much about himself. Miss Cam’s description of him during this fifth session illustrates, says Rogers, the strenuous process of alteration of self… a basic and extensive reorganization of self. Rogers says that clients often perceive others, including the therapist, in the same way that they perceive themselves. He regards this alternation in Miss Cam’s perceptions of him as pure projection. But isn’t it possible that Rogers is always unconsciously projecting himself as both personas, as the supportive, reflective guide in the voyage of self-discovery, and the unresponsive, indifferent blank wall? The client attunes to one virtual Carl Rogers on visit four, and the other one on visit five.

Miss Cam continued reflecting on her fifth session later in the day, which took the form of a visual image of Rogers’ face:

“As I looked at your face, it was as if a hand reached out and quite literally peeled a heavy shadow away from it, revealing the fresh, individual face which I was so disappointed to lose this afternoon. It was the most extraordinarily vivid experience, it wouldn’t be at all adequate to say it was like a hallucination — it was a hallucination. Not the face, that is, that was just a vivid memory, but the shadow of my own feelings, which I had projected on it… And that explains the haunting, but elusive sense I’ve had of something odd and baffling in your appearance, so that I’ve been torn between nervous reluctance to look at you, and a desire to stare and stare in hopes of dispelling the enigma. Then there were two or three times when I would have sworn you laughed, but when I looked you were perfectly sober, and you quite obviously hadn’t and couldn’t have been even smiling. And on one of those occasions when I looked at you, something seemed to move rapidly from your face towards my left hand and disappear.”

Rogers said he was surprised that Miss Cam found this fifth session to have been so intense, and so different from the prior one. Though he regarded Miss Cam’s hallucinations as unusual, he wasn’t particularly disturbed by them.

In general, in clients undergoing drastic self-reorganization, behaviors which would be labeled as ‘psychotic’ from a diagnostic frame of reference are encountered with some frequency. When one sees these behaviors from the internal frame of reference their functional meaning appears so clear that it becomes incomprehensible that they should be regarded as symptoms of a ‘disease.’ To regard all behavior as the meaningful attempt of the organism to adjust to itself and to its environment — this appears more fruitful for understanding personality processes than to try to categorize some behaviors as abnormal, or as constituting disease entities.

Here Rogers’ observations remind me both of Lacan and of Deleuze & Guattari. Lacan reinterprets symptoms as expressions of the unconscious trying to make itself heard and accepted by the Big Other, who is represented by the therapist. And Deleuze & Guattari speak of this radical restructuring of the self as “schizoanalysis,” a kind of controlled psychotic process. The self becomes “deterritorialized,” stripped of its usual ways of understanding itself, temporarily blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, between self and other. It’s only by undergoing this schizoid experience that the self is able to “reterritorialize” itself in some less repressive way.

I’ve been thinking about Rogers as kind of a square. Maybe I’m wrong.



  1. What’s wrong with being square?



    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 21 May 2007 @ 11:26 pm

  2. A fair question. I’ve been consciously trying to see how various strands of pomohood relate to pscyhotherapy, and I think of Rogers as a kind of American traditionalist. In particular, I’ve thought of his “person-centered” approach as complicit in the current egocentric age. But this post indicates that he shares insights with guys like Stern (all thought is unconscious) and Deleuze & Guattari (schizoanalysis, deterritorialization). This suggests more continuity between modern and postmodern — which I think is true generally speaking.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 May 2007 @ 5:18 am

  3. Beyond me, dude. I was just being kind of goofy and referencing our previous conversation. Although I do like reading and learning about this stuff from your blog.


    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 22 May 2007 @ 7:24 pm

  4. All these posts are about psychology, where I’m trying to figure out what kind of psychology I want to practice. “Egocentric age” I think you understand, Deleuze & Guattari you know, Stern was the “all thought is unconscious” post. If you want to follow the train of thought.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 May 2007 @ 8:28 pm

  5. Ktismatics, what I remember of Dr. Rogers is he seemed to me like a 1950s kind-hearted daddy from picture postcard America, who puts his hand on your shoulder and empathizes with your heartaches. Kind of like an older version of Clark Kent. John Waters would have made a great parody of Dr. Rogers.

    I think the reality is more like Blue Velvet.

    I started a new discussion on Inland, which hopefully Kim dot Dammit will join as well.


    Comment by dejan — 23 May 2007 @ 1:45 am

  6. Dejan –

    Like Mr. Rogers, the kids’ TV show host. That’s why I was surprised to hear him talk about hallucinations not as symptoms of disorder but as part of the process of reorganization.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 May 2007 @ 3:27 am

  7. Another thing… My copy of Rogers’ book used to be my mother’s. I can’t remember now if she gave it to me, or if I took it back with me after she died. And the publication date of the book is the same as the year of my birth.
    There was an educational film I saw in college illustrating various psychotherapeutic techniques. Rogers was one of the therapists; two or three other men also. The same woman presented herself as the client to each of the therapists in turn. Her presenting problem, as I recall, was promiscuity: she kept being with one man after another, but none seemed to satisfy…


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 May 2007 @ 6:14 am

  8. Let me see of I can get this straight, or circular, or whatever. When you present what determines a particular psychological practictioner’s “circularity” or “squareness,” you seem to base it on how they practice therapy. So, Rogers and his more “person-centered” theraputic techniques is/are more “square,” in which he is sort of serving the person’s percieved needs. Whereas Deleuze and Guittari say that the whole problem is the current strength and static state of the ego. Loosen it up, and let the more “circular” and formless stuff bubble up from the unconscious, thus loosening the hold of or on the ego and allowing it to be more dynamic. In terms of practice, then, I forget how Deleuze and Guittari translate here…but you said recently that Lacan basically gives the patient the blank stare, daring the person to get over themselves. This post is your exploration of Roger’s previously unpercieved BALANCE basically between the two ways of practicing therapy.

    My contribution to the “squareness” lingo, and how it fits there, I think, is my take that we are formed persons with a limited field of perception (mental and physical), which in itself is at the core of what it means to be human. E.G. – compare human cognition to the angelic (recent Aquinas conversation). That, of course, doesn’t change the fact that, when you draw a circle inside of a square using a straight edge and compass, you have to start with a bunch of circles…and the whole goal of the exercise is to sucessfully produce a square with right angles.

    :) How’s that?


    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 23 May 2007 @ 5:58 pm

  9. Jason –

    Your quick tour of D&G vs. Rogers vs. Lacan is right on target. D&G and Lacan are trying to open up the individual to the unconscious, in terms both of drives/desires and of sociocultural influences. A lot of current short-term therapeutic techniques rely on aligning one’s thoughts and feelings with “reality” as consciously perceived — which I think contributes to denying these other unconscious registers for the sake of getting the client back on-line as quickly as possible. Despite their differences, Rogers, D&G and Lacan are all on the other side, the “slow cooking” approach to therapy. They’re less interested in problem solving, more in exploring what it means to “be-in.” So even a relatively conservative practitioner like Rogers opens the client up to restructuring the self and occasional hallucinogenic side effects of this longer-term project. For the “slow cooking” practitioners, symptoms aren’t problems to be solved but indicators of something important that needs to be understood. And I like that.

    There are limits to human perception, cognition, etc., but people also limit themselves, sometimes in conformity with expectations, sometimes out of habit or inertia. The therapeutic setting is a “heterotopia,” a relationship outside the scope of ordinary social relationship. It should afford both more authenticity and more experimentation, both of which are innately human capabilities. Therapy should make it safe for the client to explore aspects of himself and the world that he might otherwise be afraid to open up. And that would be a good thing.

    D&G and Lacan are probably less willing to set a priori limits on what humans can be. They also regard their role as analyst as being in part a stimulus to breaking down artificial barriers that restrict the individual’s flexibility and creativity and awareness. As a result, they’re probably a riskier proposition for the client. I tend to lean in their direction, but as an individual person I’m pretty square/round. So it’s a little bit of a push to me as well to think about these other analytic praxes.


    Comment by ktismatics — 23 May 2007 @ 10:41 pm

  10. “For the ‘slow cooking’ practitioners, symptoms aren’t problems to be solved but indicators of something important that needs to be understood. And I like that.” Me too. Interestingly, it seems to sort of go with the Christian idea of the difficult work of character building, as oposed to the funny notion that God just zaps me with good character.

    “There are limits to human perception, cognition, etc., but people also limit themselves, sometimes in conformity with expectations, sometimes out of habit or inertia.” I think I would agree here. In this case, though, the angles of the square (of an individual or communal formation) probably aren’t 90 degrees :)

    “Therapy should make it safe for the client to explore aspects of himself and the world that he might otherwise be afraid to open up. And that would be a good thing.” I’d say I agree there, too. EVEN THOUGH I would probably not really agree on: “D&G and Lacan are probably less willing to set a priori limits on what humans can be.” I guess you have to take my agreement in context. I mean, most folks are totally stiff-necked. They need to look around while walking down the street.

    “I tend to lean in their direction, but as an individual person I’m pretty square/round. So it’s a little bit of a push to me as well to think about these other analytic praxes.” Hhhmm…interesting.


    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 24 May 2007 @ 8:10 am

  11. Good, good, good, good. All is proceeding well here.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 May 2007 @ 10:13 am

  12. very good.


    Comment by Odile — 24 May 2007 @ 9:12 pm

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