Tuesday, 24 May 2011

I want to start things rolling with a return to the source that's also a signpost towards new territories - something that represents the spirit of open exploration I'd like this blog to embody. This, then, is Carl Rogers in 1977, towards the end of his life, talking about becoming aware only recently of a new sense of the word 'politics' being in the air

 ... in such contexts as 'the politics of the family', 'the politics of therapy, 'sexual politics', 'the politics of experience' ... 
This new construct has had a powerful influence on me. It has caused me to take a fresh look at my professional life work. I've had a role in initiating the person-centered approach ...  But I have never given careful consideration to the interpersonal politics set in motion by such an approach. Now I begin to see the revolutionary nature of those political forces. I have found myself compelled to reassess and reevaluate all my work. I wish to ask what are the political effects (in the new sense of political) of all that I, and my many colleagues throughout the world, have done and are doing.

(Carl Rogers on Personal Power, London, Constable, 1978)

Rogers's list of 'contexts'  shows that he is responding, overall, to the new social movements and countercultural thinking of the sixties and seventies in the US - here, the women's movement and the anti-psychiatry of R.D.Laing and his associates. What I'm drawn to is the attitude that this passage represents. It's one which is entirely in line with the theory of the 'fully functioning person' that Rogers had been developing since 1940:

He is able to experience all of his feelings, and is afraid of none of his feelings. He is his own sifter of evidence, but is open to evidence from all sources; he is completely engaged in the process of being and becoming himself, and thus discovers that he is soundly and realistically social; he lives completely in this moment, but learns that this is the soundest living for all time. He is a fully functioning organism, and because of the awareness of himself which flows freely in and through his experiences, he is a fully functioning person. ('The concept of the fully functioning person', Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 1963, I, 17-26)

The theory gives us the picture of a person secure enough in her self-awareness to risk being open to others; with a strong enough sense of his own values and valuations to be un-threatened by 'evidence from all sources'; flexible and confident enough to accept her self as emerging in and through process, 'flow', the unfolding unexpectedness of 'moments', the plurality of experiences. 

Rogers's personal reflection gives us a glimpse of how this might work out in practice: responding to a young whippersnapper asking awkward questions at a lecture not with defensiveness or dismissal, but as another spur towards a radical re-evaluation of your life's work; changing your mind at the end of a distinguished career and following through the implications in public, in print; remaining open not only to the influence of other individuals, regardless of (in this case) their age or professional status, but also to transformations in the zeitgeist - in world-views, theory and ideology; to meet a challenge to your fundamental principles as an invitation to new questions, new directions for the work.

There'a lot that I admire and can aspire to in that orientation to living. And as a trainee, I find this a useful point of reference for when I meet the voices - loudest among them, sometimes, my own - which say 'Show me this superwoman, this Buddha in his enlightenment, this so-called fully self-actualising person'. This isn't about deifying Rogers, whose biography suggests he fell short of his own theory and aspirations in more than one area of living. But I do think this bit of Rogers's experience gives us some clues about how the theory might play out in our ordinary lives and practice.

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