THE INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP*
by Carl R. Rogers *
I would like to share with you in this paper a conclusion, a conviction, which has grown out of the years of experience in dealing with individuals, a conclusion which finds some confirmation in a steadily growing body of empirical evidence. It is simply that in a wide variety of professional work involving relationships with people -- whether as a psychotherapist, teacher, religious worker, guidance counselor, social worker, clinical psychologist -- it is the quality of the interpersonal encounter with the client which is the most significant element in determining effectiveness.
Let me spell out a little more fully the basis of this statement in my personal experience... Gradually I have come to the conclusion that one learning which applies to all of these experiences is that it is the quality of the personal relationship which matters most. With some of these individuals I am in touch only briefly, with others I have the opportunity of knowing them intimately, but in either case the quality of the personal encounter is probably, in the long run, the element which determines the extent to which this is an experience which releases or promotes development and growth. I believe the quality my encounter is more important in the long run than is my scholarly knowledge, my professional training, my counseling orientation, the techniques I use in the interview.
... Gradually I have developed some theoretical formulations, some hypotheses as to the basis of effectiveness in relationships. As I have asked myself how individuals sharply different in personality, orientation and procedure can all be effective in a helping relationship, can each be successful in facilitating constructive change or development, I have concluded that it is because they bring to the helping relationship certain attitudinal ingredients. It is these that I hypothesize as making for effectiveness, whether we are speaking of a guidance counselor, a clinical psychologist, or a psychiatrist.
What are these attitudinal or experiential elements in the counselor which make a relationship a growth-promoting climate? I would like to describe them as carefully and accurately as I can, though I am well aware that words rarely capture or communicate the qualities of a personal encounter.
In the first place, I hypothesize that personal growth is facilitated when the counselor is what he is, when in the relationship with his client he is genuine and without "front" or facade, openly being the feelings and attitudes which at that moment are flowing in him. We have used the term "congruence" to try to describe this condition. By this we mean that the feelings the counselor is experiencing are available to him, available to his awareness,
that he is able to live these feelings, be them in the relationship, and able to communicate them if appropriate...
... It means that he comes into a direct personal encounter with his client, meeting him on a person-to-person basis. It means that he is being himself, not denying himself. No one fully achieves this condition, yet the more the therapist is able to listen acceptantly to what is going on within himself, and the more he is able to be the complexity of his feelings without fear, the higher the degree of his congruence.
I think that we readily sense this quality in our everyday life. We could each of us name persons whom we know who always seem to be operating from behind a front, who are playing a role, who tend to say things they do not feel. They are exhibiting incongruence. We do not reveal ourselves too deeply to such people. On the other hand, each of us knows individuals whom we somehow trust, because we sense that they are being what they are, that we are dealing with the person himself, and not with a polite or professional facade. This is the quality of which we are speaking, and it is hypothesized that the more genuine and congruent the therapist is in the relationship, the more probability there is that change in personality in the client will occur.
I have received much clinical confirmation for this hypothesis in recent years in our work with randomly selected hospitalized schizophrenic patients. The individual therapists in our research program who seem to be most successful in dealing with these unmotivated, poorly educated, resistant, chronically hospitalized individuals, are those who are first of all real, who react in a genuine, human way as persons, and who exhibit their genuineness in the relationship.
But is it always helpful to be genuine? What about negative feelings? What about the times when the counselor's real feelings toward his client is one of annoyance, or boredom, or dislike? My tentative answer is that even with such feelings as these, which we all have from time to time, it is preferable for the counselor to be real than to put up a facade of interest and concern and liking which he does not feel.
But it is not a simple thing to achieve such reality. I am not saying that it is helpful to blurt out impulsively every passing feeling and accusation under the comfortable impression that one is being genuine. Being real involves the difficult task of being acquainted with the flow of experience going on within oneself, a flow marked especially by complexity and continuous change. So if I sense that I am feeling bored by my contacts with this student, and this feeling persists, I think I owe it to him and to our relationship to share this feeling with him. But here again I will want to be constantly in touch with what is going on in me. If I am, I will recognize that it is my feeling of being bored which I am expressing, and not some supposed fact about him as a boring person. If I voice it as my own reaction, it has the potentiality of leading to a deeper relationship. But this feeling exists in the context of a complex and changing flow, and this needs to be communicated too. I would like to share with him my distress at feeling bored, and the discomfort I feel in expressing this aspect of me. As I share these attitudes I find that my feeling of boredom arises from my sense of remoteness from him, and that I would like to be more in touch with him. And even as I try to express these feelings they change. I am certainly not bored as I try to communicate myself to him in this way, and I am far from bored as I wait with eagerness and perhaps a bit of apprehension for his response. I also feel a new sensitivity to him, now that I have
shared this feeling which has been a barrier between us. So I am very much more able to hear the surprise or perhaps the hurt in his voice as he now finds himself speaking more genuinely because I have dared to be real with hi. I have let myself be a person -- real, imperfect -- in my relationship to him.
I have tried to describe this first element at some length because I regard it as highly important, perhaps the most crucial of the conditions I will describe, and because it is neither easy to grasp nor achieve. . . .
I hope it is clear that I am talking about a realness in the counselor which is deep and true, not superficial. I have sometimes thought that the word transparency helps to describe this element of personal congruence. If everything going on in me which is relevant to the relationship can be seen by my client, if he can see "clear through me," and if I am willing for this realness to show through in the relationship. then I can be almost certain that this will be a meaningful encounter in which we both learn and develop.
I have sometimes wondered if this is the only quality which matters in a counseling relationship. The evidence seems to me to show that other qualities also make a profound difference and are perhaps easier to achieve. So I am going to describe these others. But I would stress that if, in a given moment of relationship, they are not genuinely a part of the experience of the counselor, then it is, I believe, better to be genuinely what one is, than to pretend to be feeling these other qualities.
The second essential condition in the relationship as I see it, is that the counselor is experiencing an accurate empathic understanding of his client's private world, and is able to communicate some of the significant fragments of that understanding. To sense the client's inner world of private personal meanings as if it were your own, but without ever losing the "as if" quality, this is empathy, and this seems essential to a growth-promoting relationship. To sense his confusion or his timidity or his anger or his feeling of being treated unfairly as if it were your own, yet without your own uncertainty or fear or anger or suspicion getting bound up in it, this is the condition I am endeavoring to describe. When the client's world is clear to the counselor and he can move about in it freely, then he can both communicate his understanding of what is vaguely known to the client, and he can also voice meanings in the client's experience of which the client is scarcely aware. It is this kind of highly sensitive empathy which seems important in making it possible for a person to get close to himself and to learn, to change and develop.
I suspect that each of us has discovered that this kind of understanding is extremely rare. We neither receive it nor offer it with any great frequency. Instead we offer another type of understanding which is very different, such as "I understand what is wrong with you" or "I understand what makes you act that way." These are the types of understanding which we usually offer and receive -- an evaluative understanding from the outside. It is not surprising that we shy away from true understanding. If I am truly open to the way life is for experienced by another person -- if I can take his world into mine -- then I run the risk of seeing life in his way, of being changed myself, and we all resist change. So we tend to view this other person's world only in our terms, not in his. We analyze and evaluate it. We do not understand it. But when someone understands how it feels and seems to me, without wanting to analyze me or judge me, then I can blossom and grow in that climate. I
am sure I am not alone in that feeling. I believe that when the counselor can grasp the moment-to-moment experiencing occurring in the inner world of the client, as the client sees and feels it, without losing the separateness of his own identity in this empathic process, then change is likely to occur.
Though the accuracy of such understanding is highly important, the communication of intent to understand is also helpful. Even in dealing with the confused or inarticulate or bizarre individual, if he perceives that I am trying to understand his meanings, this is helpful. It communicates the value I place on him as an individual. It gets across the fact that I perceive his feelings and meanings as being worth understanding.
None of us steadily achieves such a complete empathy as I have been trying to describe, any more than we achieve complete congruence, but there is no doubt that individuals can develop along this line. Suitable training experiences have been utilized in the training of counselors, and also in the "sensitivity training" of industrial management personnel. Such experiences enable the person to listen more sensitively, to receive more of the subtle meanings the other person is expressing in words, gesture, and posture, to resonate more deeply and freely within himself to the significance of those expressions. (Footnote: I hope the above account of an empathic attitude will make it abundantly clear that I am not advocating a wooden technique of pseudo-understanding in which the counselor "reflects back what the client has just said." I have been more than a little horrified at the interpretation of my approach which has sometimes crept into the teaching and training of counselors.)
Now the third condition. I hypothesize that growth and change are more likely to occur the more that the counselor is experiencing a warm, positive, acceptant attitude toward what IS the client. I means that he prizes his client, as a person, with somewhat the same quality of feeling that a parent feels for a child, prizing him as a person regardless of his particular behavior at the moment. It means that he cares for his client in a non-possessive way, as a person with potentialities. It involves an open willingness for the client to be whatever feelings are real for him at the moment -- hostility or tenderness, rebellion or submissiveness, assurance or self-depreciation. It means a kind of love for the client as he is, providing we understand the word love as equivalent to the theologian's term agape, and not in its usual romantic and possessive meanings. What I am describing is a feeling which is not paternalistic, nor sentimental, nor superficially social and agreeable. It respects the other person as a separate individual, and does not possess him. It is a kind of liking which has strength, and which is not demanding. We have termed it positive regard.
UNCONDITIONALITY OF REGARD
There is one aspect of this attitude of which I am somewhat less sure. I advance tentatively the hypothesis that the relationship will be more effective the more positive regard is unconditional. By this I mean that the counselor prizes the client in a total, rather than a conditional way. He does not accept certain feelings in the client and disapprove others. He feels an unconditional positive regard for this person. This is an outgoing, positive feeling without reservations and without evaluations. It means not making judgments. I believe that when this nonevaluative prizing is present in the encounter
between the counselor and his client, constructive change and development in the client is more likely to occur.
Certainly one does not need to be a professional to experience this attitude. The best parents show this in abundance, while others do not. . . .
THE CLIENT'S PERCEPTION
Thus far all my hypotheses regarding the possibility of constructive growth have rested upon the experiencing of these elements by the counselor. There is, however, one condition which must exist in the client. Unless the attitudes I have been describing have been to some degree communicated to the client, and perceived by him, they do not exist in his perceptual world and thus cannot be effective. Consequently, it is necessary to add one more condition to the equation which I have been building up regarding personal growth through counseling. It is that when the client perceives, to a minimal degree, the genuineness of the counselor and the acceptance and empathy which the counselor experiences for him, then development in personality and change in behavior are predicted.
This has implications for me as a counselor. I need to be sensitive not only to what is going on in me, and sensitive to the flow of feelings in my client. I must also be sensitive to the way he is receiving my communications. I have learned, especially in working with more disturbed persons, that empathy can be perceived as lack of involvement, that an unconditional regard on my part can be perceived as a threatening closeness, that real feelings of mine can be perceived as false. I would like to behave in ways, and communicate in ways which have clarity for this specific person, so that what I am experiencing in relationship to his would be perceived unambiguously by him. Like the other conditions I have proposed, the principle is easy to grasp; the achievement of it is difficult and complex.
I would like to stress that these are hypotheses... beginning hypotheses, not the final word.
I regard it as entirely possible that there are other conditions which I have not described, which are also essential...
I am also aware of the possibility that different kinds of helping relationships may be effective with different kinds of people. Some of our therapists working with schizophrenics are effective when they appear to be highly conditional, when they do not accept some of the bizarre behavior of the psychotic. This can be interpreted in two ways. Perhaps a conditional set is more helpful with these individuals. Or perhaps -- and this seems to me to fit the facts better -- these psychotic individuals perceive a conditional attitude as meaning that the therapist really cares, where an unconditional attitude may be interpreted as apathetic noncaring. In any event, I do want to make it clear that what I have given are beginning formulations which surely will be modified and corrected from further learnings.
THE PHILOSOPHY WHICH IS IMPLICIT
It is evident that the kinds of attitudes I have described are not likely to be experienced by a counselor unless he holds a philosophy regarding people in which such attitudes are congenial. The attitudes pictured make no sense except in a context of great respect for the person and his potentialities. Unless the primary element in the counselor's value system is the worth of the individual, he is not apt to find himself experiencing a real caring, or a desire to understand, and perhaps he will not respect himself enough to be real...
Certainly the professional person who holds the view that individuals are essentially objects to be manipulated for the welfare of the state, or the good of the educational institution, or "for their own good," or to satisfy his own need for power and control, would not experience the attitudinal elements I have described as constituting growth-promoting relationships, So these conditions are congenial and natural in certain philosophical contexts, but not in others. . . .
Let me conclude with a series of statements which for me follow logically one upon the other.
The purpose of most of the helping professions, including guidance counseling, is to enhance the personal development. the psychological growth toward a socialized maturity, of its clients.
The effectiveness of any member of the profession is most adequately measured in terms of the degree to which, in his work with his clients, he achieves this goal.
The effectiveness of any member of the profession is most adequately measured in terms of the degree to which, in his work with his clients, he achieves this goal.
Our knowledge of the elements which bring about constructive change in personal growth is in its infant stages.
Such factual knowledge as we currently possess indicates that a primary change-producing influence is the degree to which the client experiences certain qualities in his relationship with his counselor.
In a variety of clients -- normal, maladjusted, and psychotic -- with many different counselors and therapists, and studying the relationships from the vantage point of the client, the therapist, or the uninvolved observer, certain qualities in the relationship are quite uniformly found to be associated with personal growth and change.
These elements are not constituted of technical knowledge or ideological sophistication. They are personal human qualities -- something the counselor experiences, not something he knows. Constructive personal growth is associated with the counselor's realness, with his sensitive understanding of his client's private world, and with his ability to communicate these qualities in himself to his client.
These findings have some far-reaching implications for the theory and practice of guidance counseling and psychotherapy, and for the training of workers in these fields.
Carl Ransom Rogers, an American psychologist, lived from 1902 to 1987. He trained at Teachers College, Columbia University (Ph.D., 1931), and directed a children's agency in New York before taking teaching positions at various universities. In 1963 he helped found an institute for the study of the person in La Jolla, California. He is known as the originator of client-centred psychotherapy, and he helped establish humanistic psychology. His writings include Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942), Client-Centered Therapy (1951), Psychotherapy and Personality Change (1954), and On Becoming a Person (1961).
Excerpts from Rogers, Carl. "The Interpersonal Relationship: The Core of Guidance" in Harvard Educational Review: Vol. 32, No. 4; Fall 1962. Also reprinted in Rogers, Carl R. and Barry Stevens. Person to person: the problem of being human, a new trend in psychology. Lafayette, CA: Real People Press, 1967, pp. 85-101.
* Produced for the Centre for Studies of the Person at La Jolla, California, as a draft for private circulation only, and made available thanks to the free resources of the Elements U.K. website. http://www.elementsuk.com/freeres.htm