by Saul McLeod published 2007, updated 2012
Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was a humanistic psychologist agreed with most of what Maslow believed, but added that for a person to "grow", they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood).
Without these, relationships and healthy personalities will not develop as they should, much like a tree will not grow without sunlight and water.
Rogers believed that every person can achieve their goals, wishes and desires in life. When, or rather if they did so, self actualization took place. This was one of Carl Rogers most important contributions to psychology and for a person to reach their potential a number of factors must be satisfied.
"The organism has one basic tendency and striving - to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism” (Rogers, 1951, p. 487).
Rogers rejected the deterministic nature of both psychoanalysis and behaviorism and maintained that we behave as we do because of the way we perceive our situation. "As no one else can know how we perceive, we are the best experts on ourselves."
Carl Rogers (1959) believed that humans have one basic motive, that is the tendency to self-actualize - i.e. to fulfill one's potential and achieve the highest level of 'human-beingness' we can. Like a flower that will grow to its full potential if the conditions are right, but which is constrained by its environment, so people will flourish and reach their potential if their environment is good enough.
However, unlike a flower, the potential of the individual human is unique, and we are meant to develop in different ways according to our personality. Rogers believed that people are inherently good and creative. They become destructive only when a poor self-concept or external constraints override the valuing process. Carl Rogers believed that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence.
This means that self-actualization occurs when a person’s “ideal self” (i.e. who they would like to be) is congruent with their actual behavior (self-image). Rogers describes an individual who is actualizing as a fully functioning person. The main determinant of whether we will become self-actualized is childhood experience.
The Fully Functioning Person
Rogers believed that every person could achieve their goals wishes, and desires in life. When they did so self-actualisation took place. For Rogers (1961) people who are able be self-actualise, and that is not all of us, are called fully functioning persons. This means that the person is in touch with the here and now, his or her subjective experiences and feelings, continually growing and changing.
In many ways Rogers regarded the fully functioning person as an ideal and one that people do not ultimately achieve.
It is wrong to think of this as an end or completion of life’s journey; rather it is a process of always becoming and changing.
Rogers identified five characteristics of the fully functioning person:
1. Open to experience: both positive and negative emotions accepted. Negative feelings are not denied, but worked through (rather than resort to ego defence mechanisms).
2. Existential living: in touch with different experiences as they occur in life, avoiding prejudging and preconceptions. Being able to live and fully appreciate the present, not always looking back to the past or forward to the future (i.e. living for the moment).
3. Trust feelings: feeling, instincts and gut-reactions are paid attention to and trusted. People’s own decisions are the right ones and we should trust ourselves to make the right choices.
4. Creativity: creative thinking and risk taking are features of a person’s life. Person does not play safe all the time. This involves the ability to adjust and change and seek new experiences.
5. Fulfilled life: person is happy and satisfied with life, and always looking for new challenges and experiences.