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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J.


Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies

Special Issue

Tiefgehende Beziehungen

Profundidad Relacional

Profondeur Relationelle

Relational Depth

Guest Editor: Mick Cooper

Zeitschrift des Weltverbandes fr Personzentrierte und Experienzielle Psychotherapie und


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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Revista de la Asociacin Mundial para Psicoterapia y Orientacin Centradas en la Persona y


Journal de l'Association Mondiale pour la Psychothrapie et le Counseling Centres sur la

Personne et Exprientiels

Journal of the World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Volume 5 Number 4 Winter 2006

Carl Rogers: Lessons for working at relational depth

Carl Rogers: Lektionen fr die Arbeit an tiefgehenden Beziehungen

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Carl Rogers: Lecciones para trabajar en profundidad relacional

Carl Rogers : L'apprentissage du travail en profondeur

Charles J. O'Leary


Abstract. This paper, based on personal recollections and Carl Rogers' written response to
Reinhold Niebuhr and his dialogues with Martin Buber and B. F. Skinner, highlights five qualities
of Carl Rogers that may encourage and inspire therapists. Congruence, commitment,
confidence, imagination and generosity were characteristic of Rogers. Examples of these
virtues from Rogers' writing and history may provide a partial answer to Mearns and Cooper's
question: "What is it like to meet another human at relational depth?" (2005, p. 35).

Zusammenfassung. Dieser Artikel basiert auf persnlichen Erinnerungen sowie auf Carl
schriftlicher Antwort an Reinhold Niebuhr und auf seinen
Dialogen mit Martin Buber und B. F. Skinner.
Er setzt fnf
Qualitten von Carl Rogers ins Zentrum, die Therapeuten und Therapeutinnen ermutigen und
inspirieren knnten. Kongruenz, Engagement, Zuversicht, Fantasie und Grozgigkeit waren
fr Rogers charakteristisch. Beispiele dieser Tugenden aus den Schriften von Rogers' und aus
seiner Geschichte knnten teilweise eine Anrwort auf die Frage von Mearns und Cooper liefern:
"Wie ist es
eigentlich, jemandem wirklich tiefgehend zu begegnen?" (2005, S. 35).

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Resumen. Este artculo, basado en recuerdos personales y en respuestas escritas de Carl

Rogers' a Reinhold Niebuhr y en dilogos de Rogers con Martin Buber y B. F. Skinner, ilumina
cinco cualidades de Carl
Rogers que probablemente alienten e inspiren a
terapeutas. Congruencia, compromiso, confianza,
cin y generosidad eran caractersticas de Rogers. Ejemplos de estas virtudes en escritos de
Rogers y en su historia tal vez ofrezcan una respuesta parcial a la pregunta de Mearns y
Cooper: "Cmo es encontrarse con otro ser humano en profundidad relaconal?" (2005, p.

Rsum. Cet article, bas sur des souvenirs personnels et galement sur des rponses crites
par Carl Rogers Reinhold Niebuhr et dialogues entre Rogers et Martin Buber et B. F. Skinner,
met en lumire cinq qualits caractristiques de Rogers, afin de permettre inspiration et
encouragement auprs des thrapeutes : la congruence, l'engagement, la confiance, la
crativit et la gnrosit. Des exemples, tires des crits et de l'histoire de Rogers fourniront,
peut-tre, une rponse partielle la question de Mearns et Cooper : "Comment dcrire la
rencontre en profondeur relationnelle entre deux tres humains ?" (2005, p. 35).

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Author Note. Address correspondence to Charles J. O'Leary, 900 Logan Street, Denver,
Colorado 80203,USA. Email: < >.

O'Leary 1477-9757/06/04229-11

Carl Rogers: Lessons for working at relational depth

Keywords: Rogers, relational depth, congruence, commitment, confidence, imagination,


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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Mearns and Cooper (2005, p. xii) define working at relational depth as "A state of profound
contact and engagement between two people in which each person is fully real with the Other
and able to understand and value the Other's experiences at a high level." Working at relational
depth is not characterized by a prescribed set of counselor behaviors or client expectations. On
the contrary, such an experience cannot be planned in advance, but emerges in unrepeatable
contact between persons. The therapist alone cannot create a meeting at relational depth
client readiness, perception of the possibility and willingness to respond to the counselor are
preconditions. Certain therapist qualities may, however, create the possibility for such meetings
as Carl Rogers has famously described (Rogers, 1957). Through personal recollection and
especially through his words and behavior as shown in Carl Rogers: Dialogues (Kirschenbaum
& Henderson, 1990a) and
The Carl Rogers Reader (Kirschenbaum
& Henderson, 1990b), I will describe personal qualities of Carl Rogers relevant to therapists'
behavior and attitudes. Although the concept of relational depth emerged many years after
Rogers' writings, Rogers actually embodied and exemplified many of the qualities that are
necessary for relational depth to occur.

In my fourth decade of work with clients I still need to meet with Rogers in his varied but
consistent legacy of words whenever I
- feel an urgency, however
benevolent my intentions, to have a client think or act in a
certain way;
- find myself deciding
that, darn it, this is one client that really needs me to be
- find myself waiting for a
couple to arrive and feeling unconditional support for one of th
em and a lesson to
teach to the other;
- feel overwhelmed by the
of their problems;

apparent scarcity of clients' resources in relation to the extend

- think that I would be an excellent

therapist if it weren't for the quality of the clients I see

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Five elements of Rogers' character, available in his written record, offer a kind of true north as
on a compass. These particular attitudes make up a way of being (Rogers, 1980) that facilitates
working at relational depth. They are congruence, commitment to core belief confidence,
imagination in the service of empathy, and generosity.



Working at relational depth implies being "totally in the situation" (of therapy) (Mearns & Cooper
2005, p. 37) and derives from a habit of generous involvement in the tasks and predicaments
living. Just as a client enters dialogue with a therapist that is preceded by and will be followed

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many other conversations (Rober, 2005), the therapist's habits of thought, behavior and
intention are continuous with his or her encounters with a client. A meeting at relational depth
always takes place between persons, not between a person and the occupant of a role. Carl
Rogers' life was characterized by full engagement in his life outside the therapy office.

At this time, I must allow myself a claim for uniqueness and importance. One time, Carl Rogers
me! I had shown him some written work I had done as part of my graduate program. He read it
and, when we met to discuss it, said this and that about my work that showed that he
understood it and the person who had written it. He then got to what he really wanted to say.
"Your writing," Carl assured me, "could sure stand some improvement." He couldn't wait to point
out carelessness in sentence structure, split infinitives, dangling participles and other crimes
against our language. When Rogers wrote he paid attention to writing. He did not assume that
the interesting things he might have to say gave him an exemption from fidelity to the task at
hand. If shown someone's writing, Rogers engaged with seriousness about the enterprise of
writing that was parallel to the respect he showed the inner exploration of a client in therapy.

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Thoroughness as a writer does not, of course, make one a good therapist, but that kind of
complete concentration to all aspects of an encounter with the written word speaks well of the
attention that could be available for a silent, contrary, hopeless or otherwise discouraging client.
Rogers was congruent in his willingness to participate fully whatever the conditions.

Rogers' energetic attention to the tasks of life was the foundation for the focused attention he
was able to give the individual client. He once grumbled in reference to behaviorist psychologist
B. F. Skinner: "Fred Skinner told me that he sets up a system of rewards for every piece of work
he does so that he is reinforced for working. Me, I work when I feel like it." Hearing this later, his
colleague Betty Meador remarked: "Yes, but he always feels like it." Rogers was able to be
non-directive with clients yet be perceived as active and energetic. The intensity that was his
habit in the many activities of his life was present when he was silent and still in the presence of

Rogers' habitual commitment to his work did not exempt him from facing the contradictions and
dramas that some human situations seem to produce despite our best efforts. Rogers once
wrote of facilitating a weekend group for school administrators. He had begun the group by
saying that whatever the group wanted to do would be OK with him. By Saturday evening,
however, he found that the group had settled into a way of talk about small things in a
superficial way that was becoming unbearable to him.

Here is Rogers' description:

I was in a quandary. In order to allay a considerable early anxiety in the group, I had stressed in
the first session that they could make of it exactly what they wished and operationally they
seemed to be saying very loudly, "We want to spend expensive hard won weekend time talking
of trivia." To express my feelings of boredom and annoyance seemed contradictory to the
freedom I had given them. After wrestling within myself for a few moments, I decided that they
had a perfect right to talk trivia, and I had a perfect right not to endure it. So I walked quietly out
of the room and went to bed. After I left and the next morning, the reactions were as varied as

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Carl Rogers: Lessons for working at relational depth

participants. One felt rebuked and punished, another felt I had played a trick on them, a third felt
ashamed of their time-wasting, others felt as disgusted as I at their trivial interchanges. I told
them that to the best of my awareness, I was simply trying to make my behavior match my
contradictory feelings, but that they were entitled to their own perceptions. At any rate, after that
the interactions were far more meaningful. (Rogers, 1990, pp. 344-345)

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

This is a story of awkwardness in the service of principle. Awkwardness is not a virtue in itself,
but it can sometimes be an indication of willingness to be open and real in complicated
situations. In this event, the awkwardness developed into a deeper encounter (a meeting of
persons) facilitated by his complete willingness to listen non-defensively to the meaning his
action had held for his companions. Rogers' trust in himself to act when there are no clear
guidelines allowed him to trust in others to find their own way in ambiguous and uncomfortable

Of course, as a result of this experience, Rogers decided it would have been preferable to say "
can make of this what we wish" and would thus have left himself freer to comment on what he
did or did not want or like (1990, p. 344). On no other occasion did Rogers have to resolve a
dilemma by going to bed during a group!



The quality of a relationship ultimately derives from the beliefs each person holds about the
other. Kindness or courtesy covering underlying disrespect or assumption of superiority cannot
survive the challenges of a deepening relationship. Rogers' basic respect and egalitarian style
were the foundation of his system of therapy. "If you treat people as if they can be trusted, they
are trustworthy," he was fond of saying (NBC TV, 1983). Meeting at relational depth calls for "...
a positive affirmation of the client down to the very essence of their being, a confirmation of their
uniqueness, individuality and humanity" (Mearns & Cooper, 2005, p. 43). One must suspend
what Rogers called "the evaluative tendency" by which other humans are diagnosed,
stereotyped and, most important, judged as deficient (Rogers, 1961, p. 331). Rogers was
insistent that a belief system with an intrinsically limited view of human potential was the
opposite of therapeutic.

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While usually open in conversation, even with persons greatly different from himself, Rogers
was absolutely committed to a few core values and would offer no compromise on those. This is
made very clear in his written responses to a book, The Self and the Dramas of History (1956)
that he was asked to review. Its author, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, was an American hero to
working people, a tireless fighter for social justice when churches often ignored such a concept.
He also was an eloquent speaker and the author of the "Serenity Prayer," made most famous
by its adoption
by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Rogers' essay about Niebuhr stands out because, in it, he was unusually stern, not particularly
civil and not at all

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accommodating. He found nothing he liked in Niebuhr's book and very little in his later
responses to three theologians who in a journal were asked to comment on Rogers' comments
(Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1990a, pp. 208-228).

Niebuhr seemed to Rogers to offer two positions that were the extreme opposite of Rogers' own
life and way of being in dialogue. First, Niebuhr seemed to present himself, a leading
theologian, as an expert who knew in advance what was true and, especially, worthy of
judgments in other people. About Neibuhr, the usually mild-spoken Rogers wrote: ...

I find that I am impressed most of all by the awesome certainty with which Dr Niebuhr knows.
He knows, with incredible assurance what is wrong with the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas,
Augustine, Hegel, Freud, Marx, Dewey and many, many others. He also knows what are the
errors of communism, existentialism, psychology and all the social sciences. His favorite term
for the formulations of others is 'absurd,' but such other terms as "erroneous," "blind," "naive,"
"inane" and "inadequate" also are useful. It seems to me that the only individuals who come off

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well in the book are the Hebrew prophets, Jesus (as seen by Dr Niebuhr), Winston Churchill,
and Dr Niebuhr himself. (Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1990a, p. 208)

Rogers was not patient with a writer describing persons from a position of a priori superiority.
He was offended by any signs of that kind of self-satisfaction that makes a client, student or
reader the object of a judgment. Once, when a colleague talked proudly of drawing answers out
of a client by careful questions, Carl said, in effect, "If I had something I thought someone
should know, I would tell it to them directly." (He rarely claimed that position.) Rogers' rejection
of Niebuhr's "certainty" reflects his core position as companion for another persons exploration
rather than as an expert with a lesson to teach.

Secondly, and perhaps more important, he rejected Niebuhr's position on the inherent
sinfulness of humans. (Today's "inherent sinfulness" is more likely to be a psychiatric diagnosis
applied as an absolute description of a client rather than as a state of their soul.) On this point
Rogers was unequivocal. Faithful to his experience, Rogers asserted:

It is in his conception of the basic deficiency of the individual self that I find my experience
utterly at variance. [Niebuhr] is quite clear that the "original sin" is self-love, pretension, claiming
too much, grasping after self-realization. I read such words and try to imagine the experience
out of which they have grown. I have dealt with maladjusted and troubled individuals, in the
intimate personal relationship of psychotherapy, for more than a quarter of a century ... And if I
were to search for the central core of difficulty in people as I have come to know them, it is that
in the great majority of cases they despise themselves, regard themselves as worthless and
unlovable. To be sure, in some instances this is covered by pretension, and in nearly all of us
these feelings are covered by some sort of a facade. But I could not differ more deeply from the
notion that self-love is the fundamental and pervasive "sin." Actually it is only in a relationship in
which he is loved (something very close, I believe, to the theologians' agape) that the individual
can begin to feel a dawning respect for, acceptance of, and, finally, even a fondness for himself.
It is as he can thus begin to sense himself as lovable

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Carl Rogers: Lessons for working at relational depth

and worthwhile, in spite of his mistakes that he can begin to feel love and tenderness for others.
(Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1990a, pp. 210-211)

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Rogers' argument against the judgmental assumptions of a theologian is relevant to the

contemporary question of the effect of psychiatric diagnosis on the attitude of a therapist to his
or her clients. Despite the potential usefulness of defining disorders, illnesses or patterns of
behavior, any conception that
identifies a client with a condition of deficiency must
preclude the land of relationship that Rogers has defined as healing. If a theory keeps you from
meeting a client with openness, it is the theory that has deficiency, not the client. Rogers
rebutted Niebuhr with intensity not born of feeling alone but extensive therapeutic experience
and research.

In his response to Niebuhr, Rogers insisted that no one should claim an expert's position on the
meaning of another person's life. Equally passionately, he believed that an a priori sense of
what was wrong about another was incongruent with understanding that person. He anticipated
the concept of "prior knowledge" (Anderson, 1997) that kind of therapist expertise that would
make attentive dialogue with a patient almost superfluous.



Working at relational depth requires sureness of purpose in therapists who venture into such
meetings. Clients see therapists because of distress, often accompanied by confusion and
profound mistrust. The therapist offers confidence and certainty, not about the clients nature,
problems or best course of action, but about the possibilities that may be opened by the
meeting. "I don't always know exactly where we were going but I know we are going
somewhere," master family therapist and Rogers' admirer Virginia Satir once remarked (Satir,

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Rogers' confidence is clear in his dialogue with Martin Buber, the famous German and later
Israeli philosopher of relationship, most well known for his book
I and Thou. Just as
Niebuhr's writing seemed deeply inimical to Rogers' approach to humans, Buber's writing
offered Rogers the exact language to describe the meetings at relational depth that were his
experience of therapy. Interestingly, though appreciative of some of Rogers' descriptions of his
work with clients, Martin Buber was not at all receptive to understanding Rogers' therapeutic
relationships as parallel to that highest form of relationship in which connectedness and
separateness are simultaneously possible. In the dialogue with Buber, Carl was an unabashed
suitor, finding connections and points of agreement with a very reluctant, somewhat prickly
potential partner.

Buber insisted that in a true I-Thou encounter you can be surprised by what your conversational
partner might say. Influenced by a perception of therapy that preceded Rogers' innovations, he
assumed that a therapist would intrinsically be on different level from the client, knowing in
advance what the client may think or say rather than able to share in dialogue that is new and
unexpected in the present. Rogers seized on the point:

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I hope that perhaps sometime I can play recordings of interviews for you to indicate how the
surprise element can be there. That is a person can be expressing something and then
suddenly be hit by the meaning of that which has come from someplace in himself which he
doesn't recognize. He is really surprised at himself. (Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1990a, p. 57)

Rogers never forgot that whatever he said, unlike all previous therapists and philosophers, was
based on his research. He had the confidence appropriate to the person who was first to
expose the minute-by-minute process of his therapy to hundreds of hours of audio-taping and
thousands of hours of research analysis that was the state of the art for his time.

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Carl Rogers:Lessons for working at relational depth,Charles J. O'Leary

Rogers addressed Buber's concerns about the distinction between meetings between friends
and associates and those with clients. (It is impressive that this is a response in a conversation
rather than a prepared paper.)

I feel that when I'm being effective as a therapist, I enter the relationship as a subjective person,
not as a scrutinizer not as a scientist. I feel too that when I am most effective then somehow I
am relatively whole in that relationship, or the word that has meaning to me is transparent. To
be sure there may be many aspects of my life that aren't brought into the relationship, but what
is brought into the relationship is transparent. There is nothing hidden. Then I think, too, that in
such a relationship I feel a real willingness for this other person to be what he is. I call that
acceptance. I don't know that that's a very good word for it, but my meaning there is that I'm
willing for him to possess the feelings he possesses, to hold the attitudes he holds, to be the
person he is. And then another aspect of it which is important to me is that I think in those
moments I am able to sense with a good deal of clarity the way his experience seems to him,
really viewing it from within him, and yet without losing my own personhood or separateness in
that. Then, if in addition to those things on my part my client... is able to sense something of
those attitudes in me, then it seems to me that there is a real experiential meeting of persons, in
which each of us is changed. I think sometimes the client is changed more than I am, but I think
both of us are changed in that kind of experience. Now I see that as having some resemblance
to the sort of thing you have talked about in the I-Thou relationship .... (Kirschenbaum &
Henderson, 1990a, p. 48)

Buber did not agree with Rogers, and, in fact, had many convincing distinctions between his

concept of "I and Thou" and Rogers' experiences as a therapist. The difference, Buber
maintained, is that the relationship with a client can never be reciprocal it is always true that
one person is trying to help the other. Rogers was convinced that the term IThou described
his work with clients; Buber did not agree. Here is how Rogers offered a resolution:

Because it seems to me again that in the most real moments of therapy I don't believe that this
intention to help is any more than a substratum on my part either. Surely, I wouldn't be doing
this work if that wasn't part of my intention. And when I first see the client that's what I hope I will

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be able to do, is to be able to help him. And yet in

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the interchange of the moment, I don't think my mind is filled with the thought of "Now I want to
help you." It is much more I want to understand you. (Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1990a, p.

His "substratum" seems exactly parallel to "configurations of self" (Mearns & Thorne, 2000).
One configuration of himself was always the helper; one configuration of the client would always
be the person in need of help. Rogers asserted that there were other parts of therapist and
client, which, independent of role, were able to meet as a human to human.

Rogers was able to acknowledge Buber's objections to his claim of similarity while offering a
clear explanation of the difference of his experience of therapy and Buber's assumptions about
the therapeutic relationship. This was not cleverness, but a search for language faithful to the
kind of meeting that Rogers was discovering. Meeting at relational depth does not deny
objective reality. Rogers conceded (about a meeting between a therapist and a schizophrenic)
"Looking at it from the outside, one can easily discern plenty of difference. But it seems to me,
when therapy is effective, there is this same kind of meeting of persons no matter what the
psychiatric label" (Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1990a, p. 53).

Rogers' meeting with Buber, well worth reading in its entirety, adds additional richness to the
concept of meeting at relational depth. His researched experience allowed him a forceful,
confident claim to redefine the possibilities of therapeutic meeting.



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Working at relational depth requires a capacity for empathy that goes beyond an ability to
translate another person's words into an intelligible meaning. "A superficial empathy
understands what the client is saying and feeling but it is a deeper empathy and congruence
that communicates 'she understood what it feels like to be me ...'" (Mearns & Cooper, 2005, p.
45). Such empathy is an effort in which senses, emotion and intellect allow the therapist to
connect with the client's experience with unexpected particularity and immediacy. A moment
near the end of Rogers' famous dialogue with the behaviorist B. F. Skinner may illustrate this
kind of experience. The 1956 debate between Carl Rogers and Burrhus Frederic Skinner is
wonderful reading. It was a meeting between two men, similar in their grace and precision with
language, their histories of meticulous research, their ability to connect with the audience and
with each other and their absolutely different conclusions about the nature of human personality
and motivation. One was the passionate advocate of science as precise measurement of what
can be observed externally; the other the insistent explorer and defender of the importance of a
subjective world, no less real because of its impossibility of measurement. Near the end of the
debate, however, Rogers made a shift that demonstrated an ability to enter into the world of his
partner in dialogue. Since his partner was an academic, Rogers connected with him through the
medium of one of Skinners own papers:

Rogers: I welcome being reminded of Dr Skinner's very inspiring article in the American

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Psychologist on the processes of science as he had experienced them in his own career. As I
remember that article, Dr Skinner gives a very vivid picture of the scientific life as process. This
is exactly the kind of thing that I have been trying to describe as the "Good Life." Far from
knowing where he was going to come out, he had to live in process and had to let learnings
emerge as they emerged, shaping his new behavior. This makes me feel a great deal about Dr
Skinner, to realize that in his own life ...
(Skinner laughs) ... in his own life he
values that emerging unpredictable process. What I have been trying to say about the land of
culture I would want to design and the kind of outcomes I see in therapy when therapy is
successful, is that it leads to exactly that kind of thing. The individual becomes an ongoing
process of life in which the outcome is not set. There are no static goals. You don't even know if
you will come out happy. You are living

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on a day-by-day basis, endeavoring to be open to all of your experience.

Skinner: This may be a historic moment. I think I have been changed by that argument.
(Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1990a, p. 144)

Meeting Skinner at relational depth meant carefully reading Skinners own words and
discovering in them an important element of Rogers' own experience. In showing that he could
listen wholeheartedly to Skinner, Rogers made it possible for Skinner to listen to him. Empathy
was not only passive receptivity in the moment, but the expression of commitment to
understand the other's language on the others own terms.



Working at relational depth involves self-extension and readiness to respond to others as if they
were deserving. Unconditional positive regard would be little more than a mechanistic lack of
personal opinion without generosity of attitude from the person offering it. "What we want to
emphasize here is that, at these times of relational depth, the therapist is actively prizing'
(Rogers, 1957) the client (Rogers' favorite term for unconditional positive regard)" (Mearns &
Cooper, 2005, p. 43). An experience of Rogers in a non-therapeutic setting may illustrate a way
of being that allowed unexpected depth of contact in his meetings.

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It is worth noting that, despite his fame, Rogers' home address and phone number were in the
public directory. The mother of a participant in the La Jolla Program, a training program in group
facilitation based on Rogers' approach but unconnected with him except by a one-day
appearance, once called Carl at home to get a message to her son. Without complaint, Rogers
gave her the information she needed to reach her loved one. Many of his associates at the time
received requests for help or information for which the seekers first called Carl at home.

When Carl Rogers was in his eighties, he suffered from an eye condition that made it

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almost impossible for him to read. Every medical and mechanical device was attempted and, in
fact, his ability to read improved considerably. During the period before his eyes were improved,
he gave a talk at the Living Now Institute. At one point in the program he talked about a
quotation from Lao-Tzu that expressed the convictions that were at the heart of his work. He
told the group that he carried the quotation about with him in his wallet. Someone asked if he
would read it. Those who knew him were concerned about his ability to fulfill this request, but
Rogers pulled a dirty many times folded hand-written piece of paper out of his pocket.
Laboriously, using a magnifying glass, he read the following quotation.

A leader is best

When people barely know that he exists

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Not so good when people obey and acclaim him

Worst when they despise him...

But of a good leader, who talks little

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled

They will all say, "We did this ourselves."

(Quoted in Rogers, 1980, p. 42, from Bynner, 1962)

When he was finished, someone unbelievably said: "I didn't quite get that Carl, could you
read it again?" His friends were moved by anger at the surprising insensitivity of the questioner
then even more moved by the unruffled 83-year-old Carl Rogers generously going about the
very hard, embarrassingly awkward, task of once again reading the long quotation. Rogers had
a natural receptivity born of an assumption of goodwill in others. He took people and events as
he found them. He gave his listeners more than the reading of a lovely quote. He offered the
indelible impression of a responding in the present with humility and patience for whatever he
was asked.


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This article is based on a talk I gave at Professor Dave Mearns' Retiral Conference at the
University of Strathclyde on May 17, 2006. At the end of the talk, I invited participants, in groups
of two, to discuss their own current form of dialogue with Carl Rogers and how it influences their
work as counselors, therapists or educators. The room was filled with the sounds of 350 people
talking enthusiastically about meetings that were alive, relevant and emotionally engaging. One
person-centered counselor present, later, shared her recollection with me. Ending her day's
work as a physician, she happened to take home a copy of Client-Centered Therapy, (Rogers,
1951) found herself reading it throughout the night and set her mind, then and there, on her
future training and career as a counselor. (Over twenty years later, she still intends to return the
book.) I invite the reader to conduct his or her own search for what in Rogers' life or writing is
most influential and helpful in current work. What is the situation in your work that is most
stressful and puzzling? What would you like to say about it to Carl Rogers? What would he be
likely to say about it to you?

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238 Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4

O' Leary


Anderson, H. (1997). Conversation, language and possibility: A postmodern approach to

New York: Basic Hooks.

Bynner, W. (Translator) (1962). The way of life according to Laotzu. New York: Capricorn

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Duncan, B. (2005). What's right with you? Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications Inc.
Kirschcnbaum, H. & Henderson, V. L. (1990a).
Rogers: Dialogues.
London: Constable. Kirschcnbaum, H. & Henderson, V. L. (1990b).
The Carl Rogers reader.
London: Constable. Mearns, D.
Cooper, M. (2005).
Working at relational depth in counselling and psychotherapy.
London: Sage.

Mearns, D. & Thorne, B. (2000). Person-centred therapy today: New frontiers in theory and
London: Sage.

NBC TV (1983). Keith Berwick and Carl Rogers. At one with. Television program. Los

Rober, P (2005). Family therapy as a dialogue of living persons: A perspective inspired by

Bakhtin, Voloshinov and Shotter. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy 31, 385-399. Rogers,
C. R. (1951).
-centered therapy
Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. R. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality

change. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 21, 95-103.

Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. R. (1990). Can I be a facilitative person in a group? In H. Kirschenbaum & V. L.

Henderson, (Eds.), The Carl Rogers reader, pp. 339-357. London: Constable (Original work
published 1970).

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Satir, V. (1972). Perceptions: the personal aspects of therapy. Videotape. Boston: The Boston
Family Institute.


1. The longer that Carl Rogers is dead, and the older I get, the closer I am tempted to claim my
friendship with him was. But for now I still admit: I know him well, not because of our personal
closeness, but by the length of time I was exposed to him and his associates. La Jolla,
California was a lively place in the early 1970s when I studied there at the Center for Studies of
the Person. Over four hundred distinct types of psychotherapy have been identified (Duncan,
2005). It now seems to me that half of them were being practiced, if not invented at that time
and place! If young at that time and place, you might have been proud of learning things that
made you feel like a better therapist than Carl Rogers since he seemed quieter than other
therapists of his own (or any) time and, after all, his style of therapy was then over thirty years
old. Rogers was gently receptive if told of your interests, entirely without a need to prove you
wrong and consistently secure about the efficacy of the way of being that he had developed.
(He had, after all, gone farther than anyone of his time in researching the perennial elements
that make therapy useful and worthwhile.)

2. I am from Boston, Massachusetts. I am of Irish descent. You know that that part of me will
always believe in original sin and reserves the right to despise myself. It would be bad luck not
to! If I were his client, Rogers would never have tried to talk me out of it. On the contrary, he
would have left his own secure (and he was I believe very secure in himself) perspective to join
me or any client in understanding what it might mean to be in a state of sin, of self-dislike, or
fear or any other dark place in which a person may live. At the same time, and most important,
Rogers would never assume any condition especially any essential deficiency in my nature
whether deriving this by theological, philosophical or psychological system. On this Rogers was
passionate, assertive and unshakeable.

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