Person-Centered Spirituality

Rogerian Spirituality

Most of the distinct figures who developed major theories of psychotherapy also had distinct views about religion and spirituality. As you may recall, Freud was antagonistic toward religion. One of the interesting parts of exploring how each theoretical orientation deals with spirituality has involved learning a bit more about the religious and spiritual perspectives of people like Freud, Adler, and others.

In chapter 5 of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice, the focus is on Carl Rogers. Other than knowing that he was raised in a conservative Christian family, I didn’t know much about Rogers and his personal spirituality. Here’s a sampling of what I discovered.

Person-Centered Spirituality

On his journey to developing person-centered theory and therapy, Carl Rogers renounced traditional Christianity. Given that all religions, including Christianity, can be viewed as directly imposing judgmental conditions of worth, Rogers’s renouncing Christianity as antithetical to his beliefs is not surprising. In particular, Rogers may have been especially reactive to religious dogma because of his childhood experiences in an extremely conservative Christian family. Thorne (1990) proposed that Rogers broke from Christianity, at least in part, over the doctrine of original sin.

Although he died an agnostic, toward the end of his life, Rogers began speaking about transcendental or mystical experiences (Thorne, 1992). These spiritual statements were mostly made in the context of interpersonal mutuality and human connection, derived from person-centered or I-Thou experiences. Within the person-centered world, his statements about spirituality have been viewed as controversial (Fruehwirth, 2013). In an interview with Elizabeth Sheerer, one of Rogers’s early colleagues at the University of Chicago Counseling Center, Sheerer was asked about why Rogers never formally addressed spirituality. Her response included:

That’s Carl. This was an area of difficulty for Carl. We learned early in the game not to talk about religion with Carl … it was uncomfortable for him …. But, of course, his work is so profoundly influenced by his background in Christianity. I don’t think he could have developed without that background. (Barrineau, 1990, pp. 423–424)

There have been contemporary efforts to build a bridge between spirituality and PCT. On example is Fruehwirth’s (2013) work connecting PCT and Christian contemplation. He proposed that if wordless contemplation can be regarded as “the heart of the Christian spiritual tradition” (p. 370), then parallels can be drawn to wordless contemplation and the PCT experience. Similarly, a case can be made connecting the acceptance doctrine of Christian, Buddhist, and other religious viewpoints with the PCT process.

Overall, it seems reasonable that, for some therapists and clients, the deep interpersonal acceptance inherent in the PCT experience might have religious, spiritual, or mystical components. Spiritual-based acceptance is probably the main place where an integration of PCT and religion/spirituality can occur. In contrast, wherever and whenever judgment flows from religious doctrine, religion and PCT are incompatible.



2 thoughts on “Person-Centered Spirituality”

  1. John, just last night I was musing, after a day counseling with other therapists, that I seem to have returned to my Rogerian roots. All the other therapies I have explored have left their mark, but as I age, I find myself sitting more and more in quiet, relishing finding so much to love and admire and affirm with my clients. Deep acceptance of Self and other comes easily now. Usually!

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