My encounter with carl rogers: a retrospective view from
Bondarenko A.F. My encounter wish Carl Rogers: a retrospective view from the Ukraine // Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 39, No. 1, Winter 1999 pp. 8-14.
MY ENCOUNTER WITH CARL ROGERS:
A RETROSPECTIVE VIEW FROM THE UKRAINE
ALEXANDER F. BONDARENKO earned his doctorate in psychology in 1993 from Kiev National University and is a professor of psychology and a psychotherapist in Kiev. He also is editor of the Journal of the Practicing Psychologist, published in Kiev, and is on the Board of Editors of the Moscow Psychotherapeutic Journal. He is the author of three books on psychotherapy and counseling, among which is the Manual on Counseling and Psychotherapy for University Students (Kiev, 1997). He is director of the Inter-University Counseling Center, a part-time professor at Kiev Medical University, and chair of psychology at Kiev State Linguistic University. His areas of research include investigations of the effectiveness of psychotherapy, and his clinical specialty areas are PTSD, neurotic and addictive love, and affective disorders.
In his 1987 Journal of Humanistic Psychology article, Francis Macy stated that Carl Rogersís influence in the former Soviet Union would last long after his death. This article presents evidence in support of that claim. It is a kind of retrospective feedback about Carl Rogersís 1986 visit and workshop in Moscow from one of the participants in those events. The authorís personal experience — his feelings, cognitions, presuppositions, insights, discoveries, and his further personal and professional evolution — are described by one of the well-known figures in post-Soviet Ukrainian psychology.
AUTHORíS NOTE: I thank Ruth Sanford and Tom Greening for all their help and friendly support and for their editing of my English in this article, as it is now in a form that is readable by my American colleagues. I am especially appreciative of Ruth Sanford, who encouraged me by writing that my first draft was "an account of the authorís deeply personal experience... as he found his way from initial excitement to doubt to tentativeness and, finally, to deep experiencing of his own personhood."
Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 39 No. I, Winter 1999 pp. 8-14
© 1999 Sage Publications, Inc.
In his article about Carl Rogersís group work in the former Soviet Union, Francis Macy (1987) expressed his belief that the influence of Rogersís ideas and personality would continue to spread long after his 1986 visit and death. I offer here my feedback as to this influence, not only on Russian and Ukrainian psychology, but also on myself as a psychologist and as a human being.
In the years that have passed since Rogersís visit, I have had time to grasp the essence of that influence. The great and small events that have occurred during the intervening time — the breakup of the Soviet Union, Rogerís death, Francis Macyí s 1989 visit to Kiev, and other events including my remarriage — not only served as formative influences on me, but also affected my essential being. In this article, I describe this process and respond to Rogersís (1987) article, "Inside the World of the Soviet Professional." This is a deliberately subjective account, in accord with my learning from Carl Rogers, because I believe objectivity with respect to myself would be a sort of auto-depersonalization and negation of life. In September 1986, after the Chernobyl tragedy and after having undergone surgery and treatment in a Caucasian health resort, I found myself at Moscow State University attached to the general psychology department for scientific consultations and training. I heard that Carl Rogers was expected to visit the Institute of General and Pedagogical Psychology, at that time headed by Professor Alexei Matyushkin. This news was most unexpected and exciting. There was a hint of new horizons and unknown ways.
I tried to learn if I could be included in Rogersís intensive group sessions but was told that there was no chance. I consoled myself with the fact that I had read Rogersís famous Client-Centered Therapy (1965) at the Moscow Library of Foreign Languages in 1975 when I was a postgraduate student at the Kiev Institute of Psychology. So, I resigned myself to not being able to take part in Rogersís visit. Furthermore, because it was hard even for Muscovite psychologists to get into the group, I knew it would be even harder for a Kievite.
But the closer the day of Rogersís arrival came, the stronger was my desire to participate. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime happening, a coincidence of my own professional training with a chance to have first-hand experience with one of the founders of humanistic psychology. This awareness would not leave me alone. So following the commandments, "Seek and you will find," or "Ask and you will receive," and because of the courtesy of my colleagues from Moscow University and the Institute of Pedagogical Psychology, I became a lucky possessor of an invitation card to the Rogers seminar.
Then there was Rogersís first appearance, an honorary presidium, and speeches. I paid great attention to Rogersís very American air, and for some unknown reason, I kept noticing the brooch he was wearing on his open shirt collar.1
But for the most part, I heard his reminiscences about his childhood, about his early observations on his fatherís farm, about how the potato sprouts reached for the light and how all that was alive was sprouting and eager to germinate and to grow. His words seemed to me both exactly what I had been expecting to hear from this sophisticated and wise old man, but also exactly what I did not want to hear. I was willing to listen to some reminiscences, but I wanted to learn something "scientific." I wanted to learn some new theories, experiments, hypotheses and their proofs or disproofs, And instead of these, I was told something quite different, if not opposite of what I had expected. I was told I had to treat human beings cordially (i.e., empathically) and to not feign anything in my relationships with clients. At that moment, I recollected the title of an old Soviet movie: To Love a Human Being.
Since my early years, I had been reading everywhere, "A human being is to be a friend, a comrade and a brother for another human being." That was an extract from the Moral Code of a Builder of Communism. So I generalized right away from Rogersís words that there were three principal conditions to making a personality fully functional — empathic listening, caring, and congruence — and I felt extremely disappointed. I became even more upset when I put two and two together and jumped to the conclusion that all those technical terms were basically paraphrases for the words to love a human being. As far as congruence was concerned, I interpreted it simply as "be myself." That was a frequently recurring topic both in Soviet fiction and in Komsomolskaya Pravda, at that time, an ideological newspaper for youth: Be yourself as you really are, donít pretend to be another.
After that, Rogers conducted a demonstration counseling session with a client, and I noted his skillful use of verbalizations (i.e., repeating the clientís utterances, pauses, special syntactic constructions, and nonverbal behavior). All these words, "accept a client as they are," "donít try to influence them directly," "be authentic," "the client-centered approach is not a technique but a way of being," I had already heard. All my previous experience convinced me that practical help was much more necessary than was the help that I as a psychologist was able to give. I myself could never give practical help because I was an ordinary person with the same problems as my clients, affected in the same way. The trouble was that people who had vital problems, those on the solving of which their life depended, such as the housing shortage, passport problems, conflicts with authorities, and so forth, were no doubt in need of compassion or empathy, but what was much more important was that they were in need of practical aid. And I felt helpless.
It is worth taking into consideration that by that time, in the autumn of 1986,1 was suffering, if not from a crisis, at least from a very deep dissatisfaction with my professional work and even with life itself. As a consulting psychologist, I faced human problems and situations that frequently had no solution. Besides, I had noticed that persons with self-respect would not seek a psychologist, leaving that not last but dubious resort to nervous or curious women. But both the former and the latter were more interested in hypnotists. I also noticed that a certain number of my clients were people trying to escape from a psychiatrist and that people in general were preoccupied with biological survival and not psychological problems. At the same time, Carl Rogers communicated that I had to be congruent and nonjudgmental and to practice empathic listening. This did not seem to be very much help.
In the evening at the university hostel, my colleagues and I, as we discussed our first impressions, decided that the main reason other people were trying to get into Carl Rogersí intensive group was ambition. To be or not to be... To have or to have not... To be or to have... To have in order to be... That last inference had won. We agreed that it was worth taking part in the group, if possible, as observers. Technique would be technique. One had to study it, so much the more when Carl Rogers himself was teaching it.
The next morning, I was sitting at the Institute of Psychology at 9:00 a.m. The fixed time approached. Excitement rose and fell. But alas, the observers were refused entry. Carl Rogers himself objected to this policy. Nothing doing. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the intensive group had become much larger than was earlier agreed. Carl Rogers was upset. Ruth Sanford expressed her strong desire to keep to a previous agreement and to make the group smaller. There was a terrible conflict in the group about who should participate.
I was glad not to have taken part in this conflict. I reconciled myself to my lot, and at that very moment, I was permitted to occupy a modest place near the technician who was recording the session. I had always been convinced that humiliation should not be necessary for someone wishing to achieve the unattainable, but now when I recollect both the feelings and behavior of my colleagues and myself, I am inclined to accept the reality as it is and not as it should be or as I would like it to be. When people are hungry or thirsty, even if it is a thirst for knowledge, their attitudes change. And that is also a part of reality as it is. At the same time, I feel an urgent need to beg Carl Rogers and his colleaguesí pardon for the bitterness we brought with us.
The group time was passing. As I was listening to the group discussion, to Carl Rogersís and Ruth Sanfordís interventions, as I peered into participantsí faces, I started to feel some processes occurring within myself. Those processes were purely mental at the beginning, then they changed to emotional, and later, to spiritual. Then, I felt that I started to divide into my professional self and my personal self. As my professional self registered Rogersís and Sanfordís techniques and communicative behavior, my personal self was more and more persistently knocking at my heart, asserting its claims. I discovered in one of the tensely silent moments that I was in fact a human being, with all my pains, afflictions, dissatisfactions, with all my limits, internal and external. I discovered I was a human being all the same, and that is why I suffered.
But I had not discovered only this, and not even this totally. I realized that up until then, I was seeking some truth outside myself. Without that external truth, I felt my life to be incomplete and imperfect because it was a limited life. It was so painful to feel myself inside of these rigid limits. Then, I realized that the way I had been in the world, the way of my real being, of my internal being inside myself and at the same time beyond myself, the way that I had been a creature of nature, or God, or whatever else — that was my truth. I myself was the truth in the world, that was the essence, however bad this truth might be.
What I might or could do to that truth was another matter altogether. I could or might decorate it or distort it, suppress it or conceal it. I could humiliate it or impose it on others. But my one and only call, the calling of my nature, was to be this truth, not altering it and not distorting its face, those traits that bear my life in themselves as my own particular life. It is difficult to render this in words, but this revelation came as a shock. From the time that I was a child, I had heard that I had to live for people. I was brought up with the idea that my life was necessary — to my parents, to the family, to the state, to the motherland. But it was needed as a part of a universal sacrifice or as a duty. And no one, myself included, needed my life as my own particular life, as the truth of my being in the world.
I looked at Carl Rogers and I felt and I understood that this wise old man was neither adapting himself to the world nor adapting the world to himself. He was being in the world. I knew I was lonely. I realized how lonely I had been. But I was feeling the truth of my being in the world and that feeling purified me and gave me strength to exist, and I sensed tears of joy as well as bitterness in my eyes.
Years have passed since then, lots of intensive groups, lots of people, lots of problems. I have not changed my respectful attitude toward theoretical psychology, although my view of science has widened, and I now regard Hegelian rationalized dialectics as only a part of science; Hegelís personality, I suppose, should also be included in the subject matter of science. I have not solved the problem of the relationship between science and ethics, or rather, religion. I now view scientific psychology and science itself as very young and courageous but dependent creatures that must be cherished and brought up in harmony with the rest of human offspring.
As before, I am far from being one of the most popular consultant psychologists or facilitators in Kiev, but what really came into my life then, in the autumn of 1986, changed my life both professionally and personally. After my encounter with Carl Rogers, I read Buber, I attentively reread Bakhtin (1979, 1986), and I explored transpersonal psychology in seminars on psychosynthesis. To my deep regret, I did not manage to get a hold of Gendlinís (1962) Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, the book cited by Rogers as being one of his theoretical sources. But no theory is of value by itself; it is just one of the human instruments. Above all, the gist of the matter consists in the human being himself or herself. Not in superhuman constructions, but in a human being as he or she is.
The matter is, who am I, who are you, who and what are we for the world, for each other, for ourselves? What is important is whether we respect the truth of another being and that of our own being. The truth of the world is really in its being and not in our encroachments upon it. With these values, for which I am indebted to Carl Rogers and his colleagues, I now live and work.
NOTE 1. This refers to Rogersís bola tie.
- Bakhtin., M. (1979). Estetika slovesnogo tvorchestva [The esthetics of verbal creativity]. Moscow: Iskusstvo.
- Bakhtin, M. (1986). K filosofii postupka [The philosophy of action]. In Filosofia i sociologiya nauki i techniki (pp. 80–161). Moscow: Nauka.
- Gendlin, E. (1962). Experiencing and the creation of meaning. New York: Free Press.
- Macy, F. (1987). The legacy of Carl Rogers in the U.S.S.R. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 27(3), 305–308.
- Rogers, G. (1965). Client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Rogers, C. (1987). Inside the world of the Soviet professional. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 27(3), 277–304.