Carl Rogers’ 19 Propositions – A Revisiting

In 1951, Carl Rogers published ‘Client-centered therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory’[1].  This included the 19 propositions, which set out his theory of the self.

We have revisited Carl Rogers, and done a bit of rewriting.

For the most part we are simply seeking to translate from a modern perspective. We have intentionally altered in one place (with footnote explaining). Lesley (our senior supervisor) reminded us that Tony Merry had done a similar exercise, so we are also including his version at the end of this post, for comparison and reference purposes.

Comments welcomed, and you are also welcome to make use of this if you so choose (with an attribution/acknowledgement of source please).

The 19 Propositions

The regular type is Carl, the italics are our version. At the end, we have set out both as a consecutive ‘flow’ narrative.

  1. All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the center. I make sense of myself, others and my world based on my own constantly changing experiencing.
  2. The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual. My sense of ‘reality’ is unique, formed out of (1) what I experience; and (2) how I process and understand my experience – my ‘story/ies’.
  3. The organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field. My entire way of being/doing arises out of my personal sense of ‘reality’.
  4. A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self. Part of my ‘reality’ is my sense of self.
  5. As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction with others, the structure of the self is formed – an organized, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the “I” or the “me”, together with values attached to these concepts.  My sense of self arises from my experiences and perceptions, especially from comparing myself with others and from the opinions and judgements of others (as I perceive them). My sense of self – who and what am I? who am I in relationship? – is fluid, but includes consistent perceptions. I attach values to those perceptions.
  6. The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.  I have an innate impulse to care for myself, heal and grow. This includes seeking to (1) keep myself safe/intact, and (2) realize my inward potential – become who I am capable of becoming.
  7. The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.  You can adequately understand my behaviour only through understanding how I see myself, others and the world.
  8. Behavior is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.  I behave as I do in order to meet my needs, as I experience and perceive them, and as I experience and perceive ‘reality’.
  9. Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behavior, the kind of emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behavior for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism. I am emotionally present in my behaviour. My feelings are part of how I attempt to get my perceived needs met. What I feel and how strongly depends on how important the need is to me.
  10. The values attached to experiences, and the values that are a part of the self-structure, in some instances, are values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.  The values I attach to my experiences, and how I value myself, is a mix – based on my own direct experiences and also including values taken on or absorbed from other people. I may be unaware some of ‘my’ values derive from others.
  11. As experiences occur in the life of the individual, they are either, a) symbolized, perceived and organized into some relation to the self, b) ignored because there is no perceived relationship to the self structure, c) denied symbolization or given distorted symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.  There are a number of ways I can meet my experiences – I can (a) make personal sense of their meanings, and integrate them into my view of myself and my world (so my view will shift and change with my experience); (b) ignore them because they do not fit in with how I see myself or the world; (c) treat them as if they have no meaning or reshape (‘re-story’) and distort them to fit my view of myself and the world.
  12. Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are consistent with the concept of self.  I usually behave in ways that are consistent with how I see myself (so if I believe I have little value, I will behave as if that’s true).
  13. In some instances, behavior may be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolized. Such behavior may be inconsistent with the structure of the self but in such instances the behavior is not “owned” by the individual.  Underlying needs and experiences which I deny, distort, or have not managed to make sense of, will tend to leak through into my behaviour, and this behaviour may be less consistent with how I see myself. I am likely not to ‘own’ this behaviour.
  14. Psychological adjustment exists when the concept of the self is such that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or may be, assimilated on a symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of self.  When I am connected to my own authentic being, I am able to be open to my actual embodied experience in its immediacy and totality, and integrate this into how I see myself and my world.
  15. Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies awareness of significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organized into the gestalt of the self structure. When this situation exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension.  When I am disconnected from my own authentic being, I will deny awareness of significant actual embodied experience, so will be unable to make sense of this or integrate it into how I see myself and my world. This will cause deep unease and tension within me.
  16. Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself.  I may find an experience threatening if it is inconsistent with how I see myself and my world. The more experiences I find threatening, the more rigid my sense of self becomes and the more tightly I cling to my viewpoint.
  17. Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the self structure[2], experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.  If I feel safe enough, it becomes possible for me to look at experiences I have denied because I find them too threatening. I can begin to make sense of myself and the world in a different, fuller way, to take account of these denied experiences. This is healing.
  18. When the individual perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated system all his sensory and visceral experiences, then he is necessarily more understanding of others and is more accepting of others as separate individuals.  When I am able to hold in awareness and integrate all my actual embodied experiencing, I am inevitably more understanding and tolerant of others, and more able to understand, value and accept others as separate beings.
  19. As the individual perceives and accepts into his self structure more of his organic experiences, he finds that he is replacing his present value system – based extensively on introjections which have been distortedly symbolized – with a continuing organismic valuing process.  When I am able to reshape my view of myself and my world to include denied experiences, I begin to reshape my values, letting go values that really belong to other people and forming values within my moment to moment awareness of the flow of my unique experiencing.

Carl

All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the center.

The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual.

The organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field.

A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self.

As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction with others, the structure of the self is formed – an organized, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the “I” or the “me”, together with values attached to these concepts.

The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.

The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.

Behavior is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.

Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behavior, the kind of emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behavior for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.

The values attached to experiences, and the values that are a part of the self-structure, in some instances, are values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.

As experiences occur in the life of the individual, they are either, a) symbolized, perceived and organized into some relation to the self, b) ignored because there is no perceived relationship to the self structure, c) denied symbolization or given distorted symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.

Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are consistent with the concept of self.

In some instances, behavior may be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolized. Such behavior may be inconsistent with the structure of the self but in such instances the behavior is not “owned” by the individual.

Psychological adjustment exists when the concept of the self is such that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or may be, assimilated on a symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of self.

Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies awareness of significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organized into the gestalt of the self structure. When this situation exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension.

Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself.

Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the self structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.

When the individual perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated system all his sensory and visceral experiences, then he is necessarily more understanding of others and is more accepting of others as separate individuals.

As the individual perceives and accepts into his self structure more of his organic experiences, he finds that he is replacing his present value system – based extensively on introjections which have been distortedly symbolized – with a continuing organismic valuing process.

Our version

I make sense of myself, others and my world based on my own constantly changing experiencing.

My sense of ‘reality’ is unique, formed out of (1) what I experience; and (2) how I process and understand my experience – my ‘story/ies’.

My entire way of being/doing arises out of my personal sense of ‘reality’.

Part of my ‘reality’ is my sense of self.

My sense of self arises from my experiences and perceptions, especially from comparing myself with others and from the opinions and judgements of others (as I perceive them). My sense of self – who and what am I? who am I in relationship? – is fluid, but includes consistent perceptions. I attach values to those perceptions.

I have an innate impulse to care for myself, heal and grow. This includes seeking to (1) keep myself safe/intact, and (2) realize my inward potential – become who I am capable of becoming.

You can adequately understand my behaviour only through understanding how I see myself, others and the world.

I behave as I do in order to meet my needs, as I experience and perceive them, and as I experience and perceive ‘reality’.

I am emotionally present in my behaviour. My feelings are part of how I attempt to get my perceived needs met. What I feel and how strongly depends on how important the need is to me.

The values I attach to my experiences, and how I value myself, is a mix – based on my own direct experiences and also including values taken on or absorbed from other people. I may be unaware some of ‘my’ values derive from others.

There are a number of ways I can meet my experiences – I can (a) make personal sense of their meanings, and integrate them into my view of myself and my world (so my view will shift and change with my experience); (b) ignore them because they do not fit in with how I see myself or the world; (c) treat them as if they have no meaning or reshape (‘re-story’) and distort them to fit my view of myself and the world.

I usually behave in ways that are consistent with how I see myself (so if I believe I have little value, I will behave as if that’s true).

Underlying needs and experiences which I deny, distort, or have not managed to make sense of, will tend to leak through into my behaviour, and this behaviour may be less consistent with how I see myself. I am likely not to ‘own’ this behaviour.

When I am connected to my own authentic being, I am able to be open to my actual embodied experience in its immediacy and totality, and integrate this into how I see myself and my world.

When I am disconnected from my own authentic being, I will deny awareness of significant actual embodied experience, so will be unable to make sense of this or integrate it into how I see myself and my world. This will cause deep unease and tension within me.

I may find an experience threatening if it is inconsistent with how I see myself and my world. The more experiences I find threatening, the more rigid my sense of self becomes and the more tightly I cling to my viewpoint.

If I feel safe enough, it becomes possible for me to look at experiences I have denied because I find them too threatening. I can begin to make sense of myself and the world in a different, fuller way, to take account of these denied experiences. This is healing.

When I am able to hold in awareness and integrate all my actual embodied experiencing, I am inevitably more understanding and tolerant of others, and more able to understand, value and accept others as separate beings.

When I am able to reshape my view of myself and my world to include denied experiences, I begin to reshape my values, letting go values that really belong to other people and forming values within my moment to moment awareness of the flow of my unique experiencing.

Merry Version[3]

The words in bold print are Roger’s own (1951: 83-522); those in italics are Tony Merry’s version. (Merry, 2002: 34– 37).

  1. Every individual exists in a continually changing world of experiencing of which he is the centre.
  2. The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived.  This perceptual field is, for the individual, ‘reality’We see ourselves as the centre of our ‘reality’; that is, our ever- changing world around us.  We experience ourselves as the centre of our world, and we can only ‘know’ our own perceptions.
  3. The organism reacts as an organised whole to this phenomenal field. The whole person works together rather than as separate parts.
  4. The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism.  Human beings have a basic tendency to fulfil their potential, to be positive, forward looking, to grow, improve, and protect their existence.
  5. Behaviour is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced in the field as perceived. The things we do (our behaviour in everyday life) in order to satisfy our fundamental needs.  If we accept proposition 4, that all needs are related, then all complex needs are related to basic needs.  Needs are ‘as experienced’ and the world is ‘as perceived’.
  6. Emotion accompanies and in general facilitates such goal-directed behaviour, the kind of emotion being related to the seeking versus the consummatory aspects of the behaviour, and the intensity of the emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behaviour for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism. Feelings are associated with, and help us to get, satisfaction and fulfilment.  Generally speaking, pleasant feelings arise when we are satisfied, unpleasant feelings when we are not satisfied.  The more important the situation, the stronger the feelings. 
  7. The best vantage point from which to understand behaviour is from the internal frame of reference of the individual himself. To understand the behaviour of a person, we must look at the world from their point of view. 
  8. A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self. Some of what we recognise as ‘reality’, we come to call ‘me’ or ‘self’.
  9. As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction with others, the structure of the self is formed – an organised, fluid, but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the ’I’ or the ‘me’ together with values attached to these concepts. 
  10. The values attached to experiences, and the values which are part of the self structure, in some instances are values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from others, but perceived in a distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly. As we go about our everyday life, we build up a picture of ourselves, called the self-concept, from relating to and being with others and by interacting with the world around us.  Sometimes we believe other people’s version of reality and we absorb them into our self-concept as though they were our own. 
  11. As experiences occur in the life of an individual, they are either a) symbolized, perceived and organized into some relationship to the self, b) ignored because there is no relationship to the self-structure, c) denied symbolization or given a distorted symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.  There are several things we can do with our everyday experience:  we can see that it is relevant to ourselves or we can ignore it because it is irrelevant; or if we experience something that doesn’t fit with our picture of ourselves we can either pretend it didn’t happen or change our picture of it, so that it does fit. 
  12. Most of the ways of behaving which are adopted by the organism are those which are consistent with the concept of the self. Most of the time we do things and live our lives in ways which are in keeping with our picture of ourselves. 
  13. Behaviour may, in some instances, be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolised.  Such behaviour may be inconsistent with the structure of the self, but in such instances the behaviour is not ‘owned’ by the individual.  Sometimes we do things as a result of experiences from inside us we have denied, or needs we have not acknowledged.  This may conflict with the picture we have of ourselves, so we refuse to accept it is really us doing it. 
  14. Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies to awareness significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organised into the gestalt of the self-structure.  When this situation exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension.  When we experience something that doesn’t fit with our picture of ourselves and we cannot fit it in with that picture, we feel tense, anxious, frightened or confused. 
  15. Psychological adjustment exists when the concept of the self is such that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or may be, assimilated on a symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of the self.  We feel relaxed and in control when the things we do and the experiences we have all fit in with the picture we have of ourselves.
  16. Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization or structure of self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self-structure is organized to maintain itself.  When things happen that don’t fit with the picture we have of ourselves, we feel anxious.  The more anxious we feel, the more stubbornly we hang on to the picture we have of ourselves as ‘real’. 
  17. Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of any threat to the self-structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived, and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.  When we are in a relationship where we feel safe, understood and accepted for who we are, we can look at some of the things that don’t fit in with our picture of ourselves and, if necessary change our picture to fit our experience more accurately.  Or we can accept the occasional differences between our pictures of ourselves and our experience without becoming anxious.  
  18. When the individual perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated system all his sensory and visceral experiences, then he is necessarily more understanding of others and is more accepting of others as separate individuals.  When we see ourselves more clearly and accept ourselves more for what we are than as how others would like us to be, we can understand that others are equal to us, sharing basic human qualities, yet distinct as individuals.
  19. As the individual perceives and accepts into his self-structure more of his organic experiences, he finds that he is replacing his value system – based so largely upon introjections which have been distortedly symbolized – with a continuing organismic valuing process.  We stop applying rigid rules to govern our values and use a more flexible way of valuing based upon our own experience, not on the values we have taken in from others.

Palace Gate Counselling Service

16 January 2014

Updated (introduction only) 25 August 2014


[1] Rogers, Carl (1951). Client-centered therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory. London: Constable. ISBN 1-84119-840-4

[2] We disagree with Carl’s ‘complete absence of threat’. Our experience in practice overwhelmingly says to us that clients need to feel safe enough – not completely safe. How often do any of us feel completely safe? We have therefore altered this in our version.

[3] Merry, Tony. (2002)  Learning and Being in Person-centred Counselling. 2nd edition Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.

Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-centred Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

 

Advertisements

19 Responses to Carl Rogers’ 19 Propositions – A Revisiting

  1. Samke says:

    Thanks for making the propositions easy to understand. Please inform me of further developments on the propositions

  2. Tony Whittaker says:

    The language used by Rogers seems to have been selected to impress peers and to allow some “wriggle room” under any challenges. The words existed without further explanation for some 30 to 40 years before becoming used in counselling training. At this stage began several worthy attempts to put the inexplicable wording into a readily understood format. There is not a 1-19 flow but a series of collected phases. An opening, three middles and an end. They still become confused as a useful aid to the training of person centred counselling. This was never their intent and they never form any part of the client counsellor relationship.
    The 19 propositions are formulated to satisfy academic boundaries rather than person centred development.

    • Hello Tony, and thanks for your interesting and thought-stimulating comment. Yes, there’s a lot in that. I like your comment about ‘an opening, three middles and an end’!

      Of course Rogers also said plenty – which we would agree with – about theory of any kind sitting lightly (especially in the therapy room), and deferring always to the experiential. He might not resonate with the ‘teaching’ of the 19 propositions on counselling training courses, and I agree that they can create confusion, when used as an ‘aid’ to training.

      That said, I have also found the propositions have the potential to be helpful in understanding some of the basis of a person-centred/phenomenological way of seeing – and they are taught on counselling courses, which has generated a demand (within our service and within the wider therapeutic world) for elucidation, as you note.

      At this service, we are looking to support therapists in becoming the unique therapist they have it in them to become, with a unique way of working and of seeing the work – arising within internal locus, not modelled on Rogers or on any concept of a ‘person-centred therapist’. An experience we sometimes have with incoming counsellors and/or applicants is that they have a sense of what person centred means in the therapy room, and some understanding of how that bases out (using a tree metaphor, the branches and the trunk: ‘this is what I believe’) – without yet having developed for themselves with rigour or depth a personal philosophy of counselling (the roots – ‘this is why I believe it’).

      In terms of personal integrity and coherence, it feels important to me to be able to formulate with some depth ‘this is how I work, and this is how come I work that way’. Like Rogers, I see any such philosophy as a constantly moving process, not a static body of thought – a process that is part of who I am as a person and a therapist. Clearly I take that with me into the client counsellor relationship – as opposed to bodies of theory such as the 19 propositions per se.

      My own experience has been that working through the ideas contained in the propositions has been helpful in that process. And I agree with you that it’s useful to keep it in context.

      Lindsey Talbott
      Therapist

      • Tony Whittaker says:

        Thanks Lindsey – I appreciate your time and commitment to providing a fully structured answer. You managed to put into words some of my frustrations with the trained approach rather than the developed “my way” practice. Simple example is time boundaries. If a client needs an extra ten minutes to deal with an emotion or realisation then I will give it. I find the arbitrary “one size fits all” aspects of practice hard to assimilate. I lean in the way of Human Givens but really think that the tribes have provided an essentially eclectic existence for person centred counselling. I’m happy not to direct but unhappy not to advise if advice can short circuit a longer and more expensive route to progress.
        I look forward to following your site. Thanks again.
        Tony Whittaker

      • Yes, time boundaries are a great example. I have a couple of times agreed an entire extra hour with someone, where something came up and it seemed to fit the situation. Like you, I regularly commit an extra ten minutes if needed, and if I have it. I also offer ideas and information, as/when it feels relevant, seems to me the important elements are that such an offering arises from the session/material the person is bringing, is informed by my intention to be of service to them, and that I have no agenda outside that intention, about how they respond/whether or not they pick it up. Seems to work – and I have an overriding loyalty to what works! One size most definitely does not fit all. Thank you for the time you are putting in reading and commenting on this site – much valued.

        Lindsey

  3. phindy says:

    I would like to,have a indepth,understanding about Carl ‘ preposition hence um,doing my 2 nd level i social,work

    • Hello. Thank you for your comment. We post quite a lot about person-centered ethos and ways of working on this blog. I hope you may find aspects of this useful, besides this ‘translation’ of the propositions, and wish you all the best in your training. Lindsey

  4. witney ndlovu says:

    hie ,I wish u could u use metaphors and idioms to illustrate each proposition

  5. Nothando pesevirence says:

    Thank you you made it easy for me to understand

  6. Pingback: Carl Rogers | Site Title

  7. Pingback: Carl Rogers Nondirective Approach |

  8. Dominic Thierry says:

    As a Tutor on a Person-Centred course I have found your site to be very ‘user-friendly’ and I have particularly enjoyed your comments to those who have asked further questions. I shall make use of your responses with my own students.

  9. Hello Dominic. Thank you. That feels good to hear, and I am glad you have found the site useful. Value it when people interact, because the blog is above all about connecting and creating community. Best wishes, Lindsey

  10. Thenjiwe Dlomo says:

    This is really helpful! Now I have clear understanding of what the propositions is all about. Thank you very much!!!

  11. You’re welcome! Glad it helped.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s