Carl Rogers' Theory of Personality Compared to Those of Erik Erikson?
Over the past century or so, a number of psychological theorists have provided new ways of understanding human development over the lifespan, including Carl Rogers, Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget. Although these theorists share some common views concerning how people develop over time, they differ in other ways with regards to what forces tend to be the most salient at different periods and how therapists should approach helping others resolve the problems they inevitably encounter along the way. To determine what Rogers, Erikson and Piaget share in common and how they differ, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature concerning these theorists, followed by a personal reflections analysis. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Best known for his person-centered approach to counseling, Carl Rogers was an American psychotherapist whose theory was first set forth in his book, Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942). From Rogers' perspective, everyone viewed the world in different ways based on their own personal experiences. In this regard, Demorest notes that, "What was plain to Rogers was that humanness is defined by one's subjective experience of the world, and that it is this subjective frame of reference that determines an individual's path in life" (2005, p. 2). The phenomenological approach developed by Rogers maintains that "Humans are not helplessly buffeted about by forces beyond their control, whether these forces be from their unconscious minds or from their environments. An essential fact of humanness in the view of theorists from the phenomenological approach is that individual persons have free will to determine their own course in life, and that this course will be based on their own subjective experiences" (Demorest 2005, p. 3). Indeed, Rogers is one of the giants on whose shoulders many counselors stand today. For instance, Kirschenbaum suggests that, "Carl Rogers (1902-2002) was America's most influential counselor and psychotherapist -- and one of its most prominent psychologists" (2004, p. 116). As one of the "grand theorists of psychology," Rogers has also been highly influential in shaping the way counselors have been educated and how they practice. In this regard, Wickman and Campbell note that, "Roger's client-centered counseling later became foundational for many counselor education programs" (2003, p. 15).
Based on his person-centered approach to counseling, Rogers maintained that, "The correct therapeutic response was to trust that the energy or drive towards self-actualization was still present in the client, and [to] encourage this to re-emerge via a particular sort of psychotherapeutic relationship" (Robson 2003, p. 159). Although he acknowledged the basic tenets of psychology advanced by other theorists such as Sigmund Freud in terms of their value in counseling (DeCarvalho 1991), when it was introduced, Rogers's person-centered theory differed from these and other existing psychological theories in some important ways. For instance, Kirschenbaum points out that, "Although other therapies might profess similar belief, Rogers's method of creating the therapeutic psychological atmosphere was radically different from other approaches commonly used" (2004, p. 115).
Recognizing the inherent moral worth of all humans, Rogers also developed a counseling style that embraced active listening as a way to better understand what was troubling his clients in ways that differed from his predecessors. For instance, Kirschenbaum adds that, "Rogers's initial 'nondirective method' totally avoided questions, interpretation, suggestions, advice, or other directive techniques. Rather, it relied exclusively on a process of carefully listening to the client, accepting the client for who he or she is -- no matter how confused or antisocial that might be at the moment -- and skillfully reflecting back the client's feelings" (2004, p. 117). Not all therapists are of a like mind when it comes to Rogers's patient-centered therapy, though. For instance, Comstock, Hammer, Strentzsch, Cannon, Parsons and Salazar Carl point out that, "Rogers received criticism for focusing on the client -- therapist relationship as a primary source of healing in counseling. Such criticism targeted the emphasis Rogers consistently placed on the counselor's ability to communicate a genuine sense of empathy with clients as a key component in promoting positive counseling outcomes" (2008, p. 280). Forging a "genuine sense of empathy" would be clearly beneficial to the therapeutic alliance irrespective of the psychological theory involved, but from Rogers's perspective, this was an essential element in the patient-centered approach.
While Rogers clearly stands out amongst 20th century theorists, other authorities maintain that Erik Erikson was the most influential psychological theorist in shaping modern views concerning how humans develop over their lifespan and what counseling approaches are best suited to their needs at any given point during the process. In this regard, Hoare emphasizes that, "The theoretical views about the adult that Erik Erikson spent a great portion of his own adult life developing represent essential knowledge. In the entire twentieth century, he stands alone as the one thinker who changed our minds about what it means to live as a person who has arrived at a chronologically mature position and yet continues to grow, to change, and to develop" (2002, p. 3).
Like Rogers, Erikson viewed Freud's theories as being fundamentally sound but built upon these to formulate his own unique perspective concerning how people grow and change over time. For instance, according to Mook, "Erikson expanded Freud's view and addressed the socio-cultural context and network of social relationships in which people found themselves. His famous eight stages of psycho-social development offered a novel conceptualization, not only of the child but of the whole life-span from infancy to old age. By taking history and the socio-cultural context of childhood into account, Erikson's contribution was unique among traditional developmental psychologists" (2007, p. 158). In fact, while Erikson's theories are typically identified with regards to adolescence and identity, his overall theoretical framework extends to human development throughout the adult years as well. For instance, according to Garrod, "Erikson has differentiated among different phases of adulthood, discussing the unique dimensions to and characteristics of early marriage, early parenting, middle parenting, late parenting, early grandparenting, late grandparenting, and old age" (1992, p. 20).
Similar to Rogers, Erikson also believed that an objective analysis of the subjective responses that people experience to poignant events in their lives could help illuminate and inform appropriate approaches to counseling. In this regard, Comstock and her associates cite Erikson's concept of homonomy which "refers to children's ability to rearrange and expand their relational circles based on their individual and developmental needs. This Eriksonian construct represents another indicator of the ways that traditional theorists acknowledged the importance of relational factors in fostering people's sense of psychological well-being" (2008, p. 280). The need to respond and adapt to changing circumstances over the lifespan is reflected in Erikson's eight-stage framework in which he suggests that various crises must be resolved in order to fully develop a healthy identity, and these crises tend to change over time as people mature (Schneider-Munoz 2009). By taking into account the life stage that people are currently in, Erikson maintains that it is possible to for therapists to discern what must be accomplished in order to resolve these psychological battles to attain a complete healthy identity (Schneider-Munoz 2009).
Like Rogers and Erikson, Jean Piaget stands out among 20th century psychologists as being one of the most influential. In this regard, Gruber and Voneche emphasize that, "Only a few psychologists in the 20th century have approached the status of household word: Freud and his lineal descendant Erikson, and his lineal descendant Piaget" (1997, p. iv). In addition, also like Rogers and Erikson, Piaget's theory of cognitive development also maintained that people tend to develop subjective responses to external events in their lives in ways that can be best understood through an objective analysis. For example, according to Harlow, Cummings and Aberatun, "Piaget incorporated the essential idea that an independent reality is approximated through critical inquiry, testing, and revisability. People -- children in particular -- construct knowledge out of their actions with the environment. These actions can be both physical (actually manipulating an object) and mental (enlarging and/or refining existing internal schema)" (2006, p. 41).
This ongoing and constant adaptation to events over the lifespan was referred to by Piaget as accommodation. For instance, Pearsall advises that, "Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget referred to the process of making adaptive changes in our thinking to deal with life events as 'accommodation.' Accommodation not only takes the form of mental upshifting and increased expectations, it can also involve mental downshifting when necessary to a less demanding view of the world and ourselves" (2004, p. 37). The process of accommodation, Piaget believed, was the primary way humans were able to make sense of the events that swirled around them, thereby introducing new ways of thinking and responding. As Pearsall puts it, "Accommodation incorporates external circumstances and makes changes in our consciousness not only to fit them in but also to modify and strengthen the adaptability of our thinking" (2004, p. 37).…