Copyright © 2007-2018 Russ Dewey
Criticisms of Rogers
There are many criticisms of Rogers. He is the father of the language sometimes called psychobabble. DeMott (1979) identifies the following phrases, traceable to Rogers: "going with the flow," "getting in touch with my feelings," "working at my relationship," "being open to experience."
Some people find such language unbearably trite, but it was not trite when Rogers came up with it. In 1946, nobody but Rogers was saying "go with the flow." Rogers was being radical and different by urging people to relax their facades and find their true selves.
What type of phrases in popular language is traceable to Rogers?
A more serious criticism is that Rogers carried nondirection to an extreme. He wrote once that "nobody can teach anybody anything." Rogers thought the relationship that worked in therapy was a model for all social relationships between humans.
For example, in the college classroom, a Rogerian teacher would let students invent the content of the course. Discussions in such a class were punctuated by long, awkward silences.
Rogers said that was to be expected. Ultimately students would evolve a valuable course. To others, such a course was a waste of time and a reductio ad absurdum (reduction to absurdity) of Rogerian theory. An approach good for counseling seemed like a fish out of water in the classroom.
What types of clients proved ill-suited for Rogerian therapy?
A third criticism of Rogers is that he claimed Rogerian methods can be applied to each and every problem. There is no evidence that biological problems like schizophrenia or autism respond well to the Rogerian approach.
Rogers also noted that certain clients, such as those who entered therapy expecting practical advice, were likely to become disillusioned by nondirective therapy and drop out quickly. John Gray's pop psychology bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (1992) was based on this insight among others.
Gray argued, following gender stereotypes, that women typically wanted to "vent" to somebody who was understanding and nurturing. Men, he said, were more likely to seek straightforward advice.
There are many exceptions to this formulation, but Gray's book was a bestseller partly because such differences do exist (perhaps less correlated with gender than he implied). Some people want a nondirective approach, others want active problem-solving from a therapist.
What is the "echoing" technique and how did Weizenbaum satirize it?
Finally, Rogerian therapy is sometimes reduced to the sterile technique of "echoing" what a client says. Rogers recommended that a Rogerian therapist repeat or paraphrase a client's thoughts, in order to insure comprehension was taking place.
That is actually a valuable technique, but it can be silly if it is done too often or too automatically. It lends itself to parody, as in the computer program ELIZA developed by Joseph Weizenbaum of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Eliza was written to satirize Rogerian counseling by echoing statements back to the user. If you typed in, "I am worried about my grades": ELIZA would reply with something like, "Why are you worried about your grades?"
Obviously the program does not understand what you are typing in; it just echoes part of it back as a question. A therapist who really did this would come across like an uncaring machine rather than an empathetic listener.
DeMott, B. (1979, January). Mr. Rogers neighborhood. Psychology Today. Pp. 90,94,95.
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