Carl Rogers was a significant contributor to the development of Humanistic psychology, a psychological perspective which rose to prominence in the mid-20th century in response to the limitations of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory and B. F. Skinner's behaviorism.
His approach emphasizes the individuals' inherent drive towards self-actualization, the process of realizing and expressing one's own capabilities and creativity. The term 'actualizing tendency' was coined by Rogers, and was a concept that eventually led Abraham Maslow to consider and study self-actualization as one of the needs of humans. Rogers and Maslow introduced this positive, humanistic psychology in response to what they viewed as the overly pessimistic view of psychoanalysis.
Empathy is one of the most important aspects of humanistic therapy. This idea focuses on the therapist’s ability to see the world through the eyes of the client. Without this, therapists can be forced to apply an external frame of reference where the therapist is no longer understanding the actions and thoughts of the client as the client would, but strictly as a therapist which defeats the purpose of humanistic therapy. Included in empathizing, unconditional positive regard is one of the key elements of humanistic psychology.
Unconditional positive regard refers to the care that the therapist needs to have for the client. This ensures that the therapist does not become the authority figure in the relationship allowing for a more open flow of information as well as a kinder relationship between the two. A therapist practicing humanistic therapy needs to show a willingness to listen and ensure the comfort of the patient where genuine feelings may be shared but are not forced upon someone. Marshall Rosenberg, one of Carl Rogers' students, emphasizes empathy in the relationship in his concept of Nonviolent Communication.
Who am I? Am I lovable? How can I be a better person, a better parent? Where is my place in the world? Where am I going? Do I want to know myself better? Do I want to understand others?
Countless questions and many feelings; like joy, excitement, satisfaction, calmness, fatigue, longing, despair, frustration, anger, fear, guilt, shame, tenderness, anxiety, gratitude, helplessness, impatience.
These feelings have become our companions in everyday life. The focus of the person-centred encounter group, developed by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is not therapy but personal development. Its group dynamics strives for equality between all those present.
As feelings of empathy, acceptance, authenticity and the sense of belonging increase in the group, they contribute to the creation of a safe environment. Compared to ordinary societal existence participants can experience much deeper personal freedom of expression.
The atmosphere of trust and self-acceptance stimulates change, learning and development. Even confrontation can become an instrument of growth. Participants respond to what is happening between them in the here and now. The process is spontaneous, unpredictable and natural.
During the meetings we also pay attention to what Dr Fritz Perls called the topdog vs. underdog dynamics. The topdog describes the part of an individual that makes demands based on the idea that the individual should adhere to certain inner or social norms and standards, characterised frequently by "shoulds" and "oughts."
The underdog describes the part of an individual that makes excuses explaining why these demands should not or could not be met. In the movement towards resolving conflicts empathy is in itself a healing agent as it confirms that all parties to the conflict are recognised, accepted and belong.