I make no secret of the fact that I love Carl Rogers. I shout it from the rooftops, in fact. Not to draw too many comparisons to cultism, but I do so in the hopes that I can spread the wonderful message of Rogers to anybody who has the kindness to listen to me. It’s a message, I feel, that radiates with positivity and goodness. Rogers believed in the potential of us all and showed how powerful it can be to have just one person who accepts you for who you are and has confidence in the person you can be. In the words of another icon who I have been known to follow religiously: “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 don’t believe in you, but all it takes is one and it changes your whole life” – Lady Gaga.
As a humanistic therapist, Rogers continues to be the theorist who has the greatest influence on how I practice. What I truly appreciate him for, however, is how he has shaped me as a human, not just as a therapist. As a person, I seek to embody the values and traits that have come from his person-centred philosophy. This has been the case since I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed whippersnapper on my Level 2 course, learning about Rogers for the first time. What I didn’t realise back then was how Rogers would not only contribute to my development as a counsellor and as a person, but as a future counselling tutor too.
If I had £1 for every time, I heard something along the lines of “I was so nervous about coming back to education, but this course is so different to what things were like at school!” as a counselling tutor, I would probably be able to treat myself to a few Tesco meal deals and pumpkin spice lattes. I haven’t heard it a lot, but I’ve heard it enough. I’ve felt it too. My Level 2 tutor was unapologetically himself: hyperactive and quick-witted to the point that I was simultaneously awe-struck and a little intimidated. The intimidation wore off when I came to learn how kind he was; the empathy emanated from him in waves. It was the first time I was in education without the stifling pressure to be at the top of my game. I could just be, and that was enough. I didn’t have to succeed, I just had to give it a go. What a relief it was. Looking back, I can now recognise that I was in an education environment with the Rogerian conditions of empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard, and with these conditions came the freedom to learn because I wanted to, not because I had to.
This is exactly what Rogers believed education should be. He sought to transfer power from the teacher to the student in learning environments. Within Rogerian theory, the purpose of education is a tool towards the continued development of a person in accordance with their actualising tendency and organismic self. That means that learning is entirely unique to each individual: how they do it and what they make of it is their experience alone. Learning is a process of self-discovery and also a product of self-discovery. As such, who is the teacher to dictate what is of most importance to the student? Without being a literal mind-reader, a teacher could never have the prowess to align their teaching with any student’s organismic valuing process. A teacher is a facilitator: they provide the environment in which a student can explore their organismic self and seek knowledge in accordance with it. If a teacher shows a true genuineness (or congruence), they demonstrate to their student that it is safe for them to be congruent too. If a teacher feels empathy for their student, they can be sensitive and responsive to their needs. If a teacher has unconditional positive regard for their student, their student is in an environment in which mistakes, mishaps and misunderstandings have no standing on the judgment and value of their character. The learning environment becomes safe: a place for curiosity, relationship-building and trust as opposed to the more authoritarian principles that most of us will have known at school.
What a lovely utopian approach to education. It’s not quite possible to achieve a fully Rogerian student-led environment simply because as tutors, we do have to dictate what is taught to the extent that criteria are met, and external assessments are completed. A somewhat directive approach must come in somewhere. What you make of the criteria topics and the reflective pieces are entirely yours, though. It’s always fascinating to see how the content is interpreted differently by each person and, just as Rogers would have intended, the unique perspectives brought by students has contributed to my own knowledge and depth of understanding of the subject that I’m teaching. In a counselling classroom, I truly believe that students and tutors are equal: we are all there to learn from each other in some way. One of us just knows more about the academic content.
The best counselling tutors that I’ve known are those who establish that sense of equality and an environment with the core conditions, and so as a tutor that’s what I’m always looking to do too. In fact, many of us will be able to recall our favourite teachers from when we were at school and chances are, they had some qualities aligned with the Rogerian approach too. The counselling course feels so different to school because of that shift in power dynamics that Rogers pioneered and advocated for. You are there to learn in an environment that is free from judgment and because the learning is aligned with the person you want to be. I’m sure many of you quickly came to find that the environment is just as conducive to personal development as it is to academic or professional development. What a privilege to be in such an environment as a tutor – another thing that I am eternally grateful to Rogers for.