Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Carl Rogers: A Phenomenological Theory of Personality

Carl Rogers’ self-theory of personality is primarily
based on his approach known as client-centred therapy.
He stresses the importance of individual who
determines his own fate. There are two basic concepts
that are regarded as the basis upon which his whole
theory rests. These are (a) the organism and (b) the
The organism is the centre of all experiences that
keeps taking place within the individual at a particular
moment. These experiences include everything
potentially available to one’s awareness that is going
on within the organism at that moment. The totality
of these experiences constitutes the phenomenal field.
The phenomenal field is not identical with the field
Theories of Personality 167
of consciousness. At a given moment, it is made up
of conscious or symbolized and unconscious or
unsymbolized experiences. The phenomenal field is
individual’s frame of reference that can only be known
to the person only. According to Rogers behaviour of
a person depends upon the phenomenal field (which
is the subjective reality) and not upon the external
conditions. An individual’s perceptions and experiences
constitute not only his or her own reality but also
form the basis of his or her actions. One responds to
events in accordance with how one perceives and
interprets them.
For example, a thirsty person lost in the desert will
run as eagerly to a pool of water that is a mirage as
to a real pool. Similarly two persons observing an
identical set of events may later recall two very
different outcomes, which is often the case with eye
witness accounts of the unidentified flying objects
and traffic accidents etc. Thus a person tends to
check his or her symbolized experiences against that
of the world outside in his own way. This testing of
reality provides one with dependable knowledge of the
world so that one is able to behave realistically.
However, some experiences may remain untested or
are inadequately tested, which may cause one to
behave unrealistically. Apparently the person, therefore,
must have some conception of an external reality,
otherwise he or she could not perform the act of
testing an inner picture of reality against an outer
Let us explain this a little further with the help of
another example. Suppose a person wishes to put salt
in his food and in front of him are two identical jars,
one that contains salt and the other containing pepper.

The person believes that the jar with larger holes in 
its lid contains salt but not being quite sure of it, he
keeps the contents in the jar on his hand. If the
particles are white rather than black, he becomes
sure that it is salt. A cautious person may, even after
that, put a little on his tongue, believing that it may
not be white pepper, instead of salt. Thus, the point
to be noted here is that one is testing his or her ideas
against a variety of sensory data. The test consists of
checking less certain information against more direct
knowledge. In this case the final test is taste that
defines it to be salt. Out of the process of perceiving
experiences, attaching meanings to them and testing
them with the outside reality, there emerges a portion
of the phenomenal field which gradually becomes
differentiated and is called self. The self can best be
thought of as the concept of I, me and myself. In
addition to this concept of self (also called real self)
there is an ideal self which represents what one thinks
one ought to be and would like to be. The ideal self
represents the self-concept that the individual would
like to possess. It is quite close to the notion of
superego in Freudian theory.
The significance of these concepts of organism and
self becomes more clear in Rogers’ discussion of
congruence and incongruence between the self as
perceived and the actual experiences of the organism.
When the symbolized or conscious experiences that
constitute the self faithfully mirror the experiences of
the organism, the person is said to be adjusted,
mature, and fully functioning. While on the other
hand, if there is no congruence with the experiences
of self and organism, the individual feels threatened
and anxious. Such a person behaves defensively and
is rigid. Thus we see that Roger’s theory puts emphasis on the
continuity of growth. The person continuously strives
to develop a self. He incorporates only those
experiences into his frame of reference which he
thinks are appropriate for him and rejects those which
are not appropriate. Therefore personality development,
in Rogerian scheme there is a reciprocal relationship
between the ways a person views his experiences and
his actual social and inter-personal experiences.