Skip to main content
Select Source:

Rogers, Carl Ransom


(b. Oak Park, Illinois, 8 January 1902; d. La Jolla, California, 4 February 1987), psychology, counseling, psychotherapy.

Rogers founded the client-centered, or person-centered, approach to psychotherapy. He pioneered techniques for quantifying and analyzing the raw data of psychotherapy that became standards of empirical psychotherapy research in the years following World War II.

His views on the therapeutic value of warmth, acceptance, and empathic listening are widely recognized.

At first glance Rogers seems an unusual figure to include in a dictionary of scientific biography. His greatest contribution was not a laboratory discovery or the engineering of intricate machinery but rather an answer to the existential question about whether or not human beings are capable of knowing themselves deeply and of trusting in the intrinsic value of their own experiences. His answer categorically was yes. It was his unusual method for trying to answer this question that inspired the scientific innovations for which he is known. Those innovations led to the formalization of a humanistic system that prized the healing power of individual freedom and self-determination. He achieved this unusual marriage of science and ethics by refashioning the fundamental tenets of scientific inquiry in his field. In 1959 he reminded his colleagues that:

To observe acutely, to think carefully and creatively—these activities, not the accumulation of laboratory instruments, are the beginnings of science. To observe that a given crop grows better on the rocky hill than in the lush bottom land, and to think about this observation, is the start of science…. To recognize that, when a person’s views of himself change, his behavior changes accordingly, and to puzzle over this, is again the beginning of both theory and science. I have raised this conviction in protest against the attitude, which seems too common in American psychology, that science starts in the laboratory or at the calculating machine. (p. 189)

Rogers’s career spanned the era of mental hygiene (1930s) through the era of the encounter group and beyond (1980s). This biography emphasizes Rogers’s scientific projects, which were concentrated in the years between 1940 and 1964. But his later work on behalf of humanistic causes was of equal if not greater consequence for him and was the primary reason for his international celebrity in the last thirty years of his life.

Early Life Rogers was born in 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, the fourth of six children of strict Protestant parents. He would later write about the “uncompromising religious and ethical atmosphere” of his parents’ home, particularly their asceticism, strict work ethic, and daily prayers (1961, p. 5). Rogers’s parents later moved the family to a farm outside Chicago in order that the isolation and physical demands of farm life would keep their children out of trouble. Rogers had few friends but felt satisfied in his close relationship with two brothers and in the pursuit of hobbies including reading, cultivating night-flying moths, and scientific agriculture. He

credited his early interest in agriculture with providing a “fundamental feeling for science” (1961, p. 6).

Rogers entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1919 intending to major in agriculture. He became a leader in the campus YMCA, however, and in 1922 was invited to join a Christian youth missionary expedition to China. The trip inspired him to settle on a vision of Christianity less strict and more compassionate than that of his parents and he decided to become a minister. He graduated in June 1924 and married Helen Elliott, a childhood friend, on 28 August 1924. In September 1924 he entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Their son David was born in 1926 and their daughter Natalie in 1928.

This period of Rogers’s life exemplifies the trajectory of many young men with missionary zeal in the early 1900s. As Ian Nicholson has shown, he left behind small-town life with a mission to pursue the social gospel—to bring “Christ’s way” to the social ills of the big city. Rogers discovered, however, that the life of a minister obliged him to sustain a fixed belief system, the very thing he had tried to leave behind in Illinois. So after two years he changed direction once again and transferred across the street to Teacher’s College, Columbia University, to enroll in the PhD program in clinical psychology.

Clinical psychology in the 1920s would have been a very attractive profession for a lapsed social-gospel seminarian, offering Rogers the mixture of moral purpose and intellectual freedom that the seminary had been unable to provide. Clinical psychologists specialized in psychological tests, and many of them used their expertise to try to improve the lives of the poor and destitute. Rogers’s dissertation, under the supervision of Goodwin Watson, was one such test. Clinical psychologists also participated in the child guidance movement, a progressive-era mental-hygiene effort to prevent childhood delinquency by treating children of otherwise normal intelligence who were “maladjusted.” Rogers studied with Leta Hollingworth, a leader in the child guidance movement, and interned at the new Institute for Child Guidance in 1927, where he studied with Lawson Lowrey and the psychoanalyst David Levy. Rogers was one of very few clinical psychologists at the time to train in psychotherapy. He completed his doctorate in 1931.

In 1928 Rogers moved to Rochester, New York, where he joined the Child Study Department of the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children as a child psychologist. Rogers counseled delinquents and their parents with a variety of techniques including suggestion, emotional-release, play therapy, and interpretation. Unsatisfied with his success rate he became “infected” with the relationship-therapy of the American disciples of the psychoanalyst Otto Rank. Relationship-therapy suggested that therapeutic success could come simply from establishing a good relationship with the client. In 1939 he published The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child, which brought him to the attention of psychologists at Ohio State University. He and his family moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1940.

Client-Centered Therapy, 1940–1964 Rogers discovered in Rochester that his clients knew more about what they needed to work on in counseling than he did. So he shifted his clinical focus from advice-giving to listening. The more he listened, the more clients demonstrated repeatedly their capacity to guide themselves effectively in their own treatment. He began to experiment clinically with what he called a “nondirective approach” and first announced this method on 11 December 1940, at the University of Minnesota. Rogers (1942a) called it nondirective in contrast to the directive techniques in which he had been trained: “the nondirective viewpoint places a high value on the right of every individual to be psychologically independent and to maintain his psychological integrity. The directive viewpoint places a high value upon social conformity and the right of the more able to direct the less able” (p. 127). His academic position allowed him to begin studying experimentally these clinical hunches.

Scientific Advances In the 1940s the quantitative science of psychotherapy was in its infancy. Clinical psychologists had not yet turned their practices toward psychotherapy. Psychiatrists (most of whom were psychoanalysts) disavowed the tools of experimental science, believing that scientific scrutiny of the analytic hour would violate the fundamental conditions of therapeutic success. It was only after World War II, when brief psychoanalytic therapies proved their effectiveness on the battlefield, that scientists in larger numbers began to conduct experimental studies on psychotherapy. Rogers was the first clinical psychologist to apply systematically the tools of psychometrics to the data of psychotherapy.

Rogers recognized that it would be impossible to quantify psychotherapeutic processes without obtaining firsthand accounts of what actually happened. Rogers and his graduate student Bernard Covner devised a way to record and transcribe not merely a single session but full courses of treatment. In 1942 Rogers published the first complete transcript of a counseling relationship—eight unedited interviews with an adult client named “Herbert Bryan.” He used a numbering system to label each set of utterances of C (counselor) and S (subject):

C32. When you feel all right—you feel very much all right.

S32. Oh, yes, yes. Very dynamic—my mind works much more rapidly and everything’s all right. Anything I try I do successfully.

C33. And what you want is to find ways of increasing the amount of time that you have that dynamic self, is that it?

S33. Oh, yes. Be that way all the time. I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t be. The whole thing is psychological, and I want to get at it. (1942a pp. 95–96)

Rogers’s students William Snyder at Ohio State in 1945 and Julius Seeman at Chicago in 1949 published category systems based on the content and feelings of these client and counselor statements. Simple response categories for the content of the client’s statements included, for instance:

YAI—Asking for advice or information

YAQ—Answer to a question

YAC—Simple acceptance or acquiescence to a clarification of feeling

YRS—Rejection of a clarification or interpretation

(Seeman, 1949, p. 157)

Although Rogers felt isolated in his early academic career, he nonetheless enjoyed professional success. He was chairman of the clinical section of the American Association for Applied Psychology (AAAP) from 1942 to 1944, and president of the AAAP for the year 1944–1945. He also was president of the American Psychological Association (APA, 1946–1947) during a critical time of reorganization. Rogers’s graduate students at Ohio State University went on to successful careers of their own, including the Catholic priest Charles Curran, Arthur Combs, and Nicholas Hobbs. During World War II he trained staff in the United Service Organization (USO) in counseling techniques with armed servicemen. This success led to an invitation from the University of Chicago to establish a new counseling center. Rogers and his family moved to Chicago in 1945.

A Systematic Theory of Client-Centered Therapy During his twelve years in Chicago, Rogers and his research group transformed the nondirective approach into a formal system, renaming it client-centered therapy. It was his decision to conceptualize his new theory of psychotherapy and personality change in the language of science itself, such that by its very nature it could be tested empirically, that brought Rogers to the attention of many psychologists. In 1956 he won the first Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association for “developing an original method to objectify the description and analysis of the psychotherapeutic process, for formulating a testable theory of psychotherapy and its effects on personality and behavior, and for extensive systematic research to exhibit the value of the method and explore and test the implications of the theory” (Melton, 1957, p. 128).

Rogers built around himself a vibrant and stimulating community of graduate students and colleagues. His students at Chicago developed a wide range of inventories to test even more sophisticated concepts about the process and outcome of client-centered therapy. A particular technique with which his group innovated was the British psychologist William Stephenson’s Q-sort. In Rogers’s adaptation of the Q-sort, subjects separated a pile of one hundred cards containing self-statements derived from client transcripts (such as “I am successful” or “I am worthless”) into a normal distribution based on the degree to which the subject believed the statements applied to themselves. Subjects sorted the cards three times—first as the statements applied to themselves in reality, second as the statements applied to their “ideal” selves, and third

as the statements would apply to an ordinary person. With Q-sorts the researchers tracked changes in how the subjects viewed themselves over the course of therapy, including whether or not their real and ideal selves were coming into congruence. They also examined changes in subjects’ responses over the course of therapy on other personality inventories including the Rorschach inkblot, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). In 1949 seven of his students published projects in a special issue of the Journal of Consulting Psychology with data from the same ten cases. In 1954 Rogers and Rosalind Dymond edited a larger collection of studies, also conducted on a block of cases, which included a chapter explaining their research designs and two chapters on a successful case and a failed case in their research protocol.

Rogers presented the formal structure of the theory, based on his group’s research findings, in a frequently cited 1957 article, “The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change.” He proposed that six conditions were necessary and sufficient for therapeutic personality change to occur—conditions that could be achieved regardless of the therapist’s theoretical orientation and of the client’s diagnosis:

  1. Two persons are in psychological contact.
  2. he first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
  3. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent or integrated in the relationship.
  4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client.
  5. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference and endeavors to communicate this experience to the client.

The communication to the client of the therapist’s empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved. (p. 96; emphases added)

In other words, Rogers proposed, a person in therapy automatically will move toward a greater integration of his real self and his experiences (congruence) in an environment in which the therapist is fully available (congruent), is accepting and warm (unconditional positive regard), and listens and responds with a desire to understand the client’s feelings from the client’s point of view (empathic listening).

In 1959 he recast these six conditions in an if-then formula for predicting the outcome of psychotherapy. He posited that if the aforementioned conditions were met then a predictable and automatic set of processes would result, which themselves would lead to a predictable and automatic set of changes in the client’s personality (see Figure 1).

He made these statements in formalistic language suitable to empirical investigation. But he also ventured into more conceptually abstract territory, arguing that the human organism has an innate tendency toward growth (organismic valuing process) which is positive and constructive in nature and which automatically will guide the person under the right conditions:

I believe it is obvious that the basic capacity which is hypothesized is of very decided importance in its psychological and philosophical implications. It means that psychotherapy is the releasing of an already existing capacity in a potentially competent individual, not the expert manipulation of a more or less passive personality. Philosophically it means that the individual has the capacity to guide, regulate, and control himself, providing only that certain definable conditions exist. Only in the absence of these conditions, and not in any basic sense, is it necessary to provide external control and regulation of the individual. (p. 221)

In 1957 Rogers accepted an invitation from the University of Wisconsin to join the psychology faculty with a cross-appointment in psychiatry. Throughout this period and beyond he was intrigued with exploring the limits of his new theory. He conducted a large study on the client-centered approach with schizophrenic inpatients at Mendota State Hospital. Rogers’s student Eugene Gendlin joined him at Wisconsin as research director. For this study his student Charles Truax developed a rating scale for unconditional positive regard, and his student Donald Kiesler developed a rating scale for congruence. They published their results in 1967.

During the period from 1957 to 1964 Rogers was recognized with a number of honors and leadership positions including his election as Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1961. APA Division 12 also honored him with an award for Distinguished Contributions to the Science and Profession of Clinical Psychology in 1962. His work also continued to flourish through the innovations of several former students from Chicago, including Gendlin’s work on focusing at Chicago, John Shlien’s work in education at Harvard University, and Laura Rice’s work on client vocal quality at York University.

Person-Centered Therapy Rogers moved to La Jolla, California, in 1964 to shift his focus once again. At the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI) and after 1968 at the Center for the Study of the Person, which he cofounded, Rogers extended the client-centered approach to the group context. He renamed it the person-centered approach to emphasize its applicability not merely to people in therapy but to all human interactions. Rogers’s school, along with that of Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, and others, became part of the “humanistic psychology” movement, a “third force” (as Maslow called it) distinct from behaviorism and psychoanalysis. He conducted countless encounter groups and wrote on such subjects as education, encounter groups, marriage, and personal essays on the past and future of client-centered therapy.

Back at Chicago, Rogers had begun to explore the links between his theory and the philosophies of Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Buber. This interest led to a public conversation with Buber on 18 April 1957, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as dialogues with the Christian theologian Paul Tillich on 7 March 1965 and the philosopher of science Michael Polanyi in July 1966 at San Diego State University. He traveled extensively, promoting the person-centered approach as a tool for peace-making, and conducting workshops in the USSR, South Africa, Japan, Austria, and Central America.

Rogers also created a large and influential body of film and video recordings. His interview with a real client named Gloria, one of the Three Approaches to Psychotherapy film series, is particularly noteworthy. Rogers’s ability to develop an intimate relationship with her in thirty minutes has been the subject of much scholarly discussion. A filmed encounter group he led with Richard Farson and produced by Bill McGaw, titled Journey into Self, won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary. In addition Rogers made several films with McGaw for the Public Broadcasting System, including an encounter group with drug addicts, titled Because That’s My Way (1971) and another with Protestants and Catholics from Northern Ireland, titled The Steel Shutter(1973).

Conclusion David Cohen has suggested that Rogers’s later years, particularly in the years leading up to his wife Helen’s death on 29 March 1979, were challenging. He portrays a man eager to loosen the constraints of his marriage at a time when his wife needed constant physical and psychological attention. He also shows, however, the close relationship between Rogers and his children, Rogers’s continuing love of gardening, and his ambitious work schedule even up to his death. Rogers died from a heart attack following surgery for a fractured hip on 4 February 1987, at the age of eighty-five.

Rogers’s belief in the fundamental trustworthiness of human nature was not just a scientific creed but a strident rejection of oppression wherever it might be found. He upheld it in a famous symposium with the behaviorist

B. F. Skinner at the annual convention of the APA on 4 September 1956, and again with Skinner on 11 and 12 June 1962, at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. He also accused adherents of the doctrines of Christianity and psychoanalysis with making it impossible for individuals to reach their own conclusions about human nature:

One of the most revolutionary concepts to grow out of our clinical experience is the growing recognition that the innermost core of man’s nature, the deepest layers of his personality, the base of his “animal nature,” is positive in character—is basically socialized, forward-moving, rational and realistic.

This point of view is so foreign to our present culture that I do not expect it to be accepted. Religion, especially the Christian religion, has permeated our culture with the concept that man is basically sinful and that only by something approaching a miracle can his sinful nature be negated. In psychology, Freud and his followers have presented convincing arguments that the id, man’s basic and unconscious nature, is primarily made up of instincts which would, if permitted expression, result in incest, murder, and other crimes. (1959, p. 256)

And in 1961 he even asked the general public to face his own theories with a healthy skepticism: “Neither the Bible nor the prophets—neither Freud nor research— neither the revelations of God nor man—can take precedence over my own direct experience” (p. 24). The client-centered approach in the end was a grand realization of his youthful leanings toward both the social gospel and science—a philosophy of self-determination inspired by the methods of scientific inquiry.

Not all psychologists approved of Rogers’s unorthodox scientific approach. His critics accused him of mysticism and fanaticism and of hurting the field’s efforts to achieve a viable science of psychotherapy research. In the 1970s the rise of experimentally sophisticated behavior therapies drew scientific attention away from those Rogerians who remained in the academy. Nevertheless, Rogers’s research techniques and his clinical acumen influenced the practices of a wide variety of disciplines including sociology, social work, counseling psychology, pastoral counseling, education, and business. Client-centered therapy also made its mark on the computer—that most impersonal of technologies. Joseph Weizenbaum of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology emulated Rogerian empathic responses in a 1966 demonstration of natural language processes with an interactive computer program named ELIZA. ELIZA generated such a great demand for computer therapy that Weizenbaum, dismayed at how easily humans anthropomorphized the computer, devoted the rest of his career to critiquing artificial intelligence. If imitation is the best form of flattery, the ELIZA affair made clear that whatever the truth of Rogers’s scientific critics, the ubiquity of the Rogerian way in mid-twentieth-century American life could never have been in doubt.


Archival sources include the Carl R. Rogers Collection, 1902–1990, University of California–Santa Barbara Library, Department of Special Collections, available from; and the Papers of Carl R. Rogers, 1913–1989 (bulk 1960–1987), Archival Manuscript Collection, Library of Congress. “Carl” is the best source for comprehensive bibliography as well as Web-streaming videos of Rogers’s teaching and research, available from


The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child. Boston: Houghton

Mifflin, 1939.

Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942a. Includes “The Case of Herbert Bryan.” “The Use of Electrically Recorded Interviews in Improving

Psychotherapeutic Techniques.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 12 (1942b): 429–434. Reprinted in Carl Rogers Reader (1989), pp. 211–218. “A Coordinated Research in Psychotherapy: A Non-Objective

Introduction.” Journal of Consulting Psychology 13 (1949): 149–153.

Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and

Theory. With chapters contributed by Elaine Dorfman, Thomas Gordon, and Nicholas Hobbs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951.

With Rosalind F. Dymond, eds. Psychotherapy and Personality

Change: Co-ordinated Research Studies in the Client-CenteredApproach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954. Useful collection of studies and explanation of scientific procedures. “Some Issues Concerning the Control of Human Behavior

(Symposium with B. F. Skinner).” Science 124 (1956): 1057–1066. “The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic

Personality Change.” Journal of Consulting Psychology 21, no. 2 (1957): 95–103. Reprinted in Carl Rogers Reader (1989), pp. 219–235. “A Theory of Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal

Relationships, as Developed in the Client-Centered Framework.” In Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3, Formulations of the Person and the Social Context, edited by Sigmund Koch, 184–256. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959. Highly technical but very influential in his field. “Client-Centered Therapy.” In American Handbook of Psychiatry.

Vol. 3, edited by Silvano Arieti, 183–200. New York: Basic Books, 1959–1966. Reprinted in Carl Rogers: Dialogues, (1989) pp. 9–35. Excellent introduction for beginners.

On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961. Collection of essays and talks. Good bibliography through 1960.

Client-Centered Therapy. Film no. 1 in Three Approaches to

Psychotherapy. Edited by E. Shostrom. Three 16mm color motion pictures. Orange, CA: Psychological Films, 1965. Worth viewing if you can find it. “Autobiography.” In A History of Psychology in Autobiography.

Vol. 5, edited by Edwin G. Boring and Gardner Lindzey, 343–384. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1967. Very good introduction to his life.

With Eugene T. Gendlin, Donald J. Kiesler, and Charles B.

Truax, eds. The Therapeutic Relationship and Its Impact: A Study of Psychotherapy with Schizophrenics. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.

A Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Another excellent collection of essays.

Carl Rogers—Dialogues: Conversations with Martin Buber, Paul

Tillich, B. F. Skinner, Gregory Bateson, Michael Polanyi, Rollo May, and Others. Edited by Howard Kirschenbaum and Valerie Land Henderson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989. Edited collection of Rogers’s public conversations with philosophers and theologians. Excellent for beginners.

The Carl Rogers Reader. Edited by Howard Kirschenbaum and

Valerie Land Henderson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989. Edited collection of Rogers’s most important essays. Excellent for beginners.


Cohen, David. Carl Rogers: A Critical Biography. London:

Constable, 1997. Not suitable for beginners.

DeCarvalho, Roy J. “Otto Rank, the Rankian Circle in

Philadelphia, and the Origins of Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered Psychotherapy.” History of Psychology 2 (1999): 132–148.

Hall, Calvin, Gardner Lindzey, John C. Loehlin, et al.

Introduction to Theories of Personality. New York: Wiley, 1985. Chapter 6, “Holism and Humanism: Abraham Maslow and

Carl Rogers,” is an excellent introduction to the science of client-centered therapy.

Hayashi, Sachiko, Toru Kuno, Yoshihiko Morotomi, et al.

“Client-Centered Therapy in Japan: Fujio Tomoda and Taoism.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 38 (1998): 103–124.

Kirschenbaum, Howard. On Becoming Carl Rogers. New York:

Delacorte, 1979. Good for beginners but does not include years 1979–1987. Includes photographs.

Melton, Arthur W. “The American Psychological Association

Distinguished Scientific Contribution Awards for 1956.” American Psychologist (1957): 125–133.

Nicholson, Ian. “From the Kingdom of God to the Beloved

Community, 1920–1930: Psychology and the Social Gospel in the Work of Goodwin Watson and Carl Rogers.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 22 (1994): 196–206.

Rice, Laura N., and Leslie S. Greenberg. “Humanistic

Approaches to Psychotherapy.” In History of Psychotherapy: A Century of Change, edited by Donald K. Freedheim, 197–224. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1992. Good summary of Rogers’s work in context of humanistic psychology movement.

Seeman, Julius. “A Study of the Process of Nondirective

Therapy.” Journal of Consulting Psychology 13, no. 3 (1949): 157–168.

Sterner, William H. “Symbolic Demeaning: The Loss of

Meaning in Human-Computer Communication.” Unpublished 1998 essay that is a very informative analysis of ELIZA with actual transcripts of therapy sessions from Rogers and Eugene Gendlin. Available from

Thorne, Brian. Carl Rogers. London: Sage, 1992. Part of the Sage collection of biographies of influential psychotherapists. Straightforward summary of work and influence. Weizenbaum, Joseph. “ELIZA: A Computer Program for the

Study of Natural Language Communication between Man and Machine.” 1966 article on ELIZA. Available from

Rachael I. Rosner

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rogers, Carl Ransom." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 17 Aug. 2017 <>.

"Rogers, Carl Ransom." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (August 17, 2017).

"Rogers, Carl Ransom." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from

Carl Ransom Rogers

Carl Ransom Rogers

Carl Ransom Rogers (1902-1987) was an American psychotherapist who originated person-centered, non-directive counseling.

Carl Rogers was born on January 8, 1902, in Oak Park, Illinois, the fourth of six children to Walter and Julia (Cushing) Rogers. His father, a successful contractor, engineer, and farmer, believed in the virtue of hard work. His mother had strong fundamentalist religious convictions and raised her six children (five boys) in a home where drinking, smoking, dancing, and playing cards were sinful. She believed that the elect people of God should not mingle with those whose actions indicated that they were otherwise.

Rogers later said that his attitude as a youth toward others outside the home "was characterized by distance and aloofness … taken over from … parents." (A Way of Being, 1980). He had only superficial contacts with others, "never having a real date in high school." He was a solitary boy who between numerous farm chores found time to read. His interests outside of school focused on science, reading his father's books on scientific farming, and studying systematically the life cycle of moths found in woods near his home.

From Seminarian to Education Student

Rogers' college years brought a break with the orientation of his parents and an end to his solitary life style. During those years at the University of Wisconsin (1919-1924) he began dating and soon developed a close relationship with his childhood friend Helen Elliot, whom he married upon graduation. During his sophomore year he changed majors from agriculture to history, thinking that the latter would be more suitable for a career in religious work. A six-month trip to China with other Christian youths during his junior year impressed upon him that sincere and honest people could hold divergent religious views.

The growing shift away from his parents' perspective was further evidenced by his choice of a liberal seminary for graduate studies, Union Theological Seminary in New York City (1924-1926). In a student initiated seminar at Union he came to the conclusion that although "the possibility of the constructive improvement of life for individuals [was] of deep interest to me, I could not work in a field where I would be required to believe in some specific religious doctrines" (from his 1967 autobiography). As a consequence, he moved across the street to Teachers College-Columbia University, a move which was easily facilitated by the close affiliation of the two schools. He majored in clinical psychology and child guidance and graduated with a master's degree (1926) and a doctorate (1931). He characterized his education in psychology at Teachers College as having a markedly measurement and statistics approach to the understanding of behavior.

In 1928 the Rogers family (now including a two-year-old son and a daughter on the way) moved to Rochester, New York, where he began work as a psychologist for the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In contrast to Teachers College, many colleagues in Rochester emphasized a psychoanalytic approach to behavior. Through the practical and personal experiences in this clinic, however, he began to recognize that the results of both measurement psychologists and psychoanalysts were "never more than superficially effective."

Several incidents in the Rochester clinic helped him "to perceive … that it is the client who knows what hurts, what direction to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried. It began to occur to me that unless I had a need to demonstrate my own cleverness and learning, I would do better to rely upon the client for direction of movement in the therapeutic process." For effective counseling, the psychotherapist, Rogers believed, is "to be genuine and without a facade…. and to be empathetic in understanding. As a result the client begins to feel positive and accepting toward himself… . his own defenses and facade diminishes. …he becomes more open… . and he finds that he is free to grow and change in desired directions."

Advocate of Person-Centered Counseling

During mid-career, as a college professor, Rogers was able to apply his approach to counseling and further test the ideas that had grown out of earlier experiences. This also was a period of wide involvement in professional organizations and much writing effort. His theory and method quickly grew in popularity, but many established psychiatrists remained dubious as to their scientific rigor and applicability. He worked at three midwestern universities: Ohio State (1940-1945) in clinical psychology; University of Chicago (1945-1957) in psychology and as director of the student guidance center; and University of Wisconsin (1957-1963) in psychology and psychiatry.

Other activities during this period included visiting professorships at several universities and the receipt of many honorary degrees. Throughout his career he was active in professional organizations including being elected president of the American Association of Applied Psychology (1944), the American Psychological Association (1946), and the American Academy of Psychotherapists (1956). He received both the First Distinguished Professional Contribution Award and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the only psychologist to be thus doubly honored. Rogers was named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1961.

Late in his career Rogers was named a fellow to the Center for Advance Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto, California (1962-1963). He joined the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in 1964 and later the Center for the Study of the Person in La Jolla, California, where he continued to work into the 1980s. Over his lifetime he published approximately 260 articles and 15 books, which have had a significant influence on the development of psychology in the 20th century. He was prominent in the human potential movement, and his book on encounter groups had an impressive impact.

After the mid-1970s Rogers was especially interested in facilitating groups involving antagonistic factions, whether the hostilities arose out of cultural, racial, religious, or national issues. He facilitated a group from Belfast containing militant Protestants and Catholics from Ireland and the English. He was involved in intercultural groups whose participants came from many nations, including participants from the Eastern European bloc countries. He facilitated Black-White groups in South Africa. He was deeply interested in applying the principles of the person-centered approach to international affairs in the interest of world peace.

Further Reading

Insightful autobiographical sketches with personal anecdotes are found in chapters 2, 3, and 4 of A Way of Being (1980) and in chapter 1 of On Becoming a Person (1961). A comprehensive biography by Howard Kirchenbaum is On Becoming Carl Rogers (1979). Also, a brief autobiography was published in AHistory of Psychology in Autobiography, vol. 5, edited by Edwin G. Boring (1967). An overview of his person-centered therapy can be found in On Becoming a Person (1961), and an overview of his theory of education is in Freedom To Learn (1969).

Additional Sources

Evans, Richard I. (Richard Isadore), Carl Rogers: the man and his ideas, New York: Dutton, 1975.

Evans, Richard I. (Richard Isadore), Dialogue with Carl Rogers, New York, N.Y.: Praeger, 1981, 1975.

Kirschenbaum, Howard, On becoming Carl Rogers, New York: Delacorte Press, 1979. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Carl Ransom Rogers." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 17 Aug. 2017 <>.

"Carl Ransom Rogers." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (August 17, 2017).

"Carl Ransom Rogers." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from