Peter F. Schmid
Paper given at the
IVth ICCCEP, Lisbon 1997
published in: Marques-Teixeira, João / Antunes, Samuel (Eds.), Client-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy, Linda a Velha (Vale & Vale) 2001, 11-33
(c) 1997 by Peter F. Schmid
Ten years after Carl Rogers death we can give a
résumé: What have almost six decades of the PersonCentered Approach brought about?
What conclusions can be drawn scientific, social, practical? And what are the
future perspectives and prospects of the PersonCentered Approach? Which direction
will further development take?
It is assumed that this should best happen in reference to a truly personal and social approach which may also contribute to a basic consent of those schools that feel obliged to a dialogic and encounterorientated understanding of psychotherapy and carry out the corresponding theoretical and practical paradigm shift. As far as that goes, this approach like any good therapist in a therapy implies the tendency to render itself superfluous. Not because such a "therapy of the future"(Carl Rogers) would already exist on the contrary: the consequent realization of the Rogerian paradigm shift still has to be implemented even with respect to the PersonCentered Approach.1
Foundations, anthropology, encounter philosophy, kairology, ethics, paradigm shift, PCA as a personal approach, further developments of PCA/PCT, diakony, Lévinas and the pholosophy of the Other, public appearance, PCA as a cultural philosophy, basic consensus beyond to school
In February 1997 it was ten years ago that Carl Rogers died a special occasion to ask oneself the question how things are with the PersonCentered Approach and what changes have turned out to be necessary if it wants to remain true to its principles.
It happens quite often that among personcentered theorists it does not apply so much to the practicians but sometimes it is even true for them a metaphor like the following can be heard: As for the PersonCentered Approach we find ourselves and this is said with a slight touch of nostalgia in the voice on board a sinking ship. Once she had a great time, full speed ahead, when the charismatic captain had the say and set the course. However, now she is rusting away and seems quite "unrefloatable". As things now stand, lying at anchor, she seems to deserve being converted into a "museum ship", because she has completed her mission successfully. She seems to be dissolving and breaking up into her components, it is true, but as a model for others she did an irreplaceable and inestimable service and a whole fleet is under way making use of the experience of this pioneer ship.
Consequently, the PersonCentered Approach seems to have completed its historic mission in so far as it influenced the humanization of various social and psychological orientations, in particular the humanization of psychotherapy. As an independent orientation, however, the PersonCentered Approach will hardly survive. If at all, complementary methods or additional techniques would have to be looked out for, it would have to be combined with systemic methods, body therapy techniques or skills from art and creative therapies or would have to be fused with the also no longer highly trendy gestalt therapists and other related schools, in order to save at least the Humanistic Psychotherapy.
I do not share this view at all together with many others. On the contrary, I am even convinced that the essence of the PersonCentered Approach has not yet been sounded out by far, let alone has it been put into effect, in its radicalism, its profound humanism and in its critical potential, a potential towards emancipation. Carl Rogers positions and visions are not at all outdated, they have not even been caught up with. Without doubt it is a valuable merit of the approach that today, half a century later, even behavior therapists, psychoanalysts and systemic therapists encounter the importance of the personal, the personal and actual relationship, the core conditions ("without which nothing works", as these therapies now also agree) a fact which became extremely clear at the World Council for Psychotherapy 1996 in Vienna, where e.g. psychoanalysts promoted and pushed as new positions what our approach had already made the obvious focus of interest in the middle of the century e.g. the respect of the person. But even if others adopt some of our positions, they have by no means yet got at the core of the approach, centered on the person of the human being.
Relationship person to person: The essential focus of the approach
I am really convinced that the
PersonCentered Approach has got a future. Therefore I want to indicate some of the
developments which in my opinion line up for the approach. However, first of all a
definition of our position seems to be called for. What is essential? And: who is to
decide? Certainly no personcentered pontifex or any other authority. But if
everybody has got something to say in this matter, how will any agreement ever be reached?
During an informal meeting in order to exchange theoretical concepts of thirty personcentered scientists and practicians from all over the world, which took place at the invitation of the PersonCentered Association in Austria (PCA) in July 1996 in Bad Hall, Upper Austria, subsequent to the World Congress (cf. Frenzel/Schmid 1996), spontaneous and prompt consent was reached about the idea that time has come to found an international organization2 as a common roof in the shape of a worldwide organization or forum for personcentered practicians and theorists in psychotherapy and counseling. (It was founded during the IVth International Conference in ClientCentered and Experiential Psychotherapy, Lisbon, July 8th, 1997.) It was obvious from the very beginning that this association had to be an open structure which on the one hand had to offer room for various suborientations within the approach, and on the other hand had to be clearly identifiable. Consent about that was easily reached, and the same goes for the name of the organization. However, it was considered difficult to find this common core and to find out how it could be put into words so that it was clear and unambiguous and at the same time open enough. To our all surprise it turned out that this task was not difficult to solve at all. In next to no time agreement was reached and the five items were put up which now form the five principles of our International Association:
Perhaps these five items seem to be selfevident at first glance, perhaps they seem to be a meager minimum program or a vague humanism. On closer examination, however, they include everything that is essential and at the same time imply the element linking all (or almost all) suborientations4 from Focusing to phenomenologically or empirically orientated approaches, from encounter philosophical and personaldialogical to clinical or constructivist approaches. Furthermore, they imply, above all, the core of the developments necessary entirely in accordance with the sentence by Carl Rogers and John Wood from their abridged description of the approach: "Clientcentered theory is still growing not as a school or dogma but as a set of tentative principles." (Rogers/Wood 1974, 213)
The personcentered relationship as immediate encounter
Following the above mentioned items I hereby want to give a concise summary of what I consider the essence of the PersonCentered Approach.
As already expressed by its name it is orientated by the person of the human being. What is meant by "person" is the human being in both, his or her unparalleled unexchangability and in his or her social interconnectedness, that is, as person within society, within his or her respective system; the individual and the relational dimension of being and becoming a person, independence and orientation towards relations are equally important to a personal view (Schmid 1991; 1997 b; 1997e; 1998a; 1998c).The two basic axioms in personcentered anthropology are the actualizing tendency and the interconnectedness. They form the foundations of the understanding of personalisation of "on becoming a person" (Rogers 1961a).
Offering help in a personcentered understanding means letting oneself in for a personal relation. That implies putting oneself into play as helper5 and trusting in the possibility that such an encounter from person to person, be it among two persons or within a group (Schmid 1994; 1996a; 1997b; 1997f; 1998b; 1998c), is the most important contribution to helping those seeking for help in order to make better use of their so far unused or temporarily blocked inner resources, thus, developing their own personality and widening their scope of action as well (Rogers 1961a; 1970a; 1980a; Schmid 1989). Explicitly connected with it is an image of man which considers every human being capable of living and organizing his or her life and solving the problems and, on account of their own potential, expects him or her to actualize the ability to develop in an individually and socially constructive direction, if he or she feels accepted and understood in principle, that is, in a social environment in why they may feel and behave quite authentically (Rogers 1959a).
Such an approach quite fundamentally rules out any conception of oneself on part of the therapist or helper or teacher etc. as an expert on the problems or on the person of the partner in counseling, therapy, education, supervision or any other helpful relation whatsoever. Such an approach also rules out that the therapist considers himself as an expert in the correct usage of methods and means, and even excludes any preconceived use of methods and techniques, which is not rooted in the immediate experience of the relationship. The only "means" or "instrument" employed is the person of the therapist him or herself. And only where "any means has fallen apart" encounter takes place, as Martin Buber (1923,19) stated unsurpassably and precisely also grasping the process of such a relationship. Therefore the PersonCentered Approach differs radically from those other approaches which in the meantime have all more or less found their way to the core conditions of authenticity, unconditional positive regard and empathy brought out and accurately described by Rogers (1957a). However, these approaches consider Rogers conditions, attitudes and definitions only as preparatory design of relations meant to establish a certain climate or rapport, as obviouslyhuman preconditions so to speak, upon which the actual therapeutic work still has to be constructed. For the person working in the personcentered field the realization of these basic attitudes, which at the time has to be newly put into effect during the process, represents the help which needs no supplementation by specific methods and techniques reserved for the expert. "Expertism", if it has to be described, lies exactly in the ability to resist the temptation of behaving like an expert (even against the clients wishes) that means, solving problems with the help of techniques rather than facing them as persons.
The existential and immediate presence as understood by encounter philosophy, the personal beingwith which leads to a togetherness, not an ideological or pragmatic hereandnowprinciple, means that, in his or her psychophysical presence, the person who offers a personcentered relation opens up to his partner, either another person or a group, the possibility to concentrate on the fertile instant and thus on oneself and his or her relations. In the "kairos" (which the very instant is called according to the Greek god of "the favorable opportunity", who had to be seized by his thick front hair of the crown when hurrying past in the back he was closecropped) it is important to take advantage of fallow potential and to seize the opportunity.
The PersonCentered Approach respects the individual and understands him or her out of the social environment
Rogers liked to call December 11, 1940 the birthday of the approach, the day on which he gave a lecture at the University of Minnesota with the title "Newer Concepts of Psychotherapy" (Rogers 1940b) which met with a lively response. Much has changed and developed further in the approach itself and in its surrounding, the social psychology, since that day which marks its foundation.
Carl Rogers left us a well elaborated theory from the first half of his work (Rogers 1959a), but he did not compile later developments as concisely and comprehensively as the early ones with the effect that these later developments became less and much later known and that for a long time the PersonCentered Approach consequently had a onesided, individualistic image which simply does not apply.
That is to say, as a result from his experience with psychiatric patients and his experience in encountergroups from a psychotherapeutic point of view they are two "extremegroups", hospitalized patients on the one hand and the "normal population" on the other Rogers developed his own approach further in a quite significant way and, what is more, his earlier theories are integrated into his later conceptions. It is, what Hegel calls an "Aufhebung". The German word "aufheben" means (1) to preserve and keep, (2) to abolish, suspend and dissolve and (3) to elevate, supersede, transcend and revalorize. If one takes these meanings together at one and the same time, this means that the earlier theories are preserved as well as dissolved by being superseded and transcended. Rogers integrated his previous experiences and concepts into a new theory without abandoning its essence and developed the approach further in a significant way. At that time, from about the second half of the sixties onwards, when the social dimension, the presence in the relation and finally the political aspect of therapy and of the approach as a whole were worked out without abandoning the uniqueness of the individual and the focus on the client, i.e. without losing the clientcentered quality the importance of the person (also of the person of the therapist), the relationship person to person, the group as "arena" of the relation and the whole surrounding of this relation was theoretically reflected and, thus, the personcentered quality was conceptualized.
Nowhere has Rogers ever laid that down in a comprehensive way. These ideas and concepts are included in a series of articles and interviews and those who got to know him personally do not doubt this comprehensive view. With that Rogers gave such a decisive impulse and left us such a rich legacy that a concrete realization of a number of consequences is yet to come. If the approach is taken seriously as "approach" (and not as a readymade doctrine), and if we take the implications seriously which are a consequence of the understanding of the human being as person within society and which above all arise from the experience of personcentered group work and grouppsychotherapy, a range of necessary and farreaching changes in the sense of further developments of the approach regarding the image of man and the practice crowd into our mind.
Some of these challenges for the approach shall be summarized in form of theses without claiming to be complete.
Challenges for the PersonCentered Approach as a personal approach
The above mentioned Lithuanian Emmanuel Lévinas, who lost his whole family in the holocaust, again and again points out that all of occidental philosophy (and this also applies for psychology as its "daughter" and psychotherapy as its "granddaughter") including its socalled humanistic orientation in this century has remained "egology". And, indeed, this fixation on the I is clearly predominant in the terminology of the numerous selfterms in Humanistic Psychology and despite all positioning against an objectivation and instrumentalization it finally indicates a reduction of the other, of what the other means to me. In this connection a wellknown sentence by Martin Buber (1923, 18) like "I become through the Thou" all of a sudden sounds quite different: even here, as is to be suspected, everything is still focused on me. This, however, presents the ideals of the humanistic movement as such in a new light. And according to Lévinas the following applies: "What once seemed to be a distinctive human quality, the absolute desire to determine and realize oneself, "selfdetermination" and "selfrealization", has proved the reason of violence against the other human being. Not the enforcement of the egos objectives must become the basis of the humanism of the other but the perception of the other. This is an ethical relation, and as such it is asymmetric. I am much more obliged by the other than I am capable of obliging him.[...] Thus being a human is and can be founded and is explicable by the other." (Waldschütz 1993)
The PersonCentered Approach as a humanistic understanding of world and man now includes a number of ethic implications which definitely prepare for getting beyond "egology". Of course, they still await an explicit, systematic presentation, definition, and further development for every single area of personcentered acting. In doing so ethics cannot be deduced from anthropology but we have to realize that personcentered anthropology has always been ethics at first; for "ethics is personadequate acting" (Keil 1992,17). Traditional ethics orient acting by principles which are deduced from philosophic ideas. However, a philosophy orienting itself by experience, as it undoubtedly corresponds to the PersonCentered Approach, realizes from the experience in the encounter, which is taken seriously down to the roots, ethics as the first philosophy. Especially out of the personal experience of encounter being addressed and thus encouraged by the Other a legitimate claim to an answer and to acting in the kairos is derived and this is where personcentered ethics come in.
Personcentered ethics is dialogic ethics. In so far it is ethics which never degrades a fellow being to an alter ego but sees him or her as a call and a provocation. In doing so the fellow being is the Other on principle, the one strange to me, who surprises me, and who I find myself opposed to, who I have to face neither monopolizing nor rejecting him face to face. "Encountering a human being means being kept awake by an enigma" states Lévinas (1959, 120). The presence of the Other which always "comes first" is a call for a respond which I cannot escape because nobody can respond in my place. We are obliged and responsible to the Other and owe him an answer. This causes a " priority" of the Other. From that follows a new nonindividualistic understanding of selfrealization as realization in and out of the relations, in which the individual lives, and which is never possible without the realization of the Other.
Any help whatsoever is to be understood on principle as such a response to the misery of the Other. Love, which fundamentally is experienced from the very beginning in the development of the human being (just think of the child, "conceived" and born into relations), is the deposit of solidarity that has to be made. In empathy communication becomes encouragement, becomes advocacy and becomes community.
Accordingly, psychotherapy means engaged and solidary service to the fellow person, is "diakony". Like any psychosocial activity it has a radical servicecharacter. The suffering person demands. This corresponds with the duty of responseability. From "diakony" emerges dialogue, from personcenteredness room for personal encounter. This commitment towards the Other cf. the not enough appreciated commitmentconcept of Binder and Binder (1981, 179274) , a responsibility which originates in the basic dependency of the human being on his fellow beings, calls for acting also in communication and not for talking. Therefore we should understand the PersonCentered Approach as an action approach and not merely as a verbal approach, misleadingly called "Gesprächstherapie [talking therapy]".
More selfconfidence and identity in public
Before drawing conclusions in regard to the theses discussed above a couple of remarks seem appropriate about how those committed the PersonCentered Approach think of it, work with it and deal with it in public.
The résumé to be pointed out is: the present "calm" in the popularity of the approach has to be seen as a challenge to creativity.
The PersonCentered Approach as a culture philosophy needs new ways of research and theory development
From the above mentioned basic thoughts
derives the necessity of a theoretical and practical reorientation of the approach
faithful to its own tradition. Already with his interest for encounter groups and thus
overcoming an approach only centered on the client which Carl Rogers was blamed for
by many critics (e.g. Swildens 1992; cf. van Belle 1990) a qualitatively new step
was made, the consequences of which had a retroactive effect on therapy. The challenge is
to genuinely follow this path.
Today important impulses for a personcentered theory come from areas beyond onetoone therapy. John Wood (1994a, 31) e.g. holds the opinion that leaderless large groups prove that the theory of ClientCentered Psychotherapy is not sufficient enough for the PersonCentered Approach. In such groups it simply cannot be the facilitator who provides a climate for constructive personality development. Nevertheless there are clear parallels to personcentered groups with a leader. It cannot be denied that facilitating attitudes of different persons undoubtedly are a factor. But Wood is convinced that there are a range of further factors of the environment, of the culture etc. which are to be found out in a kind of research directed towards the unexpected instead of the confirmation of the expected. The task is to relearn the ability of letting oneself be taken by surprise: "One of its best hidden secrets is that the PCA seems to function best where conventional methods (the application of the principles of clientcentered therapy included) have failed." (Ibid. 1994b, 6).
Since we as human beings are always members of all groups possible, the research of these phenomena could be important for mankind as a whole. Therefore the approach, no longer just psychotherapy, like psychoanalysis claiming to be an overall philosophy of culture, is challenged to no less than understanding the conditio humana, the being human in general. By the way, this needs to deal with ecological questions as well.
A dialogic and social therapy, a creative, flexible and kairologic approach
Obviously a paradigm shift within the
approach announces itself in all that. The PersonCentered Approach may well face a
turningpoint of its selfunderstanding. If the underlying image of man is taken
seriously it becomes obvious that the approach needs further development to a truly
dialogic and social approach (also in psychotherapy) which becomes also clear in the claim
of the anthropology represented by Kierkegaard and Buber but even more so by Lévinas.
An important development of the approach can take place if
if the PersonCentered Approach succeeds in overcoming the traditional view of man as individual and of the individualcentered view of the group,
if it succeeds in enduring the tension to regard the human being as "unique person in the group in any given moment",
if it succeeds in holding the balance between relation and autonomy as it is founded in the notion of the person or the understanding of the encounter group seen as place to learn both solidarity and autonomy
if that can be achieved, it is possible that an important development takes place in two ways:
Firstly the paradigm shift from the solely client centered to the interpersonal quality will be put into effect (consequently carrying on Bubers anthropology and his critique of the approach), personal encounter will be seen as the central guideline for the personcentered relationship.
Secondly in respect to the above mentioned ethically founded anthropology the step from the individual to the person, from relation to encounter will be made as a step from the view of the personcentered relationship as an IThourelationship to a view as a Werelationship and therefore finally towards a social therapy. Then the I will not only be found as a respond to a Thou, which always comes first, but the I will be an respond to a We which comes first.
Then the PersonCentered Approach will become a truly personal, truly dialogic and anthropological approach, a fully PersonCentered Approach, and PersonCentered Therapy will become a dialogic, personal, anthropological therapy. Thus the personcentered relationship is to be regarded as a process providing room valuing spontaneity and creativity, a process in which both client(s) and therapist(s) develop aiming at personal encounter.
Then the approach will consequently be seen as a social approach. Sociotherapy besides psychotherapy will be ranked highly in the frame of an overall therapeutic point of view implying the communities man lives in. Thus the political significance will become obvious.
On the other hand the PersonCentered Approach must not become onesided and overlook the individual. It lives through the tension between We and I, group and person, relationality and substantiality, encounter and selfreflection, i.e. from the dialectic connectedness of communicative relativeness and individual development. The bridge is the understanding of the person in both his or her individuality and his or her relationality. Therefore it is still true what Carl Rogers (1989d,106) pointed out towards the end of his life: "Im willing to stand by valuing the person above anything else."
Acting personcentered means acting from encounter
"Encountering a human being means being kept awake by an enigma." If this is taken seriously the experience of an other as the Other is a fundamental dimension of the personcentered image of man, far away from a concept of unilateral individualistic selfrealization. In spite of all inflation the term "encounter" in general and in the PersonCentered Approach in special has undergone, it has to be stated that the essential element of encounter consists in the fact that the human being meets a reality which moves him or her deeply, which is counter him or her. Encounter is not simply an experience, it is an "experience counter" which opposes the affected one. Encounter is an essentially different experience from what an idealistic and subjectivistic understanding of (solely intrinsic development) presupposes, from an understanding of development or fulfillment coming completely from itself. However, it is an alien, an Other, another reality, another person, which or who encounters my reality, which or who encounters me. This makes up the existential dimension and unavoidability as well as the claim for the exclusiveness of encounter.
Working in a personcentered way derives from being affected by the encounter and tries itself to open a room for encounter. Thus, as an activity which understands itself from the Other (so it is fully "clientcentered) it is a consequence of a view of human existence facing encounter because its selfunderstanding comes from encounter. Only where the person exposes himself or herself to the given Other, he or she can enter in a dialogue even more so, he or she is called to do so.
From the encounter the concrete action arises depending on the phenomenon respectively the person I encounter. The essential thing is not to apply preconceived principles but to be open to new experiences in the from moment to moment given situation of life, in the kairologic basic attitude of presence and encounter, and to respond authentically in short: to try to live a culture of encounter again and again.
Towards a basic consensus beyond schools
Developing the approach in this way a step could be taken towards a basic orientation7 without giving up independence, as Carl Rogers intended. (By no means does such a further development render a careful and diligent theoretical and practical training superfluous. On the contrary: only after having received an appropriate, qualified training, are we enabled to act as a person even in difficult situations.) What is aimed at is a basic consensus beyond schools which are obliged to a dialogic understanding of therapy and group work, because they carry out the paradigm shift from treatment, caretaking and counseling to encounter. In doing so they transcend models which concentrate on the individualistic self as well as on models which exclusively concentrate on a simply systemic approach. As soon as this step is truly taken not the schools are the issue any more, but the issue is to really understand and practice therapy and group work as dialogue. Or expressed in a more provoking way: the PersonCentered Approach must intend and aim at making itself superfluous just as a good therapist has to do.
In order to reach that goal a lot still has to be done.
"Encountering a human being means being kept awake by an enigma." Only such "kept awake" persons who are ready to question others and themselves, will be capable of making the PersonCentered Approach appear a ship in order to use the initial metaphor again which is leaving the secure harbor in which she has enjoyed fame, prestige and reputation, but at the same time has started rusting away and now is setting sail "full speed ahead".
1 Paper presented at the IVth
ICCCEP, Lisbon, July 1997. Translation by Josef Tihanyi and Lilly Schmid. Cf.
Schmid 1997a; 1995; 1996a, 513522; 1997b; 1997c; 1997e; Frenzel/Schmid 1996.
2 The original proposal of the proponents was: "International Association for PersonCentered Therapy (IAPCT). An Association for the Science and Practice of ClientCentered and Experiential Psychotherapies and Counseling." This was changed by the founding members in Lisbon to: "World Association for PersonCentered Counseling and Psychotherapy. An Association for the Science and Practice of ClientCentered and Experiential Psychotherapies and Counseling."
3 The call for the foundation was published worldwide: IAPCT 1996.
4 Maybe especially eclectic and interventionorientated people will miss something.
5 In the whole paper always men and women are meant and addressed. For the simplicity in reading, however, not always both formulations are used.
6 Such attempts to personcentered ethics constitute a very important task in respect to an ethic foundation of psychotherapy and psychosocial work, if one doesnt want to get stuck in unfounded casuistics and doesnt want to reduce ethics to the moral discussion of single cases, e.g. concerning abuse. Cf. Schmid 1996a, 521532.
7 Cf. van Kalmthout 1997.
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(1997f), Begegnung von Person zu Person. Zum Beziehungsverständnis in der Personzentrierten Psychotherapie, in: Psychotherapie Forum 1998
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Sie finden eine überarbeitete deutsche Fassung des hier auf Englisch abgedruckten Vortrags unter dem Titel
»Einem Menschen begegnen heißt, von einem Rätsel wachgehalten werden.« (E. Lévinas)
Perspektiven zur Weiterentwicklung des Personzentrierten Ansatzes
in: PERSON 1 (1997) 14-24 sowie
in: Brennpunkt, Sondernummer 1998, 10-21
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