Carl Rogers

Researched and written by:  Morgan Rothman
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..

When I look at the world I'm pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic”
The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination”


Childhood/Family Life


Carl Rogers was born January 8, 1902, in a small suburb of Oak Park, Illinois right outside of Chicago.  He was the fourth of six children (Heppner, Rogers, & Lee, 1984).  His parents were strict Protestants and worked hard to keep society from corrupting their children.  When Carl was a teenager his family moved to a farm in Glen Ellen, Illinois.  This is where he became interested in the science of agriculture. He decided to go to college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to pursue a career in farming (Kirschenbaum, 2004).  After his graduation from college, he married his long time girlfriend Helen, and they had a son and a daughter.

Adult Life

While enrolled at the University of Wisconsin he started attending Christian revival meetings and decided to change his major to history instead of agriculture.  He had decided to become a minister after graduation.  During his junior year he was chosen from ten Americans to spend six months in China to participate in the international Christian youth conference (Kirschenbaum, 2004).  He was then interested in studying religion and applied to the Union Theological Seminary in New York City (Heppner, et al., 1984) and (Kirschenbaum, 2004).  It was here where he began taking psychology classes at the Teachers College of Columbia University.  He later transferred completely to the Teachers College when inspired by such instructors as Watson, Goodwin, Leta Hollingworth and William Heard Kilpatrick.  He later went on to pursue a career at Rochester, Ohio State University, the University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, and the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in California.

Professional Accomplishments

Rogers was introduced to measurement and testing by E.L. Thorndike, and he then pursued a clinical fellowship at the Institute for Child Guidance (Kirchenbaum, 2004).  In 1928, he took a position at Rochester and became the director of the Child Study Department.  Later, he also became the director of the Rochester Guidance Center.  Rogers’ dissertation while attending the Teacher’s College was Personality Adjustment Inventory, (1931).  The publication was so popular that in a span of 50 years it sold over half a million copies.  In 1939, he published his first book called The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child. Rogers then took a full teaching position at Ohio State University and subsequently started work on his second book entitled Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice, (1942).  After only four years he decided to transfer to the University of Chicago in which he started the Counseling Center, and he was also a professor in the psychology department.  It was here, he began working on his new approach to counseling now known as “client-centered” therapy.  Also during this time, he wrote another book entitled Client-Centered Therapy: It’s Current Practice, Implications and Theory, (1951). 

Along with his book he was well known for being the first to record his therapy sessions, thus demonstrating his theories and beliefs.  Also with audio recordings he had training videos made available for other psychotherapists.  For his work with client-centered therapy he was awarded by the American Psychological Association the first “Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award” in 1956 (Kirschenbaum, 2004).  He is also well known for his work with the American Association of Orthopsychiatry and the American Association of Social Workers.  During the 1940s and 1950s he was the president of the American Psychological Association as well.

 In 1957, however, Rogers decided to take a position at the University of Wisconsin as head of both Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry.  During this time at the University of Wisconsin, he wrote one of the most influential books, in 1961, entitled, On Becoming a Person: A Therapists View of Psychotherapy. 


Contributions to Psychology


Rogers is well known for his work in “client-centered” approach used in psychotherapy. His belief was that the client was in charge of their own happiness.  The therapist was just there to guide the client in the right direction. He believed that in order for a client/therapist relationship to develop the therapist must embody these characteristics unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence (Kirschenbaum, 2004). He also had a “self-theory” in which he described how the client views himself/herself, and how through therapy can help change their view and future. 

All of Rogers’ theories and principles put together are better known today as “humanistic psychology.”  His version of psychology focused more on helping the individual help himself or herself instead of diagnosing.  Rogers’ interest in the client achieving his or her full potential in life is what we know as “self-actualization,” and thus, leading the client to become a “fully-functioning person,” which in fact was the ultimate goal.  After many decades of his influential research and publications, Carl Rogers finished out the rest of his days in La Jolla, California where he worked for a short time at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute. 

Rogers finished out his days in his home in La Jolla.  In 1987, he died from complications ensuing from a fall and hip injury that had happened earlier in that year.



Heppner, P. P., Rogers, M. E., & Lee, L. A. (1984). Carl Rogers: Reflections on his life [Electronic version]. Journal of Counseling and Development, 63, 14-20.

Kirschenbaum, H. (2004). Carl Rogers’s Life and Works: An Assessment on the 100th Anniversary of His Birth [Electronic version]. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 116-124.




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