In the second part of this two-part article on the 19 propositions, Rogers explains in propositions 10 to 17 how people can develop a harmful sense of identity, and how therapy can help.
From part one, the translation of propositions 1 to 9 reveal a story of how Rogers believed identity is created, and it goes something like this,
Growing up we learn that we are an individual in a family - we belong and we are also separate. The values we carry into adulthood we mostly learnt from our parents, or the people in our lives who acted as our parents.
The key proposition
Within the remaining propositions, number 10 is key to understanding Rogers' Person-centred approach,
Proposition 10. The values attached to the experiences, and the values which are a part of the self-structure, in some instances are values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.
Our identity, the self-structure, is composed of two types of values. One, we get directly from experience, and the other we get from others, but in a distorted fashion.
If you are already familiar with the Person-centred approach, there is a sense of contradiction in this statement. Rogers seems to be making a judgement call!
By using the word 'but', he is implying reality that is directly experienced is undistorted. How do you prefer your information? Distorted or undistorted?
What is introjection?
Introjection (n.) is a made up word. It comes from the psychoanlytical tradition. It is composed of intro + projection. 'Intro' means within or inwardly, while 'projection' is another psychoanalytical idea.
When people project, they draw on their own experiences/qualities to make assumptions or judgements about others. So if in a particularly busy period, I notice my colleague having a lengthy in depth conversation at the water cooler, I might make a judgement they are 'being lazy'.
I have projected onto them the quality of 'laziness'. To make this judgement, I must have my own experience of laziness to draw upon, that is to notice laziness in others I must have had times when I felt lazy. There is an everyday saying that sums up projection to a tee, "People in glasshouses shouldn't throw stones."
Putting this together, introjection is the process by which people absorb the projections of others. It typically looks something like this; meanwhile at the water cooler my colleague has a moment where they look at their watch, and say "Oh gosh, is that the time! I really should get back to work," the unsaid implication being "I shouldn't be so lazy!"
Whenever people use ought, should, or must, they are generally talking about an introject, a value taken from someone else, and made their own. This feeling that it is your own idea is a key feature of introjects. The clue that this value is absorbed from someone else, is whenever you say should, ought or must.
What Rogers is doing by describing two different valuing processes is setting up a tension between them. In the watercooler example, we can already see that there is tension between two different values, 1) the desire to talk to a colleague, and 2) a 'work ethic' value centred around avoiding being seen as lazy.
Propositions 11 to 14
Rather than going through this in detail, I am going to summarise what Rogers says happens using our chatty water cooler colleague. You can read a summary with the propositions explained in everday language.
Rogers argues that experiences which do not fit within a person's identity are either incorporated in a distorted form, or denied existence altogether.
So our watercooler colleague when asked why he was chatting may respond by saying "Oh, I just forgot the time." He has distorted his desire to talk to a colleague into forgetfulness. His desire to talk is still there, but it's now partially hidden by forgetfulness.
Or he might say, "Oh, I just couldn't get away, you know what John is like for talking." In this case, rather than owning his desire to talk to a colleague, he has instead projected it onto John - he's in the glasshouse throwing stones!
So it's now John that wanted to talk, and our colleague has become a reluctant bystander. For Rogers this tension between basic drives/needs, and values absorbed from others is what causes psychological harm, and the more significant the need, the greater the tension, and therefore the greater the harm.
How does therapy help?
with propostion 17,
Proposition 17. Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the self-structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.
Rogers sets up Proposition 17 with the preceding proposition 16, where he argues that experiences which are seen as inconsistent with a person's sense of identity will be seen as a threat, and the person will respond by asserting a more rigid sense of identity to protect themselves.
The critical component offered by the therapist is a complete absence of threat to the self-structure, which is done by offering Unconditional Positive Regard. Often shortened to UPR, it encompasses qualities like agape, acceptance, or being non-judgemental.
It is the experience of not feeling judged, that creates the safe space for the person to absorb difficult experiences into their identity. Also, notice how similar the idea of judging is to the psychoanalytical idea of projection I talked about earlier.
So what might our watercooler colleague say, if he incorporated his experience into his identity? He might say something like, "Oh, I hadn't seen John for a while, and me and John, we do get on really well together...I always feel better after a chat... Yeah, I know it looks bad when we're so busy... I just figured that I could spare the time"
What does this have to do with choice
Previously, when he blamed the conversation on being forgetful, he might choose to respond by paying more attention to the time, and listening to the introject ,"I should be working."
When he blamed John, he gave away his capacity to decide when to stop the conversation, by deciding he 'couldn't get away'.
With his altered insight, he now has to weigh his desire to talk John, with his perception of how his other colleagues feel about him chatting when they are busy.
The decision on whether to chat and for how long becomes more flexible and less automatic. It involves recognising his desire to talk as well as the censure this might involve from colleagues.
For me, several things arise out of this discussion.
Roger's theory can be used to explain what appear to be very mundane, everyday occurrences, which for me illustrate that it has a wide applicability.
Considering how Rogers would often criticise the psychoanalytical approach, it's quite surprising to see him recyle some of those ideas into his theory. Just how far apart are these two modes of therapy?
And for me the thing that stands out is the inherent contradictions in the theory. The idea that a therapist needs to respond unconditionally and non-judgementally to their clients, and yet Rogers clearly values some experiences more than others.
Rogers argues that human experience is in essence a 'valuing process', and judging* by the way it leaks into his writing even Rogers can not escape from this 'valuing process'.
*Can we really be completely free of judgement?
Title photo by Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography
Rogers, C. R., (1951). Client-Centered Therapy. London: Constable
The 19 Propositions (wiki link)
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