Carl Rogers and the most fundamental learning

Persons have basically a positive direction

Rogers refers to one deep insight he perceives as the one that is basic to all the other learnings, and indeed that is true in the sense that all of the learnings focus on the ability to accept and trust oneself and others.

Following is the full quote and I will explain at the end my insights.

“It has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction. In my deepest contacts with individuals in therapy, even those whose troubles are most disturbing, whose behaviour has been most anti-social, whose feelings seem most abnormal, I find this to be true. When I can sensitively understand the feelings which they are expressing, when I am able to accept them as separate persons in their own right, then I find that they tend to move in certain directions. And what are these directions in which they tend to move? The words which I believe are most truly descriptive are words such as positive, constructive, moving toward self-actualization, growing toward maturity, growing toward socialization.

I have come to feel that the more fully the individual is understood and accepted, the more [they] tend to drop the false fronts with which [they] have been meeting life, and the more [they] tend to move in a direction which is forward. I would not want to be misunderstood on this. I do not have a Pollyanna view of human nature. I am quite aware that out of defensiveness and inner fear individuals can and do behave in ways which are incredibly cruel, horribly, destructive, immature, regressive, anti-social, hurtful. Yet, one of the most refreshing and invigorating parts of my experience is to work with such individuals and to discover the strongly positive directional tendencies which exist in them, as in all of us, at the deepest levels.”

Carl R. Rogers, (1961) On becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View on Psychotherapy, p. 26-27).

What Rogers is basically saying is that people are inherently good and that they have a desire to grow in a positive direction. It is therefore so incredibly frustrating and painful to observe continuously the harmful and destructive behaviours of people of which Rogers says are in response to a (perceived) threat to their existence.

When visualising the setting Rogers describes, the interaction between a client and a therapist where both are genuine, honest, and open to experiences, it comes to mind that the scene describes two individuals connecting as equals. A therapist of course, has certain qualities most clients have not, and this is knowledge and experience, but in the therapeutic relationship described by Rogers, this power is not used in any way to intimidate the client. If that were the case, the therapist would be sabotaging the growth of the client.  

This means that the conditions required to guide clients to a positive direction is:

  • a therapist who has experienced this growth for themselves (who is real, accepting, non-judgmental, genuine, trusting, and curious)
  • a client who is ready to drop their façade and be real
  • having opportunities to using similar effective ways of communication and honest connections in real life

***the absence of using power over others***

Those who have learnt and are skillful in the use of effective verbal and non-verbal communication, however, can flip the skills and use these to exercise power over others. It is saddening that these skills are taught in business schools. For instance Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor of organizational behaviour at the graduate school of Business, Stanford University and an author of books on leadership states: “You will triumph if you understand the principles of power – and if you are willing to use them” (Harvard Business Review, 2010).

When accepting fully Rogers’ learning on the wish and tendency of people to grow in a positive direction, how come we so often see a deliberate, planned and often scripted attempt to not only manipulate and deceive others, but also to overpower ? Rogers would say that people do this out of fear. Those of you who saw the interaction between Bill Maher and Trump advisor Jenna Ellis on November 13th (Real Time, HBO), would find it hard to detect fear in Ellis and depending on which side your are (yes, that is how simplistic it has become), some would find that Ellis won the “fight” and others struggle to accept that there are people who blatantly and without any shame are willing to deceive on behalf of “the American people”. There is fear, among the evangelicals and then there is also an entitled, arrogant and narcissistic attitude in some that is admired by too many.

Maybe some have seen too many episodes of the “apprentice”!

Take care!


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