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About Carl R. Rogers

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Nomination to the TIME 100 list of seminal thinkers

by Gay Leah Barfield

Ms Cathy Booth, Bureau Chief
11766 Wilshire Blvd. #1700
Los Angeles, California 90025

Dear Cathy Booth and TIME100 Staff:

I am writing this letter to encourage you to include the name of Dr. Carl R. Rogers as one of the seminal thinkers and revolutionary scientists of this century for your TIME100 project. I believe that Dr. Rogers' contributions to this century have changed the very nature and direction of our times, our approach to human relations, the research and practice of psychotherapy and counseling, and our perception of and approach to conflict transformation and world peace. I will speak to each of these points below.


The theory and practice of psychotherapy and counseling that Carl Rogers developed has been variously referred to, in its evolution over 50 years, as non-directive therapy, client- centered therapy, and the person-centered approach. This approach is fundamentally informed by an existential humanistic vision of life, one which is experiential, phenomenological and relational in nature. It has deep trust in the capacities of each individual, and of groups as well, to know their needs and to act constructively toward self and others when heard deeply and empathically, respected unconditionally, and met genuinely.

Because of his contributions, Dr. Rogers was considered one of the fathers of "third force" and humanistic psychology, a psychological orientation distinctly in contrast to Freudian and Skinnerian forces and perspectives. Even his earliest work began clearly to set Rogers apart from these latter two philosophies/world views, adding a vital, humane and revolutionary new perspective to the science of human development through his writings, teaching and clinical practice. Questioning as it did both psychoanalysis and behaviorism, the therapeutic values and approach that Rogers introduced over 50 years ago caused an incredible stir and charged debates within the traditional professional psychological circles of the time. Yet through ample and innovative approaches to research data collection (such as the first use ever of 78 recordings of verbatim client sessions), outcome studies and on-going learnings with and from his clients, he continued the refinement and elegant development of his theory. By the late 1950s, Rogers' approach had become the foundation for the development and evolution of the multiple humanistic and transpersonal approaches to therapy and personal growth that informs the modern psyche and most psychological orientations of today.

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Carl's book On Becoming a Person, first published in 1961, was the first psychology text ever to be included on a best-seller list. Later this book was selected by the Los Angeles Times as one of its 100 most important books of the twentieth century. Such success was followed over the years by more best sellers such as On Encounter Groups, Marriage and its Alternatives, Freedom to Learn and Carl Rogers on Personal Power. The popular impact of his work continued with the Oscar award in 1970 to "Journey Into Self" as the best documentary film of the year. Rogers' filmed interviews with individual clients are used and analyzed around the world still today in professional therapy training programs and universities. As a result of the reading and viewing public's immense interest in and receptivity to his approach, we now accept as part of the common language stream such words as "empathy, congruence, personal growth, human potential, I-messages," etc.

Equally appealing to the public were the self-determining and empowering views of self and others inherent to this philosophy. These values, which spoke of our individual "organismic knowing" and "internal locus of reference," began to powerfully erode the automatic acceptance of many traditional values and external hierarchical voices rarely questioned before by such a large segment of the population. Out of such seeds sprouted much of the self-help and empowerment movements of today with their enormous impact on the culture at large, the helping professions and the publication world and visual media.

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While Rogers appreciated the widespread impact of his work among the larger public, he felt deeply honored as well that the American Psychological Association (APA) presented him with their two most prestigious scientific and professional awards. Additionally, in 2 separate surveys done by professional journals in 1982, fellow therapists of all orientations voted Rogers' books as the number one and most durable influence in the field of therapy, even beyond that of Freud, and first again among the "Ten Most Influential Psychotherapists."

I vividly remember Dr. Richard Farson's comments describing the enormous impact of Rogers' work on all categories of helping professionals and their clients as he spoke to 3,000 people at UC Berkeley in 1977 as part of the Association for Humanistic Psychology's Annual Meeting honoring Dr. Rogers' 75th birthday. Farson reviewed the fact that if it were not for this "quiet revolutionary" as he called him, most of us in the audience, other than the physician psychiatrists present, would not be there that day defining ourselves as practicing helping professionals free to see private clients in our own unique fields. He went on to say that Carl, through his active and articulate advocacy, battled at every juncture so that, in their turn, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, school counselors, pastoral counselors, lay and peer counselors and facilitators of self-help groups such AA, women's groups, etc., could eventually have the right to actually "counsel" individuals. In that regard, Rogers paved the way for most of these groups to emerge, develop, become recognized for their unique services to society, and for many to forge powerful professional associations which would ultimately come to certify, license and monitor their own. Without Rogers' efforts I personally believe that there might not be in existence today organizations or orientations outside of the physicians' medical model enabling people to do private counseling and psychotherapy.

Therefore, I would suggest to TIME that because of much of the courageous pioneering work of Dr. Rogers to move therapy away from the sole proprietorship of the psychiatric/medical model, he helped to define it as an activity in which various helping professionals had the rights and competencies to see clients in actual therapeutic meetings. As a result, the field of psychotherapy, and the range of counseling options available to clients, was expanded from that of a rare privilege available for the wealthy and intellectual elite to a resource now available to countless millions of persons worldwide.

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However, at this critical juncture in history, I have serious concerns that due to the near hegemony of managed care, with its almost monolithic determination of health choices, we are once again at risk of seeing these options for clients and therapists narrowed and industrialized, reverting once again solely to that of the medical model. What we risk losing in the process are those humane attitudes and ways of being which truly heal people's spirits, hearts, lives and relationships. Rogers' approach continues to remind us of that and, more importantly, that clients themselves know this as well or better than managed care accountants, when given a chance to make choices,

In the same vein, writers in psychotherapy journals and newspapers are asking for a return to trusting the client's wisdom and knowing, and to the genuine relationship created between client and counselor in a freely determined therapeutic setting as the ultimate pathway to a healthy, responsible and growing self. Recent research and articles in Family Therapy Newsletter and other professional psychological journals note once again that the presence of the "core conditions" and values articulated by Rogers over 50 years ago (empathy, genuineness and prizing), determines the very quality of the relationship between client and therapist, and therefore the potential for progress and healing, i.e. successful outcome or effectiveness. These articles further claim that Rogers' ways of being with clients are fundamental to healing, far beyond any "bells and whistles," techniques, interventions or the multiplicity of specific therapeutic orientations and schools of thought proliferating today.

In sum, because managed care in recent years has placed increasing constraints on the entire spectrum of helping professionals, thus narrowing and miniaturizing the therapy process itself and the choices of the general public in need of counseling, it becomes increasingly important that Rogers' non-medicalized, non-labeling relational approach be acknowledged, strengthened and honored for its well-researched and verified effectiveness, as well as for the humane values it represents in an increasingly technologized world.

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I wish now to move to Rogers' general influence on 20th century life, in terms of the transferability of the new values that he brought to therapy. I would posit that the basic therapeutic premises that he developed, practiced and promulgated are now considered to be fundamental attitudes, skills and ways of being needed in not only every helping profession today, but within most other institutions of our society, and the world in general, in order to achieve healthy and constructive human relations.

For example, the core conditions of empathy, prizing and genuineness that Rogers postulated as being central to growth and change within an individual in therapy are interpersonally, institutionally and internationally significant as well. Since they are most clearly about the quality of relationships that we develop, the principles apply whether that relationship be to ourselves, or that of client and therapist, between couples, within families, or between student and teacher, or countries, companies or corporations in conflict.

Thus, much of the theory and practice within the fields of humanistic education, humanistic medicine, corporate consulting, restorative justice approaches, race and gender relations dialogues, grassroots conflict management and international political or citizen diplomacy, is based in large part on many of Rogers' values. In sometimes subtle yet pervasive ways, these attitudes are taken for granted, operating as "givens" to such an extent that the source of the premises often is not acknowledged or remembered. My hope is that by TIME's recognition of Rogers' work, that source will once again become more overt and validated.

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My direct experience of the extent of Rogers' influence worldwide comes from my personal work as a colleague with him, particularly in the last decade of his life. We worked together in the arena of international peace dialogues through the Carl Rogers Institute for Peace, which he and I established and co-directed at the Center for Studies of the Person (CSP) until his death in 1987. CSP is the organization that Rogers established with other colleagues in 1968 in La Jolla, California, and whose staff continues today to offer leadership in the person- centered approach through training programs, a memorial video library, a Website and much creative work worldwide. Some of the programs such as the Living Now Institute and La Jolla Programs are now in their 20 and 30 plus years of outreach and education in the approach.

It is from my experience at CSP for nearly 28 years now that I wish to alert TIME to the contributions Dr. Rogers made to international peace efforts. From Northern Ireland to the Soviet Union to South Africa to Central America and many other hot spots around the globe, he risked his entire professional credibility by believing that his principles could help ease tensions in these troubled areas of the world.

In a quote Carl made on August 8, 1984, which was used in an invitation to a fund-raising dinner we held in 1985 for the peace project's then upcoming "Central American Challenge" gathering to be held in Rust, Austria with leading world diplomats, Carl Rogers stated: "

It seemed a little foolish at times to be thinking of starting the Peace Project at my age (then 82). Yet I, like many others, feel that at the present time the problem of preventing a nuclear holocaust has top priority in my my heart...and in my work. That's why I am devoting myself to this project."

In yet another memo addressed to me as Co-director with him and dated September 19, 1986, written less than 5 months before his death, and titled "Priorities," Carl stated unequivocally again:

" primary objective is to continue the activities of the Carl Rogers Peace Project...My work in the direction of peace has been the central theme of my life for a number of years now and it will continue, and the Peace Project is the major expression of that desire."

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In that same memo, he went on the speak of wanting to consolidate all of his peace activities work in Russia, South Africa, Central America or elsewhere "under the umbrella of the Peace Project" to ensure decent funding for its continuation.

During this same period, Carl Rogers' peace efforts were being publicly acknowledged in professional publications and journals, at national professional conventions by his colleagues, by peace organizations such as Beyond War, by political figures such as President Jimmy Carter, Senator John Vasconcellos, the State of California, the City of San Diego, and by countless other individuals and organizations working to lessen the threat of nuclear holocaust and national, racial and ethnic hatreds. Carl was touched and heartened by these honors.

At the apex of his career, at 85 years old, Dr. Rogers was able to fully participate in catalyzing, convening and facilitating the first Central American encounter in Rust, Austria with the peace project staff and the co-sponsorship of the University for Peace in Costa Rica. The four day event was attended by some 50 political figures and diplomats from 17 nations, and influential lay persons of every political persuasion. Shortly after returning from the encounter, in the final weeks before his unexpected death, he and his team members at the peace project in La Jolla and elsewhere around the world were busy planning additional follow-up gatherings in Russia, Central America and South Africa, actively seeking funding from major foundations to realize these plans.

Unfortunately, Dr. Rogers did not live to see the realization of these plans, nor of his dream of a well-funded and consolidated peace program through his institute for peace. Our major grant sources and possibilities disappeared almost immediately and completely after his death in 1987. It was only through the generous one-time gift of $100,000 from Mrs. Joan Kroc to the peace project that we were able in 1988 to re-convene a second Central American Dialogue in Costa Rica with diplomats from 11 countries, including the then President Oscar Arias, the Nobel Prize winner for that year. Without funding since that time, much of the work of the Carl Rogers Institute for Peace has been dramatically limited, localized and nearly invisible.

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The final recognition of his impact on world peace in the 20th century was the formal nomination of Dr. Rogers for the Nobel Peace Prize, which we received during his hospitalization. With both sadness and joy, we read aloud the announcement to Carl as he lay in a coma and dying on February 4, 1987. It is my belief that he heard us.

I also believe that Rogers' emphasis on patient listening and empathy in conflictual dialogues reached the level of international political negotiations and is reflected in some of today's difficult and tense diplomatic efforts. Twelve years after his passing, whether at a micro or macro level, the ripples from Carl's peace work have continued to flow worldwide and are seen in individual expressions in local community dialogue groups, training programs in peace studies, and in conferences and workshops around the globe.

One such important gathering took place in the summer of 1998 in South Africa to honor his courageous and precedent-setting inter-racial dialogue work there with his colleague Ruth Sanford in the early 1980s, a most risky and tumultuous moment in South Africa's evolution. Now 92 years old and nearly blind, Ruth Sanford traveled to South Africa to accept accolades for both Carl and herself from a grateful group of multi-ethnic professionals and lay persons attending the International Person-Centered Forum in Johannesburg this past July.

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Despite total loss of funding to the Carl Rogers Institute for Peace, this writer and other colleagues of Carl's have attempted to continue in much smaller ways, through pro bono work and more localized or individual efforts, the peace and racial and ethnic dialogue work we began with him on a grander scale with such hope and vision many years ago now. In spite of such limitations, the peace project received a human relations award from the County of San Diego in 1992 for its pro bono work in improving dialogue in local communities about the volatile border immigration issues. And we will continue the vision however possible.

Meanwhile, I feel privileged to have been invited to participate in a global conference at the Hague in the Spring of 1999 to articulate once again the values and contributions of Rogers as they apply to the on-going search for world peace. At the conference attended by some 400 persons, and with dozens of world leaders in peace as keynotes, I spoke to the urgent need for the application of Rogers’ principles in today's suffering, shredding and struggling world, believing that each of us makes a difference wherever we serve.

In conclusion, at this important conference I was deeply honored, re-heartened and proud to be able to confirm to those in attendance that I had submitted to TIME magazine the proposal that they recognize the extraordinary gifts of Carl Rogers' life and work to the very consciousness of this century, and to our sense of hope for the century now so near upon us.

I hope you will honor this proposal by so recognizing him as well.

With respect and appreciation for your patient reading of and attention to this proposal, I ask that Dr. Carl R. Rogers be named as one of your TIME100 honorees, and Man of the Century.Most sincerely,

Gay Leah Barfield, Ph.D., Director
Carl Rogers Institute for Peace

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