Empathy: Carl Rogers-Style

My AP Psychology students are accustomed to being greeted each morning with “Good morning, fellow psychologists!”  This comes from my philosophy that regardless of the subject we are teaching, we are teaching a discipline and learning the ways of thinking (habits of mind) and practices of said discipline.  Yesterday, I told the class I would greet them each morning with “Good morning, my fellow World Historians!” if  we were in World History class and that we would be exploring history following the discipline, practices and habits of mind of historians.  Psychology is unique, fun and especially applicable, though, because we can also practice what we are learning to possibly improve our everyday lives!

Over the past several days our focus has been on the Psychological Therapies and comparing/contrasting the approaches of the Psychoanalysts, the Humanists, the Behaviorists, and the Cognitive/Behaviorists to the treatment of psychological disorders.  Yesterday, we wrapped up discussion with a comparison between Freudian Psychoanalysis and Carl Rogers’s Humanistic therapies.  Hallmark to Carl Rogers’s therapy is client-centered therapy where the person treated is a client not a patient (Freud).  The difference between patient and client/person may seem subtle at first, but it highlights the differences each approach views therapy and the therapist/client relationship.

Within the context of client-centered therapy is nondirective therapy wherein the therapist meets the client in a non-judgmental fashion that Rogers called “unconditional positive regard” (UPR).  I explained to my students that UPR is the kind of love your dog shows you after an absence, be it long or short.  Regardless of the kind of day you’ve had…good, bad, lazy, productive…your dog (reference my 13 year old Lab) doesn’t care-his/her love and acceptance is unconditional.  When you walk in the door after a tough day, your dog meets you with soothing empathy.  When you walk in after a truly awesome day of progress, you are met with the empathy of celebration.  There is restorative power in this kind of emulative relationship—the tail wagging, body moving pure happiness to see you kind!



UPR sets the groundwork for a client/therapist relationship built on trust and helping the patient meet his/her true human potential, the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy-self-actualization and eventual self-transcendence.  We ended the discussion wondering how different our own lives might be if we showed more UPR to our friends, family and those closest to us.  At the end of class each day my students have become accustomed to my somewhat humorous parting mantras:

“Eat all your vegetables.”  “Make sure you get your REM sleep.”  “Do something nice for someone.”  “Avoid Freudian slips.”

On this day, I sent them off with:  “See how different your life can be when you show someone UPR today!”  I walked away from class thinking of ways I could practice the lesson and I hope my students did too.

One thought on “Empathy: Carl Rogers-Style”

  1. John, a well thought out overview. The habits of mind material is important and empathy is one of the 16. This article from Edutopia really compliments nicely what you’re thesis here us. Go to: http://ow.ly/uDg81

    The point you make about having the mindset of a Psychologist, a Builder an Athlete, etc is critical to success. Dr Denis Waitley PhD Former Chairman of Psychology, Sports Medicine Council, U.S. Olympic Committee is very much an advocate of visualisation. When Olympic athletes were hooked up to sophisticated bio-feedback equipment and then asked to run the race only in their own mind, the right muscles fired in the right sequence at the right time. That is the power of visualisation. If you can see it in your own mind you can manifest it in your own life. The implications for students are enormous.

    The juxtaposition you draw between Freud and Carl Rogers is correct. They are like chalk and cheese. I’m not a Psychologist but I have worked in counselling the seriously ill and dying in a hospital environment. By far, Carl Rogers non-directive counselling approach was usually enough for the patient to work through their issues, all they needed was a sounding board. Families of the terminally ill patient sometimes needed more intervention than Rogers would like. In both cases, empathy is essential. Being able to read where the land lies with the patient is critical. Equally critical is the reflection of the counsellor at the end of the process. It us very important for the counsellor to engage in self-reflection. The keeping of notes is part of this process as is weekly supervision to discuss more broadly issues that came across the plate during the week. Also important is the understanding that every patient is unique and every clinical setting is therefore unique.

    This blog is an excellent starter to a wide range of issues that are worthy of discussion.

    Thanks for sharing.

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