Carl Rogers claimed to be grateful that he never had one particular mentor, but was open to the influence of widely differing viewpoints as well as his own experience and that of his colleagues and clients (Thorne, 1984). However reviewing his life and times it seems clear that a number of key people and circumstances influenced his thinking.

Influence of early life

John Dewey (1859-1952)

The experience of living on a farm as a child taught Rogers about natures inevitability and its strength and growth. Intellectually he was immersed in liberal Protestant beliefs of Paul Tillich (1886-1965).

He was also strongly influenced by John Deweys emphasis on experience as a basis for learning (Zimring 1994). He was directly exposed to Dewey’s philosophy of no nonsense vigorous self- reliance , thoughtful exposure to experience and concern for others, when he attended a course given by William H Kilpatricka student of Dewey while at Teachers college in Columbia (Thorne, 1984).
William H Kilpatrick (1871-1965)

His strong religious background led him to want to become a minister, however a trip to China in the 1920s caused him to question his beliefs (Rogers, 1966, p.6). This experience forced him to broaden his mind, and come to the conclusion, "that sincere and honest people could believe in very divergent religious doctrines." It caused him to question his parent's strict religious world view and realized he could not agree with them. Rogers recalled that this was personally liberating and moved him to develop his own philosophy of life. It also influenced him to choose a different career.
Return to top

Influence of training and early career

His training was an eclectic mix of psychoanalysis, testing and measurement and techniques of child guidance. He was also influenced by the progressive education movement with its emphasis on helping students to be self directed learners and work cooperatively (Kirschenbaum, 2004).

He himself described his work with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Rochester, New York, beginning in 1928 “helped me to experience the fact - only fully realised later - that it is the client who knows what hurts, what direction to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried. It began to occur to me that unless I had a need to demonstrate my own cleverness and learning I would do better to rely upon the client for the direction of movement in the process (as cited in Kirschenbaum 1979). This emphasis on listening to the client was his first step on his own journey.
Return to top

Influence of Otto Rank

He was driven to encourage greater respect for the individual and he was open to influences from Gestalt theory and
Otto Ranks individual self concept. He came under the influence of the Americanisation of Ranks theories as advocated by Jessie Taft a student of Ranks.
Otto Rank (1884-1939)

Rank himself a Viennese Jew was inspired by Nietzsche and Freud. However he di
Jessie Taft (1882-1960)
sassociated himself from Freud as he shifted the focus of the therapeutic process from past experiences to the patient's present emotional condition.

He advocated that treatment be patient centered, not therapist centered, and that the therapist be more emotionally involved in the process. He saw psychotherapy in which one person helps another to develop and grow. The therapists role was to communicate understanding and acceptance (empathy) to patients.

Jessie Taft, and others interpreted Ranks philosophy for an American audience and assisted in the translation of his works into English.
Because of the premature death of Rank in 1939 and the retirements of Taft, and other advocates in America, the Rankian circle in Philadelphia had little influence outside the field of child guidance and social work after World War II. It was Rogers, who also had a background in child guidance and social casework, who reintroduced the Rankian perspective into psychology after the war.
Many years later Rogers wrote that Rank's visit to Rochester “had a very decided impact on our staff and helped me to crystallize some of the therapeutic methods we were groping toward.”
He also wrote that the “ roots of client-centered therapy to be found in the therapy of Rank, and the Philadelphia group which has integrated his views into their own” (as cited in deCarvalho, 1999)
In Client-Centered Therapy (1951), Rogers replaced Rankian terms such as passive, noninvasive, and reflective with the terms nondirective and client-centered.
Return to top

The key differences between Rogerian and Rankian psychological thought

The terminology and framework of Psychoanalysis apparent in Ranks will therapy, are absent in person-centered psychotherapy.
Rank placed great emphasis on the mother–child relationship and birth trauma in the development of personality. Rogers made no reference to the birth trauma and placed little emphasis on mother child relationship as the biological foundation of personality
Rogers reinterpreted concept of growth, into a depiction of personality as constructive, self-determining, and self-directing (self-actualizing).
Rank was criticised regarding his focus on getting patients to redirect their neurotic will into artistic creativity. Rogers instead offered that the therapeutic relationship would thrive based on: the therapist's authenticity, empathy, and unconditional positive regard.
Despite the obvious parallels with Rank there is no evidence anywhere in Rogers' writings and interviews or in testimony from acquaintances that Rogers ever read a single page of Rank's writings. What he knew about Rank he learned by means of the co-workers who graduated from the Pennsylvania School of Social Work; Rank's 3-day visit to Rochester; and the writings of Taft and others.
Rogers adapted a few useful features of Rankian thought that he heard from colleagues and from Rank himself and moved on to develop his own psychological thought. Rogers acknowledged that he had two teachers: “Otto Rank and my clients” (Encinitas Center for Family and Personal Development, 1983).(deCarvalho, 1999).
Return to top

Influence of Existentialism

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

An additional intellectual influence on Rogers during the Chicago years that also helped hide the Ranks influence was existentialism, especially the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Martin Buber. Rogers wrote that reading Kierkegaard,had a “loosening up” effect, encouraging him to express in philosophical terms experiences he had had as a psychotherapist but was unable to formulate. He believed that Kierkegaard's concept, in The Sickness Unto Death (1843/1954, p. 29), that the aim of life is “to be that self which one truly is” to mean that misery results from desiring to be something else.
Rogers believed that therapy allowed the patient to understand those inner messages and provide the opportunity to achieve that potential.
Return to top
A genuine person-to-person experience such as achieved by relationship therapy was, in Rogers' understanding, what Buber had described in the “I–thou relationship.” Buber suggested that the “I–thou relationship ”,the experience of speaking truly to another without playing a “role,” had a healing effect. Buber named this process healing through meeting. It was a proces
Martin Buber (1878-1965)
s, Rogers said this experience could be achieved in the most effective moments of psychotherapy.

Neither Buber or Rogers agreed with the Freudian approach to the past and present conditions of patients. They both placed the emphasis on the patient's experience of immediacy during the therapy session and the therapist's empathic and unconditional acceptance of the patient's feelings. This approach diminished the authority of the therapist and stressed the relationship between therapist and patient. They both believed that if given proper conditions, individuals have potential for growth and know best how to achieve their potential. Return to top

Influence of Adler

Although it is not widely known, Carl Rogers studied with Alfred Adler from 1927 to 1928, when Adler was a visiting instructor and Rogers was an intern at the Institute for Child Guidance (now defunct) in New York City. Shortly before his own death, Rogers offered this tribute:
Alfred Adler (1870-1937)
"I had the privilege of meeting, listening to, and observing Dr. Alfred Adler . . . . Accustomed as I was to the rather rigid Freudian approach of the Institute--seventy-five-page case histories, and exhaustive batteries of tests before even thinking of "treating" a child--I was shocked by Dr. Adler's very direct and deceptively simple manner of immediately relating to the child and the parent. It took me some time to realize how much I had learned from him." (cited in Ansbacher, 1990, p. 47)

It is possible to suggest an influence on the later work of Rogers in the similarity between Adler's social interest and Rogers's core conditions of therapeutic change. Adler's descriptions of how human interaction manifests social interest seem very similar to Rogers's core conditions of effective counseling.

Rogerian therapists strive to be models of congruence for clients, Adlerian therapists strive to be models of social interest. However the two approaches diverge when Rogers's approach to therapy states that the core conditions are both necessary and sufficient for therapeutic change to occur, whereas Adler suggests that empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard are necessary but not usually sufficient.
(Watts, 1996).

Return to top

Survey: Who or what do you think influenced Rogers the most?

Take our Online Survey


Return to top