Monday, November 06, 2006

Carl Rogers and institutionalised emotional control

Heard of Carl Rogers? Believe me, he has a lot to answer for in education and training. This is the guy who promoted 'client-centred' therapy and modern counselling. It is he who is largely responsible for the flood of therapy-oriented methods that have become widely adopted in education and training through appraisals, coaching, mentoring and the flood of emotional control training. Roger’s influence (unfortunatley) can be felt everywhere in modern learning.

This started way back in 1951 when Rogers had looked at 'student-centred teaching' in Client-Centered Therapy (1951: 384-429). There he claimed that teaching is really facilitation and that we must allow the learner to relax to learn and feel free from any form of threat. Fine, but this was to turn into a monstrously distorted idea in the later Freedom to Learn (1969:83: 93) which takes counselling principles and applies them to education in schools.

Here’s a short history of how emotional control became institutionalised:

Therapy mad - Out of an earlier psychoanalytic tradition the US became a ‘therapeutic state’ in 60s – and we imported it - big time

Pseudo-psychological language - We managed to redefine personal difficulties as a sort of pathology – so that the everyday language of managers now includes terms like; self-esteem, in-denial, codependency, stress and so on (note that these terms only began to be used in 80s and 90s – see Furedi (2004)).

Professional intervention - The formalisation of relationships between people within organisations became increasingly codified as we institutionalised therapeutic practices appraisals, counselling and so on. A whole new HR priesthood became the supposed guardians of our emotional welfare.

Institutionalised therapeutic training – Therapy culture became codified as training courses e.g. emotional intelligence, stress management and now a tsunami of compliance and regulatory courses around diversity, age etc.

We now need ‘experts’, ‘processes’ or ‘training’ to manage what was the rough and tumble of everyday relationships with other people. On top of this there’s a whole ‘trauma’ industry where sensible legislation is used to push through often fatuous claims.

Of course, in most cases in this ‘counselling game’, both sides pretend that it’s a real dialogue. What used to be called honest discussion between adults now takes place behind closed doors in appraisals and counselling sessions, or even worse, official mentoring. We must all pray at the holy altar of endless open questions and the most banal forms of gossipy soul searching.

What seems like a sensible approach to human interaction, namely facilitation through authenticity in the facilitator of learning, has turned into its opposite - a sort of conformity of emotional control, where every sphere of life has become subject to a new emotional culture with therapeutic cures. Everyone is ill until proven healthy.

Learning is not a cure to an illness
Rogers's influence on therapy, counselling and education is enormous. The general tone of learning through facilitation was set by him and continues to this day in a sort of counsellor/teacher role. This has been positive on the one side, but also has negative consequences. Facilitated learning may benefit more from the honest dissolution of misconceptions rather than an abundance of empathy. Unfortunately, the therapy-oriented techniques aimed at troubled minds do not always apply to people who simply want to learn. Not knowing something is not an illness to be cured by therapy.

Socratic method gone mad
In a previous post I had a go at the na├»ve use of the term ‘Socratic method’. The therapy culture is the ‘Socratic method’ gone mad. In counselling, the idea that the client knows more than the counsellor became the prevalent model. Unfortunately, this extreme form of the Socratic method is difficult in learning, where, by definition, the learner doesn’t have the knowledge or skill to start with.

Rogers, C. and Freiberg, H. J. (1993) Freedom to Learn (3rd edn.), New York: Merrill.

Furedi, F. (2004) Therapy Culture Routledge.

Kirschenbaum, H. (1979) On Becoming Carl Rogers, New York: Delacorte Press.


Anonymous said...


Straight to the solar plexus!

Or, mabey a little lower?

Mmmm, Mr. Clark, I'm sure my wife will have something to say about this. Is this a case of wanting your cake and eating it?
Let me digest more thoroughly before I respond in more detail...

Though I must recognise thtat, as usual, the article is well-reasoned and challenging... and almost completely right


Anonymous said...

Like most schools of therapy Rogers client centred approach is based on one insight - that listening is a skill that can be improved to get better information.
There is in reality no difference between good teaching and good therapy. The teacher/therapist teaches the skills to enable the learner/client to solve a problem, that is relevant to the learner/client in a way that connects with their existing knowledge.

Donald Clark said...

1. Since when did Rogers have a monopoly on 'listening' skills?

2. Not knowing something is not an illness and tecahing is not therapy. Cognitive improvement should not be confused with ill-health.

3. Most learning does not involve teachers or teaching. This is to see learning as a dependent state.

Anonymous said...

No one said Rogers had a monopoly on listening skills.
Elsewhere you've mentioned that Freud has repeatedly been debunked and rightly so. Therefor we must not make the same mistake Freud made by assuming mental health problems are the same as physical illness and can be addressed using the medical model. Depression, anxiety, stress, etc; are the result of emotional and psychological needs not being met either as a result of environment, existing patterns of behaviour that are destructive or an ability to do so. If somebody is depressed because they are lonely and are having difficulty making friends then they may need to learn more about social skills.
Learning is dependent to the extent that it does not take place in a vacum and is the result of interaction. If you trip over a branch and as a result learn to watch where you are you going then in a sense the branch has been your teacher.

Anonymous said...

Oh and by the way good teaching/therapy empowers the learner/client to take control over their lives, within the context of an environment where individual needs are connected to the needs of others. There was no suggestion in either of my posts that anybody should be wholly dependent on a teacher/therapist, rather that the process should be collaborative.

Donald Clark said...

Learning does not take place in a vacum but we have an educational and training sysem that teaches dependency on teachers and sitting in classrooms. I don't really get the point about the 'branch being the teacher'.

Many learners want a less moderated approach to learning. Dialogue, or self-driven activity, may be more appropriate than empathy. In counselling, the idea that the client knew more than the counsellor became the prevalent model. Unfortunately, this extreme form of the Socratic method is difficult in learning, where by definition, the learner doesn’t have the knowledge or skill to start with. Coaches and mentors need to tread warily here.
My belief is that facilitated learning may benefit more from the honest dissolution of misconceptions rather than an abundance of empathy. Far too much time is wasted on cosy chats, when some honest hard work and effort would get the learner to their destination quicker. I don’t want to hang around in collaborative, online learning environments or have someone probe and question me into submission. I want the knowledge and skills I need to achieve my goals and I want it fast and direct. This is why the internet is so p0owerful.

Non-directive coaching and therapy has become normalised and we’re all increasingly treated as patients to be counselled into healthier states of mind. Managers are portrayed as dysfunctional beings, who, if only they saw the way, would become caring masters, loved by all they manage. As Frank Furedi claims, we seem to be ‘redefining personal difficulty as a pathology’. Do we really think that we can short-circuit the human condition by simply asking ‘open questions’. It’s all too dependency driven.

The problems we are creating may be enormous. People are not solving their problems but internalising them. This is all about the self, not others. People need to stop feeling powerless, vulnerable and dependent on professional authorities. People don’t need to further acknowledge their problems, they need to transcend them. This doesn’t come through introspection. It comes through observation, reading and a respect, not for counselling, but science and good practice.

I fear that far too much time can be wasted on cosy chats with coaches and mentors, when some straight talking, honest hard work and effort would get the learner to their destination quicker.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all that you say about dependency culture and the dangers of introspection. There is no prevalent model of therapy,there are at least 400 models. Currently CBT is the buzzword because they have shown that they get better results than psychodynamic practitioners who encourage dependency, introspection on the past which stops people moving on and often makes their problems worse, so no suprise that challenging black & white thinking with CBT works more effectively.

With regards to learning, I appreciate that you want to be able to get the skills and knowledge you want quickly, but skills and knowledge often take time to absorb and refine. It's is not always appropriate for the learner to expect to define the terms of their learning. If you applied to learn to become a surgeon but told your teachers that you wanted to do it in three weeks and in an open air environment they would obviously turn you away. I exagerate to make I point, I know you wouldn't expect to learn surgery in the open air over three weeks . . .

Donald Clark said...

I wholly agree with this post. The world of psychotherapy has gone wildly astray.

As for learning, I am in favour of a wide mix of formal and informal techniques. Structured learning is, indeed, a necessary form of learning in many contexts.

In general, hwoiever, I think that too much is made of inefficient pseudo-therapeutic techniques in learning around the fringes of sensible coaching and mentoring.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what background training in counseling or teaching has been completed by DC, but the comments/review appear to be based on a lack of understanding of the purpose of therapy, techniques, goals, etc. In other words, the comments appear to be naive opposition to unclear constructs. I have read and applied client-centered therapy for years with wonderful success, including training teachers in accomplishing a match (congruence) between what the conscious brain is saying and what the client is feelng emotionally. When this congruence occurs the person can generally resolve/solve issues that are driving the anxiety. I do not have to be a mastermind who gives advice. With reflective congruence most people are able to solve their own problems. The therapist enables this connection and the result is a great relief to the person seeking help. As humans we are usually distracted from what we are feeling in our gut and seek distractons (work, TV, arguments, and other avoidance pastimes). Emotional awareness is NOT about control--it is about recognition, dissapating and becoming natural and unaffected(not driven) by unrecognized internal agonies. What alternatives to self-knowledge/awareness, recognition, and problem-solving does DC suggest? Something other than freedom from anxiety, freedom to be, freedom to learn naturally and without intimidation?


Anonymous said...

well said!!!!