Did Carl Rogers’ Positive View of Human Nature Bias His Psychotherapy?


Brodley, B. T. & Bradburn, W. M.


Carl Rogers’ theory of the actualizing tendency (Goldstein,1939; Rogers, 1959, 1980) involves the view that human nature is inherently constructive and prosocial. Critics (e.g., May, 1982) of client-centered therapy (CCT) have argued that it avoided negative antisocial feelings and impulses, exhibiting a bias toward the positive.Bradburn (1996) conducted a study on Rogers’ therapy to evaluate the charge of positive bias. She utilized 25 transcripts of Rogers’interviews to examine his responses to client expressions of positive, negative, mixed or neutral affective valence. Her aim was to determine (a) whether Rogers favored positive versus negative client expressions in general, as measured by his own affective valence and also measured by its intensity relative to the client’s and (b) whether client anger, reputed to be a troublesome emotion for Rogers, increased positive bias.

Results failed to substantiate any positive bias. (1) Analysis showed a strong positive association between the valence of client statements and the valence of Rogers’ statements (p < .005). (2) Except after positive client statements, Rogers gave fewer positive and more negative responses than expected (p < .005). (3) He diminished all client affective intensity more than he intensified it (p < .005), tending to do so relatively more often for positive than for negative client affect. This finding suggested that CCT responds not only to feelings but rather to the client’s whole meaning, including cognitive and information processing elements (e.g., Zimring, 1990a.b.). (4) Rogers tended to express negative valence or intensifyaffect in response to clients’ anger at a higher rate than for other negative effects.

Keywords: Carl R. Rogers, client-centered, person-centered, humanistic psychotherapy, empathic understanding responses, bias in psychotherapy, Rollo May, self-actualization, problem of evil, actualizing tendency, nature of man.