The Best Bits From Carl Rogers’ On Becoming a Person

My copy of Carl R. Rogers’ On Becoming a Person has taken a good battering over several years of training to become a qualified counsellor.

As a student of person-centred counselling, you don’t get very far before you have to pick up a copy of Carl Roger’s seminal book, On Becoming a Person: A Therapists View of Psychotherapy.

There’s a good reason for that:

Rogers’ work was game-changing.

Concepts such as the six necessary and sufficient conditions and the organismic self, along with ideas about the most effective way to work with clients not only revolutionised therapy but also transcended it, impacting everything from social work to education.

So yes, Carl Ransom Rogers was a pioneer. Yes, he was one of the most influential figures in the field of psychotherapy, but he was also an incredibly tedious and challenging writer.

Counselling tutors tell us that On Becoming a Person is one of the most important books we students will ever read. What they don’t tell us is that reading it can often be such a draining, soul-destroying process that we’ll need to see our own therapist afterwards.

I’m an avid and passionate reader, but I hate this book with all that I am and could ever hope to be.

Rogers’ prose is often so dry that reading it is a pure chore, but that’s not the most frustrating part about it.

The most frustrating part is that you can’t stop reading page after page of mind-numbing text because to do so means you miss out on the occasional gem.

Despite most of his work being very challenging, Rogers will occasionally treat the reader to beautifully-written insights into the human condition, words of profound wisdom, or paragraphs that perfectly sum up the how and why of what we’re trying to achieve as therapists.

Honestly, I wanted to have quick access to those gems without having to read On Becoming a Person ever again, so I went through the book with my highlighter, picked them out, and today present them here for you:

Rogers on the Future of Humanity

“Man’s awesome scientific advances into the infinitude of space as well as the infinitude of sub-atomic particles seems most likely to lead to the total destruction of our world unless we can make great advances in understanding and dealing with interpersonal and intergroup relationships…I hope for the day when we will invest at least the price of one or two large rockets in the search for more adequate understanding of human relationships.”
To The Reader, Page X

Rogers goes onto say that we already have much of the knowledge we need to “decrease the inter-racial, industrial, and international tensions which exist,” but that such knowledge is vastly underutilised, if utilised at all. I love this. I love that it shows Rogers’ deep compassion for humanity as a whole. That what we’re dealing with here is more than just individual therapy but about healing hurts on a much grander scale.

This is Me

“I rejoice at the privilege of being a midwife to a new personality — as I stand by with awe at the emergence of a self, a person, as I see a birth process in which I have had an important and facilitating part.”
This is Me, Page 5

Didn’t I tell you Rogers had the capability to be beautiful? I love that this “birthing process” is such a wonderful way of describing what happens when a person starts to change as a result of the therapeutic process. I also find it sweet that Rogers still remains in ‘awe’ of this.

“I had learned to be more subtle and patient in interpreting a client’s behaviour to him, attempting to time it in a gentle fashion which would gain acceptance. I had been working with a highly intelligent mother whose boy was something of a hellion. The problem was clearly her early rejection of the boy, but over many interviews, I could not help her to this insight. I drew her out, I gently pulled together the evidence she had given, trying to help her see the pattern. But we got nowhere. Finally, I gave up. told her that it seemed we had both tried, but we had failed, and that we might as well give up our contracts. She agreed. So we concluded the interview, shook hands, and she walked to the door of the office. Then she turned and asked, ‘Do you ever take adults for counselling here?’ When I replied in the affirmative, she said. ‘Well then, I would like some help.” She came to the chair she had left, and began to pour out her despair about her marriage, her troubled relationship with her husband, her sense of failure and confusion, all very different from the sterile ‘case history’ she had given before. Real therapy began then, and ultimately it was very successful.”
This is Me, Page 11

I love this anecdote and have quoted in countless assignments to describe Rogers’ shift from analytical therapy into a person-led approach.

“In my relationships with persons, I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.”
This is Me, Page 16

Forget counselling, I think that applies to all aspects of life.

“I have come to feel that the more fully the individual is understood and accepted, the more he tends to drop the false fronts with which he has been meeting life, and the more he tends to move in a direction which is forward.”
This is Me, Page 27

As does this.

In my early professional years I was asking the question, How can I treat, or cure, or change this person. Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?”
The Facilitation of Personal Growth, Page 32

Another quote that I’ve used in just about every assignment since Level 2 to help illustrate the development of person-centred therapy.

Characteristics of a Helping Relationship

“A helping relationship might be defined as one in which one of the participants intends that there should come about, in one or both parties, more appreciation of, more expression of, more functional use of the latent inner resources of the individual.”
Characteristics of a Helping Relationship, Page 40

This isn’t exactly Rogers at his most succinct and poetic, but it’s certainly a useful way of looking at the definition of a helping relationship.

“Curiously enough, a positive evaluation is as threatening in the long run as a negative one, since to inform someone that he is good implies that you also have the right to tell him he is bad.”
Characteristics of a Helping Relationship, Page 55

In other words, when we talk about person-centred counselling being non-judgemental, we’re not just talking about being non-critical. Positive judgements can have just as much of a detrimental impact on the therapeutic process.

Life Lessons and Words of Wisdom

“I get defeated sometimes, I get hurt sometimes, but I’m learning that these experiences are not fatal.”
Characteristics of a Helping Relationship, Page 69

The reason I highlighted this sentence in my raggedy old copy of the book has nothing to do with counselling. I just thought it a very lovely way of reminding us that we’re capable of coming back from just about any setback.

“There is no beast in man. There is only man in man, and this we have been able to release.”
Directions in Therapy, Page 103

Humans are not inherently deviant or chaotic.

“I have been astonished to find how accurately the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, pictured the dilemma of the individual more than a century ago…He points out that the most common despair is to be in despair at not choosing, or willing, to be oneself; but that the deepest form of despair is to choose “to be another than himself.” On the other hand “to will to be that self which one truly is, is indeed the opposite of despair,” and this choice is the deepest responsibility of man.”
What it Means to Become a Person, Page 110

I love this way of describing the anguish of inauthenticity.

“Psychological research has shown that if the evidence of our senses runs contrary to our picture of self, then that evidence is distorted. In other words, we cannot see all that our senses report, but only the things which fit the picture we have.”
What it Means to Become a Person, Page 115

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are, at least as we believe ourselves to be.

The Good Life

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination. The direction which constitutes the good life is that which is selected by the total organism, when there is psychological freedom to move in any direction.”
A Therapists View of the Good Life, Page 186–187

Let’s strive to move in that direction, trusting that deep within we know which way that is.

“This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. Yet the deeply exciting thing about human beings is that when the individual is inwardly free, he chooses thas the good life this process of becoming.”
A Therapists View of the Good Life, Page 196

This is what I mean when I say Rogers writes some really beautiful things about the human condition.

Carl Rogers on Empathy

“To sense the client’s private world as if it were your own, but without ever losing the “as if” quality — this is empathy, and this seems essential to therapy. To sense the client’s anger, fear, or confusion as if were your own, yet without your own anger, fear, or confusion getting bound up in it, is the condition we are endeavouring to describe.”
Significant Learnings in Therapy and Education, Page 284

We spent a lot of time in class discussing empathy and what it actually looks like. This seems like a perfect description to me.

Feelings and Opinions are Not Facts

“In therapy the individual learns to recognise and express his feelings as his own feelings, not as a fact about another person. Thus, to say to one’s spouse ‘what you are doing is all wrong.” is likely to lead only to debate. But to say ‘I feel very much annoyed by you are are doing,” is to state one fact about the speaker’s feelings, a fact that no one can deny. IT no longer is an accusation about another, but a feeling which exists in oneself. ‘You are to blame for my feelings of inadequacy,” is a debatable point, but ‘I feel inadequate when you do thus and so’ simply contributes a real fact about the relationship.”
Implications of Client-Centered Therapy, Page 318–319.

Doesn’t this just make absolute sense?

On a similar note, there’s this:

“To cease evaluating another is not to cease having reactions. It may, as a matter of fact, free one to react. ‘I don’t like your idea’ (or painting, or invention, or writing), is not an evaluation but a reaction. It is subtly but sharply different from a judgement which says, ‘what you are doing is bad (or good), and this quality is assigned to you from some external source.’ The first statement permits the individual to maintain his own locus of evaluation. It holds the possibility that I am unable to appreciate something which is actually very good. The second statement, whether it praises or condemns, tends to put the person at the mercy of outside forces. He is being told that he cannot simply ask himself whether this product is a valid expression of himself. he must be concerned with what others think. He is being led away from creativity.”
Toward a Theory of Creativity, Page 358

It’s OK for me to like or dislike something, as long as I’m aware that my opinion is not a statement of fact about the value of the thing. Likewise, others are allowed to have an opinion on my work, ideas, or creativity, but those opinions are just that and should not steer me away from creating.

Clinical Hypnotherapist | Author of Quit Smoking & Be Happy (https://amzn.to/3fp9pgX) | Runner | Training in Person-Centered Counselling.