Some Observations on the Organization of Personality by Carl Rogers - HTML preview

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Note in these statements the willingness to perceive herself as she is, to accept herself

"realistically," to perceive and accept her "bad" attitudes as well as "good" ones. This realism

seems to be accompanied by a sense of freedom and contentment. Miss Vib, whose attitudes

were quoted earlier, wrote out her own feelings about counseling some six weeks after the

interviews were over, and gave the statement to her counselor. She begins:

The happiest outcome of therapy has been a new feeling about myself. As I think

of it, it might be the only outcome. Certainly it is basic to all the changes in my

behavior that have resulted.

In discussing her experience in therapy she states:

I was coming to see myself as a whole. I began to realize that I am one person.

This was an important insight to me. I saw that the former good academic

achievement, job success, ease in social situations, and the present withdrawal,

dejection, apathy and failure were all adaptive behavior, performed by me. This

meant that I had to reorganize my feelings about myself, no longer holding to the

unrealistic notion that the very good adjustment was the expression of the real

"me" and this neurotic behavior was not. I came to feel that I am the same

person, sometimes functioning maturely, and sometimes assuming a neurotic

role in the face of what I had conceived as insurmountable problems. The

acceptance of myself as one person gave me strength in the process of

reorganization. Now I had a substratum, a core of unity on which to work

As she continues her discussion there are such statements as:

I am getting more happiness in being myself. I approve of myself more, and I

have so much less anxiety.

As in the previous example, the outstanding aspects appear to be the realization that all of her

behavior "belonged" to her, that she could accept both the good and bad features about herself

and that doing so gave her a release from anxiety and a feeling of solid happiness. In both

instances there is only incidental reference to the serious "problems" which had been initially


Since Miss Mir is undoubtedly above average intelligence and Miss Vib is a person with some

psychological training, it may appear that such results are found only with the sophisticated

individual. To counteract this opinion a quotation may be given from a statement written by a

veteran of limited ability and education who had just completed counseling, and was asked to

write whatever reactions he had to the experience. He says:

As for the consoleing [sic] I have had I can say this, It really makes a man strip

his own mind bare, and when he does he knows then what he realy [sic] is and

what he can do. Or at least thinks he knows himself party well. As for myself, I

know that my ideas were a little too big for what I realy [sic] am, but now I realize

one must try start out at his own level.

Now after four visits, I have a much clearer picture of myself and my future. It

makes me feel a little depressed and disappointed, but on the other hand, it has

taken me out of the dark, the load seems a lot lighter now, that is I can see my

way now, I know what I want to do, I know about what I can do, so now that I can

see my goal, I will be able to work a whole lot easyer [sic], at my own level.

Although the expression is much simpler one notes again the same two elements -- the

acceptance of self as it is, and the feeling of easiness, of lightened burden, which accompanies


As we examine many individual case records and case recordings, it appears to be possible to

bring together the findings in regard to successful therapy by stating another hypothesis in

regard to that portion of the perceptual field which we call the self. It would appear that when all

of the ways in which the individual perceives himself -- all perceptions of the qualities, abilities,

impulses, and attitudes of the person, and all perceptions of himself in relation to others -- are

accepted into the organized conscious concept of the self, then this achievement is

accompanied by feelings of comfort and freedom from tension which are experienced as

psychological adjustment.

This hypothesis would seem to account for the observed fact that the comfortable perception of

self which is achieved is sometimes more positive than before, sometimes more negative.

When the individual permits all his perceptions of himself to be organized into one pattern, the

picture is sometimes more flattering than he has held in the past, sometimes less flattering. It is

always more comfortable.

It may be pointed out also that this tentative hypothesis supplies an operational type of

definition, based on the client's internal frame of reference, for such hitherto vague terms as

"adjustment," "integration," and "acceptance of self." They are defined in terms of perception, in

a way which it should be possible to prove or disprove. When all of the organic perceptual

experiences -- the experiencing of attitudes, impulses, abilities and disabilities, the experiencing

of others and of "reality" -- when all of these perceptions are freely assimilated into an

organized and consistent system, available to consciousness, then psychological adjustment or

integration might be said to exist. The definition of adjustment is thus made an internal affair,

rather than dependent upon an external "reality."

Something of what is meant by this acceptance and assimilation of perceptions about the self

may be illustrated from the case of Miss Nam, a student. Like many other clients she gives

evidence of having experienced attitudes and feelings which are defensively denied because

they are not consistent with the concept or picture she holds of herself. The way in which they

are first fully admitted into consciousness, and then organized into a unified system may be

shown by excerpts from the recorded interviews. She has spoken of the difficulty she has had

in bringing herself to write papers for her university courses.

I just thought of something else which perhaps hinders me, and that is that again

it's two different feelings. When I have to sit down and do (a paper), though I

have a lot of ideas, underneath I think I always have the feeling that I just can't

do it.... I have this feeling of being terrifically confident that I can do something,

without being willing to put the work into it. At other times I'm practically afraid of

what I have to do....

Note that the conscious self has been organized as "having a lot of ideas," being "terrifically

confident" but that "underneath," in other words not freely admitted into consciousness, has

been the experience of feeling "I just can't do it." She continues:

I'm trying to work through this funny relationship between this terrific confidence

and then this almost fear of doing anything.... and I think the kind of feeling that I

can really do things is part of an illusion I have about myself of being, in my

imagination, sure that it will be something good and very good and all that, but

whenever I get down to the actual task of getting started, it's a terrible feeling of

-- well, incapacity, that I won't get it done either the way I want to do it, or even

not being sure how I want to do it.

Again the picture of herself which is present in consciousness is that of a person who is "very

good," but this picture is entirely out of line with the actual organic experience in the situation.

Later in the same interview she expresses very well the fact that her perceptions are not all

organized into one consistent conscious self.

I'm not sure about what kind of a person I am -- well, I realize that all of these are

a part of me, but I'm not quite sure of how to make all of these things fall in line.

In the next interview we have an excellent opportunity to observe the organization of both of

these conflicting perceptions into one pattern, with the resultant sense of freedom from tension

which has been described above,

It's very funny, even as I sit here I realize that I have more confidence in myself,

in the sense that when I used to approach new situations I would have two very

funny things operating at the same time. I had a fantasy that I could do anything,

which was a fantasy which covered over all these other feelings that I really

couldn't do it, or couldn't do it as well as I wanted to, and it's as if now those two

things have merged together, and it is more real, that a situation isn't either

testing myself or proving something to myself or anyone else. It's just in terms of

doing it. And 1 think I have done away both with that fantasy and that fear.... So I

think I can go ahead and approach things -- well, just sensibly.

No longer is it necessary for this client to "cover over" experiences. Instead the picture of

herself as very able, and the experienced feeling of complete inability, have now been brought

together into one integrated pattern of self as a person with real, but imperfect abilities. Once

the self is thus accepted the inner energies making for self-actualization are released and she

attacks her life problems more efficiently.

Observing this type of material frequently in counseling experience would lead to a tentative

hypothesis of maladjustment, which like the other hypothesis suggested, focuses on the

perception of self. It might be proposed that the tensions called psychological maladjustment

exist when the organized concept of self (conscious or available to conscious awareness) is not

in accord with the perceptions actually experienced.

This discrepancy between the concept of self and the actual perceptions seems to be

explicable only in terms of the fact that the self concept resists assimilating into itself any

percept which is inconsistent with its present organization. The feeling that she may not have

the ability to do a paper is inconsistent with Miss Nam's conscious picture of herself as a very

able and confident person, and hence, though fleetingly perceived, is denied organization as a

part of her self, until this comes about in therapy.

The Conditions of Change of Self Perception

If the way in which the self is perceived has as close and significant a relationship to behavior

as has been suggested, then the manner in which this perception may be altered becomes a

question of importance. If a reorganization of self-perceptions brings a change in behavior; if

adjustment  and maladjustment  depend on the congruence between perceptions as

experienced and the self as perceived, then the factors which permit a reorganization of the

perception of self are significant.

Our observations of psychotherapeutic experience would seem to indicate that absence of any

threat to the self-concept is an important item in the problem. Normally the self resists

incorporating into itself those experiences which are inconsistent with the functioning of self.

But a point overlooked by Lecky and others is that when the self is free from any threat of

attack or likelihood of attack, then it is possible for the self to consider these hitherto rejected

perceptions, to make new differentiations, and to reintegrate the self in such a way as to

include them.

An illustration from the case of Miss Vib may serve to clarify this point. In her statement written

six weeks after the conclusion of counseling Miss Vib thus describes the way in which

unacceptable percepts become incorporated into the self. She writes:

In the earlier interviews I kept saying such things as, "I am not acting like

myself," "I never acted this way before." What I meant was that this withdrawn,

untidy, and apathetic person was not myself. Then I began to realize that I was

the same person, seriously withdrawn, etc. now, as I had been before. That did

not happen until after I had talked out my self-rejection, shame, despair, and

doubt, in the accepting situation of the interview. The counselor was not startled

or shocked. I was telling him of all these things about myself which did not fit into

my picture of a graduate student, a teacher, a sound person. He responded with

complete acceptance and warm interest without heavy emotional overtones.

Here was a sane, intelligent person wholeheartedly accepting this behavior that

seemed so shameful to me. I can remember an organic feeling of relaxation. I

did not have to keep up the struggle to cover up and hide this shameful person.

Note how clearly one can See here the whole range of denied perceptions of self, and the fact

that they could be considered as a part of self only in a social situation which involved no threat

to the self, in which another person, the counselor, becomes almost an alternate self and looks

with understanding and acceptance upon these same perceptions. She continues:

Retrospectively, it seems to me that what I felt as "warm acceptance without

emotional overtones" was what I needed to work through my difficulties.... The

counselor's impersonality with interest allowed me to talk out my feelings. The

clarification in the interview situation presented the attitude to me as a "ding an

sich" which I could look at, manipulate, and put in place. In organizing my

attitudes, I was beginning to organize me.

Here the nature of the exploration of experience, of seeing it as experience and not as a threat

to self, enables the client to reorganize her perceptions of self, which as she says was also

"reorganizing me."

If we attempt to describe in more conventional psychological terms the nature of the process

which culminates in an altered organization and integration of self in the process of therapy it

might run as follows. The individual is continually endeavoring to meet his needs by reacting to

the field of experience as he perceives it, and to do that more efficiently by differentiating

elements of the field and reintegrating them into new patterns. Reorganization of the field may

involve the reorganization of the self as well as of other parts of the field. The self, however,

resists reorganization and change. In everyday life individual  adjustment by means of

reorganization of the field exclusive of the self is more common and is less threatening to the

individual. Consequently, the individual's first mode of adjustment is the reorganization of that

part of the field which does not include the self.

Client-centered therapy is different from other life situations inasmuch as the therapist tends to

remove from the individual's immediate world all those aspects of the field which the individual

can reorganize except the self. The therapist, by reacting to the client's feelings and attitudes

rather than to the objects of his feelings and attitudes, assists the client in bringing from

background into focus his own self, making it easier than ever before for the client to perceive

and react to the self. By offering only understanding and no trace of evaluation, the therapist

removes himself as an object of attitudes, becoming only an alternate expression of the client's

self. The therapist by providing a consistent atmosphere of permissiveness and understanding

removes whatever threat existed to prevent all perceptions of the self from emerging into figure.

Hence in this situation all the ways in which the self has been experienced can be viewed

openly, and organized into a complex unity.

It is then this complete absence of any factor which would attack the concept of self, and

second, the assistance in focusing upon the perception of self, which seems to permit a more

differentiated view of self and finally the reorganization of self.

Relationship to Current Psychological Thinking

Up to this point, these remarks have been presented as clinical observations and tentative

hypotheses, quite apart from any relationship to past or present thinking in the field of

psychology. This has been intentional. It is felt that it is the function of the clinician to try to

observe, with an open-minded attitude, the complexity of material which comes to him, to report

his observations, and in the light of this to formulate hypotheses and problems which both the

clinic and the laboratory may utilize as a basis for study and research.

Yet, though these are clinical observations and hypotheses, they have, as has doubtless been

recognized, a relationship to some of the currents of theoretical and laboratory thinking in

psychology. Some of the observations about the self bear a relationship to the thinking of G. H.

Mead (7) about the "I" and the "me." The outcome of therapy might be described in Mead's

terms as the increasing awareness of the "I," and the organization of the "me's" by the "I." The

importance which has been given in this paper to the self as an organizer of experience and to

some extent as an architect of self, bears a relationship to the thinking of Allport (1) and others

concerning the increased place which we must give to the integrative function of the ego. In the

stress which has been given to the present field of experience as the determinant of behavior,

the relationship to Gestalt psychology, and to the work of Lewin (6) and his students is obvious.

The theories of Angyal (2) find some parallel in our observations. His view that the self

represents only a small part of the biological organism which has reached symbolic elaboration,

and that it often attempts the direction of the organism on the basis of unreliable and insufficient

information, seems to be particularly related to the observations we have made. Lecky's

posthumous book (4), small in size but large in the significance of its contribution, has brought

a new light on the way in which the self operates, and the principle of consistency by which new

experience is included in or excluded from the self. Much of his thinking runs parallel to our

observations. Snygg and Combs (11) have recently attempted a more radical and more

complete emphasis upon the internal world of perception as the basis for all psychology, a

statement which has helped to formulate a theory in which our observations fit.

It is not only from the realm of theory but also from the experimental laboratory that one finds

confirmation of the line of thinking which has been proposed. Tolman (12) has stressed the

need of thinking as a rat if fruitful experimental work is to be done. The work of Snygg (10)

indicates that rat behavior may be better predicted by inferring the rat's field of perception than

by viewing him as an object. Krech (Krechevsky, 3) showed in a brilliant study some years ago

that rat learning can only be understood if we realize that the rat is consistently acting upon one

hypothesis after another. Leeper (5) has summarized the evidence from a number of

experimental investigations, showing that animal behavior cannot be explained by simple S-R

mechanisms,  but  only by recognizing that  complex internal  processes of perceptual

organization intervene between the stimulus and the behavioral response. Thus there are

parallel streams of clinical observation, theoretical thinking, and laboratory experiment, which

all point up the fact that for an effective psychology we need a much more complete

understanding of the private world of the individual, and need to learn ways of entering and

studying that world from within.


It would be misleading however if I left you with the impression that the hypotheses I have

formulated in this paper, or those springing from the parallel psychological studies I have

mentioned, are simply extensions of the main stream of psychological thinking, additional bricks

in the edifice of psychological thought. We have discovered with some surprise that our clinical

observations, and the tentative hypotheses which seem to grow out of them, raise disturbing

questions which appear to cast doubt on the very foundations of many of our psychological

endeavors, particularly in the fields of clinical psychology and personality study. To clarify what

is meant, I should like to restate in more logical order the formulations I have given, and to

leave with you certain questions and problems which each one seems to raise.

If we take first the tentative proposition that the specific determinant of behavior is the

perceptual field of the individual, would this not lead, if regarded as a working hypothesis, to a

radically different approach in clinical psychology and personality research? It would seem to

mean that instead of elaborate case histories full of information about the person as an object,

we would endeavor to develop ways of seeing his situation, his past, and himself, as these

objects appear to him. We would try to see with him, rather than to evaluate him. It might mean

the minimizing of the elaborate psychometric procedures by which we have endeavored to

measure or value the individual from our own frame of reference. It might mean the minimizing

or discarding of all the vast series of labels which we have painstakingly built up over the years.

Paranoid, preschizophrenic, compulsive, constricted -- terms such as these might become

irrelevant because they are all based in thinking which takes an external frame of reference.

They are not the ways in which the individual experiences himself. If we consistently studied

each individual from the internal frame of reference of that individual, from within his own

perceptual field, it seems probable that we should find generalizations which could be made,

and principles which were operative, but we may be very sure that they would be of a different

order from these externally based judgments about individuals.

Let us look at another of the suggested propositions. If we took seriously the hypothesis that

integration and adjustment are internal conditions related to the degree of acceptance or

nonacceptance of all perceptions, and the degree of organization of these perceptions into one

consistent system, this would decidedly affect our clinical procedures. It would seem to imply

the abandonment of the notion that adjustment is dependent upon the pleasantness or

unpleasantness of the environment, and would demand concentration upon those processes

which bring about self-integration within the person. It would mean a minimizing or an

abandoning of those clinical procedures which utilize the alteration of environmental forces as a

method of treatment. It would rely instead upon the fact that the person who is internally unified

has the greatest likelihood of meeting environmental problems constructively, either as an

individual or in cooperation with others.

If we take the remaining proposition that the self, under proper conditions, is capable of

reorganizing, to some extent, its own perceptual field, and of thus altering behavior, this too

seems to raise disturbing questions. Following the path of this hypothesis would appear to

mean a shift in emphasis in psychology from focusing upon the fixity of personality attributes

and psychological abilities, to the alterability of these same characteristics. It would concentrate

attention upon process rather than upon fixed status. Whereas psychology has, in personality

study, been concerned primarily with the measurement of the fixed qualities of the individual,

and with his past in order to explain his present, the hypothesis here suggested would seem to

concern itself much more with the personal world of the present in order to understand the

future, and in predicting that future would be concerned with the principles by which personality

and behavior are altered, as well as the extent to which they remain fixed.

Thus we find that a clinical approach, client-centered therapy, has led us to try to adopt the

client's perceptual field as the basis for genuine understanding. In trying to enter this internal

world of perception, not by introspection, but by observation and direct inference, we find

ourselves in a new vantage point for understanding personality dynamics, a vantage point

which opens up some disturbing vistas. We find that behavior seems to be better understood as

a reaction to this reality-as-perceived. We discover that the way in which the person sees

himself, and the perceptions he dares not take as belonging to himself, seem to have an

important relationship to the inner peace which constitutes adjustment. We discover within the

person, under certain conditions, a capacity for the restructuring and the reorganization of self,

and consequently the reorganization of behavior, which has profound social implications. We

see these observations, and the theoretical formulations which they inspire, as a fruitful new

approach for study and research in various fields of psychology.


1. Allport, Grdon W. The ego in contemporary psychology. Psychol. Rev., 1943, 50, 451-478.

2. Angyal, Andras. Foundations for a science of personality. New York. Commonwealth Fund,


3. Krechevsky, I. Hypotheses in rats. Psychol. Rev., 1932, 39, 516-532.

4. Lecky, Prescott. Self-consistency: A theory of personality. New York. Island Press, 1945.

5. Leeper, Robert. The experimental psychologists as reluctant dragons. Paper presented at

APA meeting, September 1946.

6. Lewin, Kurt. A dynamic theory of personality. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1935.

7. Mead,George H. Mind, self, and society. Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1934.

8. Rogers, Carl R. Significant aspects of client-centered therapy. Amer. Psychologist, 1946, 1,


9. Snyder, W. U. "Warmth" in nondirective counseling. J. abnorm. soc. Psychol., 1946, 41, 491-


10. Snygg, Donald. Mazes in which rats take the longer path to food. J. Psychol., 1936, 1, 153-


11. Snygg, Donald, & Combs, Arthur W. Book manuscript, loaned to present author. In process

of publication. New York. Harper and Bros.

12. Tolman, E. C. The determiners of behavior at a choice point. Psychol. Rev., 1938, 45, 1-41.

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