Saturday, February 4, 2017

Alongside Carl Rogers

‘I forgot in my last entry to say anything about the river life here in South China. It is one of the most interesting things I have seen. [. . .] I have seen five and six people, a whole family, living on a little covered sampan not more than twenty feet long and six feet wide. How they do it is a mystery. [. . .] The bareness of their existence must be beyond comprehension.’ This is a Carl Rogers, who died 30 years ago today, writing in a travel journal long before he became one of the most influential of 20th century psychotherapists. One review says it ‘offers a great opportunity to be alongside him as his philosophies form and develop.’

Rogers was born in 1902 in Chicago into a family of Pentecostal Christians. He was a studious child, by all accounts, and went to study at the University of Wisconsin, where he joined the YMCA. Aged 20, he was selected as one of ten students to go to the World Student Christian Federation conference in Peking. On returning, he switched to studying history. After graduating, in 1924, he moved to New York and began to study at the Union Theological Seminary, while taking psychology lectures at Columbia University That same year he married Helen Elliott and they had two children.

After two years, though, Rogers left the seminary to attend teachers college at Columbia obtaining an MA and then, in 1931, a PhD. While completing his doctoral work, he had begun studying children, and he had been appointed director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Rochester, New York. From 1935 to 1940 he lectured at the University of Rochester and wrote his first book, The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child (published 1939). In 1940, he became a professor of clinical psychology at Ohio State University, where he wrote Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942). From 1945, Rogers was a professor at the University of Chicago, where he founded a new counselling centre; this allowed him to pioneer research into what goes on in therapy sessions, and led to his 1951 book, Client-Centered Therapy.

In 1956, Rogers became the first President of the American Academy of Psychotherapists, and from 1957 he taught psychology at the University of Wisconsin, and wrote one of his best-known books, On Becoming a Person. With Abraham Maslow, he pioneered a movement called humanistic psychology. In 1963, he became a resident at the new Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI) in La Jolla, California, but then left WBSI, though remaining in La Jolla, to help found the Center for Studies of the Person in 1968. He died on 4 February 1987, a few days after a bad fall. For further biographical information see WikipediaEncyclop√¶dia BritannicaNew York Times obituary, the Norwich Centre.

Online Archive of California provides this assessment of the man: ‘Rogers was a psychologist and psychotherapist who initiated what Abraham Maslow later called the “third force” of psychology, following the behaviorism of Pavlov (and later B. F. Skinner) and Freudian psychoanalysis. This “third force” of humanistic psychology has been so closely identified with Rogers that it is often called Rogerian, a term its namesake objected to. His innovation was to treat clients as if they were essentially healthy, and he felt that growth would occur when a non-judgmental, non-directive (later, “client-centered”) therapist created a warm, accepting environment to nurture the client and allow self-knowledge and self-acceptance to occur. Rogers is considered by many to be the most influential psychologist after Freud.’

Rogers was an occasional diarist, but only one of his diaries has been published - the one kept in 1922 during his six month travels to China and the Far East. Another dozen or so diaries are held in the Carl R. Rogers Collection at The University of California, Santa Barbara, but they all date from the latter years of his life, and remain restricted to public view. The Collection describes the diaries as follows: ‘Fourteen notebooks from the period of 1977-82. Eleven notebooks contain travel notes, primarily concerning workshops. In addition to practical notes and narrative description, these diaries contain observations on the workshops and thoughts on Rogers’s relationships with women. One notebook relates dreams, memories, and personal musings unrelated to travel, and two others are purely records of dreams.’

The China Diary, however, as edited by Jeffrey H. D. Cornelius White, was published in the UK in 2012. It is a direct copy (Rogers wrote the diary on a typewriter he lugged around) with spelling and grammatical mistakes included. Rogers’ daughter Natalie provides a foreword, in which she says of the diary that it is a ‘doorway to [Rogers’] heart, mind and soul in his most formative year’. A review - in Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies Vol 13 No 1 (2104) - says the diary is ‘a really valuable insight into Carl Rogers, and offers a great opportunity to be alongside him as his philosophies form and develop.’ Here are several examples - though there’s not much forming of philosophies apparent!

20 March 1922
‘This has been one of the most beautiful days that we have had since we left home. The trip from Kobe down to the end of the Island has been simply one grand panorama of changing scenes; rice paddies, mountains, hills, fishing villages, great broad rivers, and the beautiful inland sea.

There were many interesting things in the morning; the train was taking us rapidly into warmer country and it looked more and more like summer. For the first time we saw rice growing in the fields, and the men and more often the women out in the water up to their ankles, weeding the rows. The rice is a very slender wiry looking plant when it is small, and a darker green even than the winter wheat.

During the afternoon we rode for a long time within sight of the inland sea. The little thatched huts of the fishing villages were most interesting. They were the same general type as the farmers houses, one storied, with thin wooden walls, and a very neatly thatched roof, but they were not as prosperous looking as the farmhouses. In many places there were ponderous stone or earth dikes to keep the sea from rushing in on the little rice fields. The fishermen in many places have placed weirs, crude little bamboo traps, across the mouth of the rivers that empty into the sea, and catch the fish as they go up the river to spawn.

The scenery along the coast is the best I have seen anywhere since I have started. The mountains and jagged rocks formed a “stern and rockbound coast,” and the rocky islands off the coast were about as fine as anything of that sort I have ever seen. In some places there were rocky reefs where the breakers were breaking and casting great clouds of spray into the air, for the wind was very strong.

The craft were as interesting as the sea itself. There were many of the large, clumsy fisherman’s dories being sculled along by means of the large orr at the stern; there were little native coasting boats, with patched old sails; and now and then we would see a larger freighter steaming along.

We got to Sheminoseki right on time (all Japanese trains seem to be right on time) and got our baggage transferred to the boat. We were all prepared for a rough night, for we knew how strong the wind was, but we were a little surprised to find that the passenger steamer that had set out for Fusan in the morning had had to give up and come back, because it was too rough to cross. However the officers of the boat thought we could make it all right, and they were going to make another try, anyway, so we steamed out of the long harbor. There was surely some gale blowing, but it didnt bother most of us. Austin, Mildred, Jean, and myself even went so far as to have some bread and jam and tea before we went to bed. I slept like a log, though every now and then when I woke up, the boat seemed to be doing its best to stand on its head. It didnt roll so badly, but it pitched and bucked as badly as I have ever wished to try it.’

29 March 1922
‘Last night we had dinner, we being the men of the American delegation, with Jack Childs and five Chinese, leaders in YM work. We had an interesting discussion about the Chinese Student Movement, but the most interesting part of the discussion for me was to see the way in which the Chinese worked. Two of them, Dr. Lew and Mr. Koo, were, I think, the keenest men there. All the Chinese were fully the equals of the Americans. There surely is no doubt in my mind that the Y is following the right policy in turning over the leadership of the work to the Chinese Just as fast as that is possible.

We had a Chinese dinner, with about twenty courses. They eat in even a more informal way than the Japanese, putting the bowl of food in the center of the table, and going after it with their long chopsticks. We had more queer stuff than I ever hope to see again. We had preserved eggs, which had been burled for years in the dirt. They were alright, though I failed to get very enthusiastic over them. We had fish eggs, and fish, and rice and chicken, and bamboo sprouts, and various kinds of sweet dishes, and tea, and finally ended up with a lotus seed pudding. It was some feast. I dont think that I liked it quite as well as the Japanese guenabi dinners that we had. The food all seems to have a rather insipid taste, without much spice of any kind.

The only thing that I didnt like was that it kept us until midnight - at least the feast and discussions did, and as the next day was the opening of the work of the General Committee, I thought that was too bad.’

27 May 1922
‘Here we are still in Hongkong, I in the hotel and Ken in the hospital. He is getting better, but rather slowly, and I expect that we will be in town for at least three days more. He had dysentery on his last trip out here, and this seems to be a mild return of it. It is too bad he had to get sick here. It is one of the most uninteresting towns we have struck, and we also know very few people here, so that it isnt an awfully exciting time I am having. I wish we were up at Canton. Hongkong is about as provincial a city as I have ever seen. In their newspapers nothing but Hongkong news is printed. I dont suppose there has been a total of one column of U.S. news in the five days we have been here. Even the North China news is very scanty. They had chucked off in one inside column what may very possibly prove to be the most important bit of news in China since the Revolution, namely, that Wu Pei Fu, being now of course the master at Peking, is planning to call together the Old Parliament of 1913, is trying to reconcile Sun Yat Sen, and is suggesting Li Yuan Hung for president as a man who can reconcile both parties. If he can put those things thru, it will reunite China under one govt, and perhaps do away with her civil war for some time. Incidentally Dr. C.T. Wang told Ken when we were in Peking that that was what he thought Wu Pei Fu would do if he beat Chang Tso Lin. I expect that C.T. had quite a little to do with formulating that policy, too. You see, the South will not consider uniting with the North unless they recognize the Parliament which was illegally dismissed several years ago, and which fled to Canton to set up the southern govt as the only legally constituted govt in China. So it may be that this proposition of Wu Pei Fu’s, including as it does the recognition of the Old Parliament and the suggestion of a strong moderate like Li Yuan Hung, may really be very Important, I sure hope It works out.

No shipping has been going out of this port until yesterday on account of a typhoon which has been moving northwest from Manila, and also partly on account of the launchmens strike. I guess it is becoming normal again, tho. The Empire State left yesterday, and the Pinetree State will be leaving Wed, so you ought to get lots of mall.

I forgot in my last entry to say anything about the river life here in South China. It is one of the most interesting things I have seen. Thousands of people dont know what it means to spend 24 hours on land. They form a kind of separate caste from the land dwellers, and they live on their boats all the time. It is an inexpensive life, and they earn a little money by ferrying people across the river, and doing a little freight work. I have seen five and six people, a whole family, living on a little covered sampan not more than twenty feet long and six feet wide. How they do it is a mystery. They have a little place in the back for a fire to cook their food, and they sleep on the bare boards, with a wooden block to put under their necks for a pillow. They often have a brood of little chicks in a tiny yard on the boat, and on the larger boats they often have a dog. They dont have to worry about space to keep their property. Their wardrobe consists of the clothes on their back, their cupboard is a place big enough to hold a bowl apiece and an iron bowl for cooking, their washtub, and bath, and dishwashing sink, and toilet, are all found in one place - the river - and that is about all there is to their lives. The bareness of their existence must be beyond comprehension.’

8 June 1922
‘Well, our wind didnt develop into a typhoon after all, tho it was fairly rough. It was a great sight to watch the little fishing junks trying to get to shore from way out five or ten miles where they had been fishing. They would sink almost out of sight in the trough of the waves, and then be lifted way up on the crest, with the dripping prow just balanced in empty space, and then they would plunge nose down into the next wave, raising a cloud of spray that would hide the whole boat for a second or two. I sure admire the nerve of their skippers.

This morning we arrived at Amoy. We wound around several fine islands into the harbor of Amoy, which is itself located on an island. As the ship was only going to stop three hours, we had very little time to see things. We went off onto Kulangsu, the island where most foreigners live, and saw some of the mission schools, and had a long talk with Mr. Elliott, the Y secretary there, but we didnt get over to the city itself, partly because our time was so short, and partly because the plague was a little worse there than in most of the cities we have been in, and Ken was a little scared to risk it, tho there was no real danger, I think. We pulled out of the harbor shortly after noon, and got under way for Foochow.’

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