Theory of Personality by Carl Rogers and Its Application to the Sphere of Academic Counseling

Abstract

Academic counseling can be significantly enhanced by introducing effective theoretical approaches and learning techniques. In this respect, Rogers’s theory of personality development is aimed at enhancing skills and promoting a personal outlook on an individual’s epistemic orientation. In addition, the framework underscores the importance of considering the “I” concept in congruence with “other” factors. Hence, social interaction is the core for gaining experiences. In this respect, the purpose of the research paper is to analyze the main aspects of the theory that contribute to developing effective educational programs, as well as to enhancing counselors’ competence and experience in handling adult learners.

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While analyzing three positions concerning Rogers’s theoretical approach, several conclusions have been made. First, therapeutic personality change is presented as the construct facilitating learning conditions. Second, self-directed change should be a consistent person’s perception of the self through feeling, acting, and thinking. Finally, group interaction is an inherent condition for developing and recognizing the self. All these postulations should be applied both to learners and to counselors involved in learner-centered therapy. The findings have revealed the importance of introducing Rogers’s techniques to the educational field.

Introduction

Along with behavioral and Freudian visions on personality development, the theory of personality proposed by Carl Rogers offers an alternative view on personality development, particularly on forming the self-concept. According to this school of thought, a person is presented as an organized self possessing different experiences and developing a personality based on these experiences (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009, p. 102). The value of this theory, therefore, relates to limited patterns for personality development because the framework recognizes various possibilities and alternatives for strengthening and developing the self through gaining experiences. Because life experiences are unique, the personality development process is not confined to a specific path, as it is established in other theories (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009, p. 102). Viewing Roger’s self-concept through this perspective, the theory can be applied for person-oriented therapy that strives to develop a unique personality. Importantly, the humanistic theory can be effectively applied to the educational field, particularly to the sphere of academic counseling because there are many concepts that teachers can make use of to help adult students enhance their learning experience.

Theory Discussion

Apart from considering the process of personality development as the one based on personal experiences and perceptions, Rogers considers the self-concept formation as a result of evaluative interaction of a person with other people. The social environment, therefore, creates a solid ground for shaping personal’s capacities and gaining experiences, but the way a person perceives the surrounding world depends on a complex of perceptions and experiences that have already been gained. According to Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman (2009), “a person is the product of his or her own experience and how he or she perceives these experiences”. In this respect, life is the measure of opportunities for a personality to thrive and develop. The researchers, therefore, state that Rogers’s theory discloses the possibility of individuals to develop their selves through new experiences for fulfilling their needs and aspirations. In other words, the individual’s goals are associated with the tendency toward self-actualization – a person’s predisposition for enhancing his/her capacities for maintaining the personality. People, therefore, are naturally motivated to differentiate themselves from other gestalts.

The above-presented conceptions are not congruent with the Freudian views on personality formation. Specifically, Freud viewed human nature as an evil whose intentions are initially based on physical and sexual needs (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009, p. 103). However, this theory restricts an individual possibility to unlimited self-development and self-actualization. To disapprove of the latter, Rogers is determined to believe that humans are inherently good because “if a person remains relatively free of influence attempts from others, the self-actualization motive will lead to a sociable, cooperative, creative, and self-directed person” (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009, p. 103).

The self-actualizing concept, as it is believed by Rogers, serves as the driving force for developing personality. In particular, it seeks to promote an individual’s capacities to a full extent. Because self-concept starts shaping since childhood, it is highly dependent on personal perception of new experiences and social interactions with other people. Importantly, persons’ experiences are affected by the “need for positive regard” (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009, p. 103). The need of being recognized by others is also viewed as a common need of every individual, which is the primary condition for developing “a sense of self-regard” – the perception of the self-based on self-esteem enhanced by the surrounding people (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009, p. 103). The state of self-worth, however, meets a vigorous opposition on the part of other scholars explaining the existing barriers to self-actualization. In particular, Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman (2009) provide a comparative analysis of Rogers’ views on personality about the studies by Ivey and Simek Morgan. The latter researchers believe that the Rogerian perspective creates incongruities in terms of perceiving the real self and the ideal self. Hence, the difference existing between self-perception and the other people perceive an individual can lead to the problem of self-differentiation.

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Incongruence between the actual self of a person and the one imposed by appraisals of a social setting is created because of a person’s impossibility to match those dimensions. The problem is that a person can introject the positions of others as his/her own, although these positions contrast their unconscious evaluation of different people. The experiences imposed in childhood, however, can form an incorrect outlook on some moral and ethical aspects because of the distorted creation of the ideal self (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009, p. 103). As an individual grows, his/her wrong views on certain things can meet opposition on the part of other people. As a result, the shaped ideal self, which was initially distorted by upbringing, can prevail over a person’s real self.

While deliberating on the identified discrepancies, the process of self-actualization is often associated with the defense mechanism – a method of differentiating the self from the others to protect from external influence. The problem is that the existing misconceptions prevent a person from encountering obstacles successfully. Within this context, Warner (2009) suggests that client-centered techniques emerging as a product of self-actualization should undergo further studies to build a more coherent and clear theory highlighting human trends toward self-directed change. While studying Rogers’ theory of personality development, Warner (2009) has paid closer attention to the analysis of the concept of self-actualization that is often associated with psychodynamic theories of defense and logical positivism. To remove the existing discrepancies, the researcher focuses on the study of related client-centered theories to reorganize Rogers’s conceptions more consistently.

The above-presented assumptions lead us to a deeper understanding of the importance of the learner-center technique worked by Rogers. At this point, a practitioner applying to this theory should make their clients make self-directed changes that would make the life of an individual authentic. The point is that the process of self-actualization is never confined to a specific limit because it is always enhanced by new experiences. In this regard, the role of a counselor is to create an appropriate climate for a client to conduct self-exploration. In addition, the counselor should define the existing discrepancies between real experience and false self-perception.

Rationale for Theory Selection

Deepening Knowledge on Self-Directed Change for Client-Oriented Therapy

The analysis of self-concept and self-actualization allows grasping the full extent of a person’s perception and understanding of the self. Specifically, deeper evaluation of the elements involved in defining the concept of the self contributes to greater comprehension of students’ experiences. Knowledge can have a wide application in the sphere of education, particularly in the process of skills acquisition and improvement.

Because the main goal of an individual is to understand deeper dimensions of the self-concept of the client, an academic counselor should gain profound knowledge on the related problems of self-cognition. In this respect, the study of the selected theory contributes to a counselor’s experience in defining the main conditions for encouraging a person’s positive perception of the self, as well as his/her ability to distinguish between the ideal self and real self (Hill, 2007; Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman, 2009). In educational terms, the mechanism of learner-centered study creates a favorable ground for introducing new knowledge and experience for adult students. Understanding students’ previous experiences, therefore, allows the academic counselor to create relevant conditions for acquiring knowledge.

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Measuring the Extent to Which a Counselor Should Be Involved into Student Assistance

Self-centered learning, or person-oriented therapy, can also be used to measure the effectiveness of directive and non-directed approaches used by counselors. In this respect, academic counselors can better define their weaknesses and compensate for the existing problems while studying the elements of Rogers’ personality theory (Bennetts, 2003). In addition, the method contributes to identifying and evaluating the therapy situation, as well as providing solutions to existing academic problems. A counselor, therefore, can evaluate personal ability to assist students in acquiring and advancing learning skills.

An educator should realize that the phenomenal and perception fields are the leading ones for a person to get new information. A deeper understanding of Rogers’s basic assumptions can contribute to promoting effective learning where the challenges for the learners’ self are restricted to a minimum. Differentiated perception of the self creates wider options for facilitating the learning process. The teacher, therefore, should be open to cognizing students’ and be able to connect learners to the subject investigated. In addition, an instructor should encourage students to understand the importance of social interactions as the core of achieving personal goals. Finally, the instructor should also accept his/her role as a mentor guiding students rather than an expert rendering knowledge. Reevaluating the position can contribute to creating a non-threatening, student-centered, and unforced learning process.

Cross-cultural relations and Analysis of Alternative Theories of Personality

Theory Application

A matter of cultural diversity is vital for improving the relationships between students and counselors. In this respect, a deeper analysis of the personality development theory can be applied in the educational sphere to eliminate highly stressful situations and minimize conflict situations. To enlarge on this point, Rogers’s assumption about self-actualization and evaluative interaction with social dimension can be interpreted as a necessity to accept the external factors as the important ones for shaping a person’s perception of the self. The main task of a counselor, therefore, is to develop a favorable setting for a person to fruitfully cooperate with other people of culturally diverse backgrounds. Such an approach meets the current requirements of an educational sphere where the primary emphasis is placed on introducing effective learning techniques within a culturally diverse background. Client-centered orientation can help counselors understand the needs of each individual in groups and generate a balanced approach to teaching.

Application of Theory to Specialization

It should be recognized that Rogers’s theory of personality development is a multi-dimensional construct embracing several important aspects and conditions and shaping a holistic approach to learning. These assumptions are presented in the studies by Hill (2007), Bennets (2003), and Langdreth (1984). All these theories rely on basic concepts to build further assumptions. All the scholars consider the theory of personality development fundamental for expanding their approaches to psychotherapy and academic counseling.

Regarding the studies provided by Hill (2007), the major emphasis has been placed on expanding the core of Rogers’s theory. In particular, the researcher focuses primarily on the concept of interpersonal changes as a linking chain for the notions presented within the self-concept. While evaluating Rogers’ outlook on therapeutic personality change, along with the identified six conditions, Hill (2007) makes a particular reference to the importance of relationships that is omitted in the theory, but essential for achieving self-directed change. Therefore, an advanced version of the personality change concept can be better applied to adult learners. A counselor should attain much importance to non-directive interaction with his/her learners to better understand the character of discrepancies, as well as define appropriate learning techniques.

While evaluating Roger’s psychotherapeutic approaches, Hill (2007) has highlighted several missing factors left behind the theory. To be more precise, the researcher has stated that six elements are contributing to the effectiveness of the presented therapy. These elements involve “the therapeutic relationship, building expectations of change, provision of new learning experiences, arousal of emotions, enhanced sense of mastery, and practice opportunities” (Hill, 2007, p. 263). Within the identified framework, a counselor can develop a set of instructions directed at building the self-concept and encouraging individuals to perceive reality through personal experiences and feelings.

Overall, Rogers’s theory has a great potential for developing further theories on advancing learning techniques and solving the problems of self-concept formation. In this respect, Hill (2007) acknowledges that the personality development theory, as well as the learner-centered technique, has brought invaluable contributions to promoting effective interaction between a psychotherapist and a client in theoretical terms. In practical terms, however, Hill (2007) considers it imperative to pay closer attention to the relational concept as the facilitative condition. Inspired by Rogers, the researcher has developed his program aimed at understanding the role of relationship and interpersonal change in shaping self-concept and self-actualization. On whole, Rogers’s frameworks have helped researchers develop effective ways of assisting people.

Though Hill’s research is more concerned with reformulating Rogers’s theory, it serves as a fundamental condition and a facilitating factor for establishing favorable relations between a therapist and a client. Relationship factors, therefore, cannot be successfully developed unless basic concepts are placed at the foot of the framework.

Unlike Hill (2007) who explores an alternative dimension of Rogers’s theory, Bennetts is more focused on enhancing the concept of adult learning through the concept of self-directed change that is seen as a cyclic process, a continuum presenting a sequence of transitions. Because the concept of change is perceived through learners’ inner willingness to self-discover, adults should be trained to facilitate those transitions. As a result, Bennetts (2003) agrees with Rogers’s vision of “the self” as an aspect before self-direction and learning. Self-dimension is necessary to promote the importance of an individual as the one cognizing the external world and establishing social relations through inner perceptions. In this respect, the matter of agency and identity is the core to embracing the concept of change and learning.

Judging from the above-presented assumptions, Bennetts (2003) envisions Rogers’s frameworks as based on two dimensions – developmental and transformational. The former is associated with human effectiveness and success in life and career. The latter, however, seeks to evoke a new concept of self-understanding and consciousness, as well as to promote experience by self-expression (Bennetts, 2003, p. 306). Transformational learning for adult students provides major shifts in feeling, reflecting, and thinking, and, therefore, all these factors are of great value for those involved in counseling courses. A person’s perception is developed to turn gained experience into knowledge and, vice versa, to convert learning into the experience. At this point, counselors should undertake professional development and practice self-directed learning to gain competence and experience in the sphere of education.

According to Bennetts (2003), Rogers’s studies can be applied both to trainers (counselors) and to trainees. The frameworks provide “insight into some of the experiences that adult learners can undergo whilst in transition and illuminated issues…of importance to counselor trainees and trainers alike” (Bennetts, 2003, p. 307). Becoming a counselor, therefore, should also be closely intertwined with self-development and expression to demonstrate an example to an adult learner.

A series of studies and interviews conducted by Bennetts (2003) prove the effectiveness and reliability of Rogers’s propositions concerning the importance of accepting the “I” concept about the “other” concept. Apart from focusing on individual perceptions, epistemic orientation generated by personal experiences also matters when it comes to the style and trends in counseling. In this respect, the learners and counselors should reflect on their needs and styles while introducing the professional practice.

Bennet’s (2003) studies have also revealed the importance of experiences related to a person’s family support. In particular, “home life was viewed as an integral factor in many participants’ learning structure, but although family acted as a stable base and support, it is also acted as the major stress factor” (Bennet, 2003, p. 312). Finally, it has been found that adult learners attain much importance to the authenticity of developing the self-concept for encouraging corrective experiences. In other words, both learners and counselors should be aware of the emotional security of a learning process. Empathy, therefore, is the basis for successful learning and self-cognition. External influences also play a significant role in balancing emotional charges. On whole, Bennett’s in-depth evaluation or Rogers’s proposition has underscored the necessity to explore a counseling course to introduce “the high level of interaction within the group and thus make the changes in thinking, feeling, acting, relating and being that appear necessary for transformational learning” (Bennetts, 2003, p. 321). Therefore, higher education should be significantly changed to meet the ongoing demands of adult learners.

The importance of a counselor in a group is significant, as it has been proved by the scholars’ studies. Landreth (1984) also joins the cohort of the researchers supporting Rogers’s propositions about the self-concept and evaluative interactions. While focusing on the role of interaction and place of a counselor in group interaction, Landreth (1984), nevertheless, emphasizes the importance of introducing a group leader to guide the learning process. Similar to Bennetts (2003) who focuses on specific epistemic orientation for learners, Landreth also explains the benefits of introducing different approaches. The main task of a counselor here is to recognize that learners strive to find a learning technique that is natural to them. Therefore, while learning under the control of a counselor, they can experience a different approach to understand which method is relevant and which one is not effective.

While interviewing Dr. Rogers, Langreth (1984) was specifically interested in the activities that a counselor introduced in the course of group interaction. Special attention should be paid to nonverbal communication as the basis of establishing favorable relations. Using nonverbal communication, “the group will pick the discomfort up in a minute and will know the leader is going beyond what is comfortable” (Rogers, as cited in Langreth, 1984, p. 324). In addition, the nonverbal technique is effective in gaining new experiences and perceiving the self-concept. Nevertheless, nonverbal group sessions should be confined to established norms to avoid discomfort on the part of all the stakeholders concerned.

Self-expression is an important condition for a developing personality because it identifies different behavioral patterns among the learners. A counselor, therefore, should be well aware of all existing behaviors to apply the corresponding learning techniques. Due to the emergence of cross-cultural problems, the importance of studying different patterns of self-expression is crucial. More importantly, academic counseling should be strongly associated with cultural factors determining an individual behavior. Acquiring knowledge and experience on the different cultural backgrounds will allow a counselor to avoid and handle conflicts within a group, as well as minimize the probability of conflict.

Conclusion

Summing up, Rogers’s theoretical framework can be effectively applied to the sphere of academic counseling to remove the existing problems with educating adult learners. What is more important, the humanistic theory provides several concepts that academic counselors can rely on while teaching adult learners through developing self-concept and evaluative interaction in a group. While considering the major benefits of the theory about learner-centered learning and counseling, several issues have been highlighted. First, Rogers’s theory of self-directed changes server as a solid platform for developing and expanding educational programs on enhancing individual self-orientation. The importance of positive regard from the surrounding people, as well as existence discrepancies as to the driving force, is enhanced when it comes to the client-centered therapy introduced by Rogers. Within this framework, a counselor is evaluated from the viewpoint of his/her engagement in the therapy. With all these issues taken into consideration, the given theory makes a great contribution to academic counseling.

References

Bennetts, C. (2003). Self-evaluation and self-perception of student learning in person-centered counselling training within a higher education setting. British Journal Of Guidance & Counselling, 31(3), 305.

Hill, C. E. (2007). My personal reactions to Rogers (1957): The facilitative but neither necessary nor sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 44(3), 260-264.

Landreth, G. L. (1984). Encountering Carl Rogers: His Views on Facilitating Groups. Personnel & Guidance Journal, 62(6), 323.

Warner, M. S. (2009). Defense or Actualization? Reconsidering the Role of Processing, Self and Agency within Rogers’ Theory of Personality. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 8(2), 109-126.

Zastrow, C., and Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (2009). Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment. London: Cengage Learning.

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