The contrast between Rogers's strong positive impact on clinical psychology in the real world and the lack of regard he enjoys among psychology professors in academia is impressive. Biographers Howard Kirschenbaum and Valerie Henderson note in their 1989 book, The Carl Rogers Reader, that
Rogers spent his whole life not only asserting the importance of the democratic and libertarian ideal in all human relationships, but seeking ways to accomplish that ideal. He innovated, he described, he modeled, he even proselytized. For that he won hundreds of thousands of appreciative students whose work touches millions of lives each year. . . . he also won thousands of influential critics who have prevented Carl Rogers and the people-centered approach from becoming the mainstay of professional training in the academic institutions of the United States.
Yet, as noted previously, a 1982 study conducted by the American Psychology Association that polled practicing psychologists and psychotherapists ranked Rogers first in a rating of "The Ten Most Influential Psychotherapists."
Kirschenbaum and Henderson go on to state that "not all professionals have been pleased with Rogers's influence. Many find his theory and methods oversimplified. Others argue that trusting the individual's resources for self-help will not work and might even do harm." Psychologist and college professor C. George Boeree investigates this criticism in more detail. He refers to Rogers's "organismic trusting" as "a major sticking point" in Rogers's theories—not only for academics but also for those lay persons with a fundamentalist ethos. If the definition of organismic trusting is, as Rogers would say, having faith in ourselves that if we do what feels naturally right it will prove to be the right thing to do, it becomes clear that this could indeed become a slippery slope. To paraphrase Dr. Boeree, this could mean that if you are a sadist, you should hurt other people; masochists should hurt themselves; if you like drugs or alcohol, go for it; and if you're feeling depressed, kill yourself. This "If it feels good, do it!" attitude, often expressed by young adults but criticized by society at large during the 60s and 70s, has frequently been blamed on Rogers. Dr. Boeree further reflects, however, that organismic trusting would of necessity be in keeping with knowledge of the real self; consequently, by Rogers's definition, the real self would most likely not be compatible with sadism, masochism, substance abuse, or severe depression.
Rogerian therapy also often faced ridicule based upon its use of reflection of feelings. Rogers always said that the ability of the therapist was the most important facet of any Rogerian psychotherapy; still, there were those who believed that they were following Rogers's tenets but actually were not. Two common anecdotes prevalent among the psychological community in the 1950s, as reported by Howard Kirschenbaum in his earlier (1979) book On Becoming Carl Rogers, illustrate the common perception and criticism:
I once went to a Rogerian counselor. I started talking about my problems and all he did was repeat back, word for word, everything I said. I couldn't figure out who was the crazy one, him or me. I said, I know that. That's what I just told you. So he said, You know that. That's what you just told me. After a while, I started getting really angry. So then he tells me I'm getting angry.
The following anecdote is both frightening, darkly humorous, and totally untrue. However, this mocking spoof of Rogers's type of therapy was a particular favorite of his critics during those years. It describes a fictional client's interaction with Carl Rogers during an appointment with Dr. Rogers in his office, on the 34th floor.
Client: "Dr. Rogers, I've been feeling awfully depressed lately."
Rogers: "Oh, you've been feeling very depressed lately?"
Client: "Yes, I've even seriously been considering suicide."
Rogers: "You feel you might like to kill yourself."
Client: "Yes, in fact I'm going to walk over to the window here."
Rogers: "Uhumm, you're walking over to the window there."
Client: "Yes, I'm opening the window, Dr. Rogers."
Rogers: "I see. You're opening the window."
Client: "I'm about to jump."
Rogers: "Uhumm. You're about to jump."
Client: "Here I goooooo ." (the client jumps).
Rogers: "There you go."
A loud crash is heard below. Dr. Rogers walks over to the office window, looks down, and says, "Splat!"
But perhaps the bias against Rogers's tenets arises not just from the prejudice of intellectuals or society's fear of pleasure-seeking and self-indulgence, but rather from Western culture's love affair with technology. Kirschenbaum and Henderson further observe in The Carl Rogers Reader, that "Rogers's message points us in a different direction (from technology). . . .what really matters is trust in ourselves and others, in communication, in how we handle our feelings and conflicts, in how we find meaning in our lives." They note that it is not only the professors in universities who have resisted Rogers's body of work. Ironically, it seems that the man who was such an innovator in the use of the twentieth century's gadgets—tape recordings, films and other media—is also the victim of society's fascination with this same technology. As a humanist, Rogers's belief in good communication and understanding between people is, in the end, more difficult and takes longer than technology's quick fixes. Rogers leads people away from computer programs, pills that provide chemical solutions to behavioral problems, and all the other proposed technocratic solutions to humanity's woes.
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