Carl Rogers Nondirective Approach


Carl Rogers was born in Chicago suburb on January 8, 1902, and had five siblings (Boeree, 2006).  His father worked as a civil and his mother was a homemaker (Boeree, 2006). He was raised in a devoutly Christian home and had a strict upbringing.  “Roger’s parents believed in hard work, responsibility, and religious fundamentalism…The family was characterized by closeness and devotion but did not openly display affection” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 155).  He received his Phd. in clinical psychology from Colombia University in 1931 (Boeree, 2006).  He worked at the University of Ohio and the University of Wisconsin as a Professor before accepting a research position in California during the 60’s (Boeree, 2006).

Characteristics of Approach

“Carl Ransom Rogers…revolutionary theory…has variously been called nondirective therapy, client-centered and the person-centered approach. …Roger’s hypothesis states that a congruent therapist, who expresses attitudes of unconditional positive regard, and empathetic understanding within a genuine relationship will catalyze…personality change in a vulnerable, incongruent client” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).

A Nondirective Approach

“The nondirective therapist believes that where the counselor is concerned with his own frame of reference he will be unable to provide a full and deep understanding of the client’s feelings” (Raskin, 1984, p105). On the basis of this underlying belief, nondirective approaches stress empathetic listening and allow clients to direct the flow of conversation, (DeSole, 2006; Raskin, 1948).   This perspective is in stark contrast with direct approaches that define the therapist as an “expert” (DeSole, 2006, p69), who exerts greater control of the conversation.

DeSole, (2006) advocates a nondirective approach for new therapists who are developing their professional identity (p 78). The key benefit of this approach for the novice is its ability to challenge one to be open to new ways of doing things. DeSole, (2006) also notes that “new clinicians often underestimate the influence they have on their patients” (p. 79). In this respect a nondirective approach is vital to prevent doing harm to clients, and facilitating a rapport, (DeSole, 2006, p80).

A Person-Centered Perspective

“Based on his experience as a psychotherapist, Rogers postulated that persons possess resources of self-knowledge and self-healing, and that personality change and development are possible if a definable climate of facilitative conditions is present” (Witty, 2007, p. 35).  Therefore, the therapist’s job is to have faith in a clients as “fully capable o articulating and pursuing their own goals” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).  Several crucial aspects of Roger’s characterization of human nature are worthy of highlighting here:  

Rogers held a positive and trusting perspective of his clients

“Rogers viewed his patients as good, trustworthy, constructive and rational (Rosenthal, 2005)”.  He believed that a natural self-actualizing tendency was an inherent characteristic of human nature (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).  Clint’s could, therefore be trusted to direct the therapy process.

Rogers held a humanistic perspective

Humanistic psychology adheres to the notion that individual’s are to be understood holistically as complex human beings and not simply as his patients.  “The term patient conveyed illness Rogers preferred the word ‘client'” (Rosenthal, 2005).  His approach is unique in this sense and does not “reduce [a] person to diagnostic categories” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).   Te humanist perspective is a rejects behaviorism since this perspective equates human behavior with animal beHAvior in research (Rosenthal, 2005).  It rejects the perspective of psychoanalysis which states individuals are powerless in controlling their unconscious instincts (Rosenthal, 2005).

Rogers was Phenomenological

“Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view (Smith, 2013).”  In other words, phenomenology refers to how we perceive and experience reality.  Rogers was a phenomenologist since he believed a the individual’s perceptions of the things takes precedence over a counselor’s understanding of matters (Rosenthal, 2005). Additionally, Corsini & Wedding, (2011), note that reality and experience are both utilize the individual’s perceptions as a reference point.

The Therapist & Client Relationship

The client-centered therapist trusts the client’s capacity for self-actualization and provides a empathetic and nondirective attitude in therapy (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).  The goal of therapy is to facility the client’s process of personal growth through a collaborative relationship.  The quality of this relationship is critical to the outcome of therapy and is central in Roger’s approach to therapy (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).

The Importance of Congruence

“To me being congruent means that I am aware of and willing to represent the feelings I have in the moment. It is being real and authentic in the moment” – Carl Rogers (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 150).

As the above quote notes, an attitude of congruence simply means we are being authentic and genuine.  We are fully-integrated in the sense that a consistency can be seen between our inner world and external reality.  As a result, we are fully present with the client in fully awareness and clarity minus the “denial and distortion” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).

Unconditional Positive Regard

“This construct refers to a warm appreciation or prizing of the person.  The client accepts the client’s thoughts, feelings, wishes, intentions, theories and attributions…” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 150).  In other words, the client provides an unconditional acceptance of who they are, without bias, or judgment.

Roger’s Definition of Empathy

“I have come to believe that empathetic listening is one of the most powerful forces for growth that I know…. (Rutsch, 2015).

“…When I can let myself enter the softly and delicately into the vulnerable inner world of the other person…(Rutsch, 2015).

“…When I can temporarily lay aside my views and values and prejudices…(Rutsch, 2015).

“…When I can let myself be at home in the fright, the concern, the pain, the anger, the tenderness, the confusion that fills their lives…(Rutsch, 2015).

 “…When I can move about in that inner world without making judgment…(Rutsch, 2015).

“…When I can see that world with fresh unfrightened eyes…(Rutsch, 2015).

“…When I can check the accuracy of my acceptance with him or her and be guided by the responses I receive…(Rutsch, 2015).

“…Then I can be a companion to that person, pointing at the felt meanings of what is being experienced.  Then I find myself to be a true helper…(Rutsch, 2015).

 Societal Influences on Development

Growth-Oriented & Self-Actualizing

Rogers presents a “growth-oriented” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011) perspective of human development. Starting in infancy, we are guided by a desire to self-actualize and enhance our life experiences (Rosenthal, 2005).  Additionally, it is interesting to note that Roger’s conception of human nature remains trusting and positive even in infancy.  He describes a process of human development that is guided by our tendency to be guided by desire to self-actualize.

Rogers uses the term “organismic valuing(Boeree, 2006), to describe an individual’s ability to know what is essential for survival.

Rogers also notes that “we instinctively value positive regard (Boeree, 2006), from ourselves in others.  In other words, we all instinctively desire to develop a positive self-image.

Self Actualization is a “basic human drive toward growth, completeness and fulfillment” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 613). Rogers asserts this is an innate drive in all individuals.

The Effect of Conditional Regard

“As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction with others, the structure of self is formed – an organized, fluid, but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of [who we are] together with values attached to these concepts” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 158).

Starting in infancy infants begin developing concepts of themselves and their social world (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).  As a result of our experience a “self” is formed as an organized conceptualization of who we are.  This concept develops as a result of the feedback we receive from our social world.  In this respect, the direction of our development is highly influenced by the extent to which our environment meets our needs for positive self-regard (Corsini & Wedding, 2011).   Rogers makes a point of distinguishing between the organism and a self.  While “the organism [is a] total range of one’s possible experiences, the self [is the] accepted portion of one’s experience.  What is not denied” (Rosenthal, 2005).  So what happens when we don’t receive the positive regard from others we require and we deny aspects of ourselves???


  1. THE ORGANISM – “The total system of perceptions and meanings make up the individual’s phenomenal field, (Cervone & Pervin, 2015, p. 167).” Rosenthal (2005) describes it as “”the organism [is a] total range of one’s possible experiences.”
  2. THE SELF/ “SELF CONCEPT” “That subset of the phenomenal field that is recognized by the individual as ‘me,’ or ‘I’ is the self…[and] represents [a] consistent pattern of perceptions. Although the self changes, it always retains this patterned, integrated, organized quality, (Cervone & Pervin, 2015, p. 167).”  Rosenthal, (2005), notes that “the self [is the] accepted portion of one’s experience.  What is not denied.”
  3. IDEAL VS. REAL SELVES:  “Rogers thus recognizes that our views of ourselves contain two distinct components: the self that we believe we are now and the self that we ideally see ourselves becoming in the future, (Cervone & Pervin, 2015, p. 167).”  

IDEALLY – “The Real Self”

The process self-actualization towards our real self begins in infancy when we engage in organismic valuing to attain meet our survival needs.  “Like Maslow, Rogers believes that, if left to their own devices, animals will tend to eat and drink things that are good for them, and consume them in balanced proportions,” (Boeree, 2006).  As infants, interact with their environment their self-concept and are guided by a natural tendency toward self-actualization.  “The infant positively values those experiences that are perceived as self-enhancing and places negative values on those that threaten..the self” (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 160). When the person self-enhancing perceptions of oneself, a “Real-self” is allowed to develop:

  1. THE REAL SELF“The aspect of your being that is founded in the actualizing tendency, follows organismic valuing, needs and receives positive regard and self-regard, Rogers calls the real self.  It is the “you” that, if all goes well, you will become,” (Boeree, 2006).
  2. POSITIVE REGARD:  We all instinctively desire positive self-enhancing experiences from our social world.  Boeree, (2006) notes that positive regard is an “umbrella term for things like love, affection, attention, nurturance, and so on.”
  3. POSITIVE SELF-REGARD:  This term is refers to an innate desire to feel good about ourselves.  It is also known as a positive self-esteem or self-image.  “We achieve this positive self-regard by experiencing the positive regard others show us over our years of growing up.(Boeree, 2006).”  

INCONGRUENTLY – “The Ideal Self”

When an individual’s social environment fails to provides an infant’s basic needs then an inner division between our ideal and real self begins to form.  For example, Corsini & Wedding, (2011), note “to hit…a baby sibling may result in the child’s being told that he or she is bad and unlovable” (p. 161).  Confusion and self-doubt as messages of conditional worth in order to gain the acceptance and love we desire innately from others.  These messages are internalized as we begin developing a conditional self-regard that consist of ideas of what “good enough” means.  The end result is a sense of incongruity between our actual and real selves.  To cope, we “edit out” all aspects of ourselves that contradict our idea.  We remain incomplete until these wounds can heal.

  1. CONDITIONS OF WORTH: “As we grow up, our parents, teachers, peers, the media, and others, only give us what we need when we show we are ‘worthy,’ rather than just because we need it (Boeree, 2006).”   Corsini & Wedding, (2011) note these messages can “sow sees about the self” (p. 161).
  2. CONDITIONAL REGARD:  These messages of conditional worth are laden throughout our interactions with others and their conditional approval.  “Parental attitudes are not only introjected, but… distorted fashion, as if based on the evidence of one’s own sensory and visceral equipment” (Rogers, 1951, p. 500).
  3. CONDITIONAL SELF-REGARD:  These messages of conditional regard are incorporated into our sense of self since a desire for positive regard is so innate. Living up to these conditions becomes a life-altering goal:  “we bend ourselves into a shape determined, not by our organismic valuing or our actualizing tendency, but (Boeree, 2006)” by these messages of conditional worth.
  4. THE IDEAL SELF:  The ideal self, then, is the self-concept that an individual would most like to possess. It includes the perceptions and meanings that potentially are relevant to the self and that are valued highly by the individual (Cervone & Pervin, 2015, p. 167).”  
  5. INCONGRUENCY – “This gap between the real self and the ideal self, the ‘I am’ and the ‘I should’ is called incongruity (Boeree, 2006).”  It causes us to be threatened of evidence that contradicts our real selves.  In the presence of such evidence we become anxious, and engage in an array of defense mechanisms to deny these aspects of ourselves.  Roger states it often leads to Neurosis.  

The Fully Functioning Person

“Rogers defined those who can readily assimilate organismic experiencing and who are capable of symbolizing these ongoing experiences in awareness as ‘fully-functioning’ persons, able to experience all of their feelings, afraid of none of them, allowing awareness to flow freely in and through through their experiences, (Corsini & Wedding, p. 163).”

Characteristics of “Fully Functioning”

Openness To Experience

Fully-functioning people do not live incongruently with denied aspects of themselves lurking within.  Therefore they are not defensive against evidence that contradicts their idealized self (Covin, 1974). They are able to remain open to life experiences without the unnecessary distortion.

Being Rather than Becoming

Fully-functioning individuals are living in the present rather than mourning the past or worrying about the future (Boeree, 2006).  “The individual moves toward more acceptantly being a process, a fluidity, a changing.  He lives in a more existential fashion, living fully in each moment (Covin, 1974, p.37).”

Trusting Our Own Instincts

Rogers asserts that all individuals have an innate self-actualizing tendency and should have faith in our instincts.  This means trusting our survival instinct – or what Rogers calls “organismic valuing” – in order to attain what we need to thrive.  “We should trust ourselves, do what feels right, what comes natural, (Boeree, 2006)” 

Experiential Freedom & Self-Responsibility

Roger’s conception of fully-functioning individuals implies integration of our real and ideal selves. It also implies a congruent life experience that doesn’t contained denied and lived elements. From this integrated perspective, individuals are able to recognize the freedom choice available to them. Rather than playing victim they are able to engage in self-responsibility and make their choices freely (Boeree, 2006).

Creative Engagement

Fully functioning are able to live creatively: “If you feel free and responsible, you will act accordingly, and participate in the world, (Boeree, 2006).”  Rogers describes creative individuals as “trust[ing] his own experiencing of life, the process of himself, so that he could go on expressing his own unique perceptions (Coven, 1974, p. 42).”  

Barriers to Full Functioning

The above video appears to describe succinctly, the barriers that exist to fully functioning.  As noted earlier in a previous section, if our need for positive regard are not met, we are left feeling a sense of self-doubt.  Messages of conditional worth influence our self-perception.  Living up to this conditional version of self-worth means denying all aspects of ourselves that contradicts this idealized self-image.  In time, we develop defense mechanisms to edit out these unwanted elements:


In a Freudian sense, we can block unwanted elements of ourselves and our experiences in order to uphold an idealized self-image.  “Denial for Rogers does also include what Freud called repression:  If keeping a memory or an impulse out of your awareness — refuse to perceive it — you may be able to avoid (again, for now!) a threatening situation, (Boeree, 2006).”  


“Similar to Freud’s rationalization,” (Boeree, 2006), distortion involves a creative re-interpretation process in order to make information less threatening than it is.  For example, Freud uses the concept of “sour grapes” to downgraded evaluation of experiences we miss out on.  Alternatively, a “Sweet Lemons” perspective means an upgraded valuation of what we have now.

Adjustment vs. Maladjustment

In his book “Client Centered Therapy” (Rogers, 1951), Rogers describes his theory of personality which comprises 19 propositions.  Since I’m trying to study for the NCE exam, l won’t list them here.  However, I list a few here from my course textbook, (Corsini & Wedding, 2011), since they do great job of differentiating between Roger’s conceptualization of maladjustment and adjustment:

  1. PSYCHOLOGICAL MALADJUSTMENT exists when the organism denies to awareness significant sensory and visceral experiences which consequently are not symbolized and organized into the…self structure.  When this situation exists, there is…psychological tension, (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 159).”
  2. PSYCHOLOGICAL ADJUSTMENT exists when the concept of the self is such that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are…are assimilated on a symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of the self, (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 159).”

What Growth Looks Like…

In his work, Rogers conceptualizes growth as a gradual process from moment to moment which he calls “Molecules of Change (Corsini & Wedding, 2011, p. 167).”

“Therapy is made up of a series of such molecules, sometimes strung closely together, sometimes occurring at long intervals, always with periods of preparatory experiences in between, (Rogers, 1959, p. 52).

This view of change appears to occur as a matter of “doing” rather than “thinking.”  In a recent post titled “Stages of Change,” I provide a unique personalized overview of growth and transformation.  It contains insights from Roger’s (2012) work “On Becoming a Person.”  In this work he describes the change process. I will not review it here, but instead include an excerpt of his overview of how change happens:

[the change] process involves a loosening of feelings. At lower end remote and unowned…At the upper end process of experiencing a continually changing flow of feelings becomes characteristic of the individual…from incongruence to congruence…from rigidity to looseness…from failure to acknowledge problems towards self-responsibility, (Rogers, 2012, p.157).”

Criticisms of Roger’s Work

In the 1940’s Roger’s work was somewhat controversial within the counseling field (Rosenthal, 2005).  FIRSTLY, he proposed a non-directive approach to counseling.  SECONDLY, he did not feel diagnosis, interpretation, or giving advice was a necessary part of the counseling process. FINALLY, his conceptualization of human nature was a bit one-sided.  For example, rejects the notion that “The deterministic notion that man cannot be trusted (Rosenthal, 2005).  My thoughts?  I love Rogers’s work since he describes a critical component of therapy that is missing too often.  Understanding patients as they understand themselves is critical.  However, sometimes diagnosis, interpretation and direction are necessary in the counseling process.

A Carl Rogers Lecture on Youtube…

Western, B. [Screen Name]. (2012, December, 10). 01 Carl Rogers on Empathy [Video File] Retrieved from:

Western, B. [Screen Name]. (2012, December, 10). 02 Carl Rogers on Empathy [Video File] Retrieved from:

Western, B. [Screen Name]. (2012, December, 10). 03 Carl Rogers on Empathy [Video File] Retrieved from:

Western, B. [Screen Name]. (2012, December, 10). 04 Carl Rogers on Empathy [Video File] Retrieved from:


Boeree, G. (2006). Carl Rogers. Retrieved from:
Corsini, R. J. & Wedding, W. (2011). Current Psychotherapies. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole
Covin, T. M. (Ed.). (1974). Readings in human development: A humanistic approach. Ardent Media.
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the Client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Metcalf, L, (2011). Marriage and family therapy: A practice oriented approach. New York: Springer Publishing Company
Cervone, D., & Pervin, L. A. (2015). Personality, Binder Ready Version: Theory and Research. John Wiley & Sons.
Raskin, N. J. (1948). The development of nondirective therapy. Journal of Consulting Psychology,12(2), 92.
Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Rogers, C.R. (1959). The essence of psychotherapy: A client-centered view. Annals of Psychotherapy. 1, 51-57.
Rogers, C. (2012). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Rutsch W. [Screen Name]. (2015, January, 30). Carl Rogers Empathy & Presence. [Video File] Retrieved from:
Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge.
Smith, D.W. (2013) Phenomenology.  Retrieved from:
Witty, M. C. (2007). Client-centered therapy. In Handbook of Homework Assignments in Psychotherapy (pp. 35-50). Springer US.

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