A transpersonal critique of Rogerian Therapy

Critique of Rogerian TherapyWhilst psychodynamic approaches focus on uncovering what is in the client’s unconscious and exploring childhood experiences, the Rogerian approach is more concerned with the here and now of the client’s experience through the client’s eyes, from their subjective internal frame of reference.

The Rogerian approach can be termed more democratic, perhaps reflecting the evolutionary progression of mankind (at least in the Western world) such as less hierarchy, authoritarianism and rigidity. In Freud’s day, gay liberation and feminism were movements still to engender mass support.  Indeed, as a sign of the times, female patients were often chaperoned by their husbands to Freud’s consulting room, whilst being gay was seen as a perversion and emanating from a distortion in psycho-sexual development

Heavily influenced by Otto Rank, who had clashed with Freud in the 1920s when he suggested that the Oedipus Complex might not be the supreme causal factor in psychoanalysis, Rogers expressed the view that interpretations surmount to the therapist needing to demonstrate their expertise, intelligence and proving their worth.

Rogerian therapists view psychological disturbance as originating from alienation from the real self.  This could be said about all approaches but Rogerian therapists are quite specific about this alienation. The establishment of a self concept, because of the over-riding need to win the approval of others, cannot permit highly significant sensory or visceral experience into consciousness. Rogers explained that subceived  is the perceptual distortion or denial protecting from the confusion and anxiety which could herald the recovery of contact with the alienated self.  For Rogers, there is, therefore, a need for movement in the psychological environment which can come about from meeting a new person (and this is where a therapist can be crucial, although that new person could be a new friend or lover, not necessarily a therapist).

Rogerian therapists aim to create a comfortable and non-judgemental environment by demonstrating congruence (genuineness), empathy, and unconditional positive regard toward their clients while using a non-directive approach. These ideas sound like common sense but I have always wondered whether the emphasis on ‘positive’ by the therapist is a form of judgement itself.

There is a lot of common ground between integrative transpersonal psychotherapists and Rogerian therapy.  For instance, integrative transpersonal psychotherapists believe in being authentic and congruent in the therapeutic relationship as well focusing on the emphatic qualities of the therapist. The emphasis on listening and congruence and demonstrating unconditional positive regard could also be viewed as common ground. They have also adopted the language of humanists, for example, in seeing their customers as “clients” and not “patients.”

John Rowan transpersonalHowever, Rogerian therapists may encounter an empathy failure if they have not sufficiently dealt with their own personal processing.  Rogerian therapy may also work less well with people who find it difficult to talk about themselves or have a mental illness that distorts their perceptions of reality. Furthermore, John Rowan (pictured) has posed a very intriguing question when he simply asked what one did – once one became self actualised; was this the end of the road in stages of psychospiritual development?  For Rowan, the Rogerian approach might help to deal with discarding the shadow (if we see our early personal material in Jungian terms) but Rowan asked where was the next stage? To be fair to Rogers, he did refer to a sense of the numinous with his clients when they experienced being felt cared for (such as his client example of Mrs Oak), but, for Rowan (and Wilber) there is an absence of the subtle and causal realms of consciousness, if seeing the client journey in psychospiritual terms. Integrative transpersonal psychotherapists would develop the psychospiritual model of consciousness by working on alchemy, archetypes, symbols and images and these processes are largely absent in Rogerian therapy, if practiced in its purist form.

See also

The transpersonal ideas of Ken Wilber
Brant Cortright on integrative transpersonal psychotherapy
John Rowan on transpersonal and integrative therapy