Carl Rogers was born in 1902 and spent his childhood in the Midwest. He described his family as
religious fundamentalists (Rogers,
). Rogers was raised to be judgmental of behaviors and
attitudes that conflicted with his parents’ values. His family rarely shared personal thoughts and
feelings. Rogers reported that he had little social contact with children other than his brothers and
viewed himself as distant and aloof. Rogers’s later ideas about emotional health seem to be the
converse of what he experienced while growing up.
Rogers’s family instilled in him the importance of hard work, the scientific method, and a sense of
responsibility, values that were reflected in his academic pursuits. He was an outstanding student who
prized academic accomplishment. College and graduate school, however, were periods of great
transition for him. Initially majoring in agriculture, Rogers soon realized that following the career path
reflected by his family background was not right for him, and he changed his focus first to history, then
to religion, and finally to clinical psychology. Rogers completed his undergraduate work at the
University of Wisconsin and began study for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary but
transferred to Columbia University, where he received a Ph.D. in psychology in 1931.
These shifts in career direction parallel Rogers’s growing awareness of the importance of social
relationships and of sharing thoughts and feelings. His experiences as a camp counselor and on a trip to
China as part of the World Student Christian Federation Conference, his dating experiences, and his
marriage immediately after college all contributed to his evolution from a person with a rigid and
judgmental view of others to one who appreciated the individuality of each person while believing
strongly in the importance of world peace and the interconnections of all humankind.
Rogers’s career reflected a growing involvement with people and the evolution of his theory of
counseling and psychotherapy. He initially worked with children in Rochester, New York, and later
was a faculty member at Ohio State University and at the University of Chicago. From 1963 until the
end of his life, Rogers promoted his ideas through the Center for Studies of the Person in La Jolla,
California. During his later years, he focused on using person-centered approaches to reduce interracial
tensions, resolve intergroup conflicts, and promote world peace and social justice. He led workshops
and encounter groups around the world (Kirschenbaum,
). By bringing together groups in conflict
such as the Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland and Blacks and Whites in South Africa, he
sought to promote communication and understanding and reduce antagonism. Rogers was nominated
for a Nobel Peace Prize although he did not receive that award.
In 1987, Rogers broke his hip in a fall, underwent surgery, but died of heart failure several days later.