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Who Was Carl Rogers?: A Brief History of This Eminent Thinker

Who Was Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers is one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century. Rogers is best remembered for developing client-centered therapy.

But who was Carl Rogers, and why has he left such a huge mark on mankind?

Keep reading to learn about the key discoveries and accomplishments of Carl Rogers.

Who was Carl Rogers?

Carl Ransom Rogers (1902-1987) is one of America’s most eminent thinkers.  Among other things, Rogers was a husband, father, psychologist, professor, and author. He penned many articles and books in his lifetime.

Rogers’ most famous publication was his book On Becoming A Person (1956).

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, Rogers showed academic prowess at an early age. He began reading before the age of 5 and was able to skip kindergarten and the first grade altogether.

He received his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin in 1924. After college, Rogers enrolled in seminary school. Soon after, he decided to abandon his pursuit of a career in theology.

Rogers transferred to Teachers College of Columbia University. There, he earned his master’s and doctorate degree in clinical psychology.

After earning his doctorate, Rogers spent many years working in academia. He taught at Ohio State University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin.

Key Achievements and Discoveries 

Carl Rogers was a pioneer of humanistic psychology. He is well-known for originating the client-centered approach to psychotherapy.

Rogers received many awards and honors for his contributions to psychology. He received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination shortly after his death in 1987.

Humanistic Psychology

If you’ve taken a psychology class, you have likely been taught about Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner. Freud and Skinner popularized their own respective psychological theories: psychoanalysis and behaviorism.

These were the reigning theories in psychology when Rogers first entered the field. Through his work, Rogers helped popularize humanism in psychology.

Humanistic psychology was a response to psychoanalysis and behavioralism. Humanist thinkers like Rogers believed that both psychoanalysis and behavioralism failed to take into consideration the role of personal choice.

Humanistic psychology remains the dominant theory in psychology today. It offers a more personal approach to psychology. Humanism focuses on the individual experiences of freedom, choices, values, and goals.

Client-Centered Approach to Psychotherapy 

Rogers developed his client-centered approach to psychotherapy during his time as a professor. Rogers first dubbed his approach “non-directive therapy.”

Rogers’s client-centered approach emphasizes a person-to-person relationship between the therapist and the client. The “client” was at first known as the “patient.” The client determines the course, speed, and duration of their psychotherapeutic treatment.

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (1987)

Rogers spent the last years of his life traveling worldwide. During his travels, Rogers applied his theories in areas of national social conflict. He brought together influential Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

In South Africa, he brought together black and white people to end Apartheid.

Notably, his last trip abroad was to the Soviet Union. There, Rogers facilitated intensive experimental workshops aimed at fostering communication and creativity.

Rogers was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in Northern Ireland and South Africa. The news of his nomination came only months after his death. Mother Theresa was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize that year.

Key Theories 

Rogers’ theories, which remain influential today, exemplified the humanist’s perspective. What follows are some of his most notable theories.


Rogers believed that humans’ primary motivation is to self-actualize. To self-actualize is to achieve your full potential. According to Rogers, people are constrained by their environments.

Because of this constraint, a person is only able to self-actualize if their environment supports them.

Unconditional Positive Regard

In order for psychotherapy to be successful, the following condition had to be met. The therapist must provide unconditional positive regard to their client.

In practice, this means that a therapist must accept their client as they are. They must allow their client to express positive and negative feelings without fear of judgment or criticism.

The Fully Functioning Person

An individual became a fully functioning person after they achieved self-actualization. Rogers describes a fully functioning person as having a specific set of characteristics.

Some of these characteristics include:

  • Being open to new experiences
  • Trust in oneself
  • Lack of defensiveness
  • The ability to live in harmony with other people

Congruence Versus Incongruence 

Rogers believed that if a person has a self-image that does not match their ideal self, they are living in incongruence. A person could achieve congruence through self-actualization.

Personality Theory

Central to Rogers’ personality theory is the self-concept. Rogers identified three components of the self-concept:

  • Self-image; or how an individual views themselves. Your self-image can impact your life experience in either a positive or negative way.
  • Self-worth; or the amount one values themselves. Rogers believed that one’s self-worth stems from interactions with parents early on in life.
  • Ideal Self; or the person an individual wants themselves to be. Your ideal self changes with shifts in priorities and with age.

Carl Rogers’ Legacy

Even after his death, his work continues to influence millions across the world. Many still look to Carl Rogers quotes for inspiration. With his emphasis on human potential, his work left an impact on psychology and education.

Even to this day, many psychologists cite Rogers as their primary influence.

His daughter carried on his legacy. Natalie Rogers became a pioneer in expressive arts therapy. She passed away in 2015.

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