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Rogers's famous nondirective approach, based on "reflective listening," has always been too easily corrupted by people who ran with the technique, but left behind the unique Rogers genius for hearing what clients couldn't quite say. In the original, a friendly, receptive, interested, and unshockable therapist takes in and accepts whatever the client brings to the encounter and then reflects it back in a way that not only demonstrates understanding, but clarifies for the client the meaning and feeling of what the latter has just revealed. But it was a famously easy style to parody.
Rogers was often blamed for the worst excesses of the '60s and '70s counterculture. "As the founding father of humanistic psychology, the human potential movement, and the encounter group, Carl Rogers has a lot to answer for," historian Christopher Lasch wrote darkly in a 1979 review of Howard Kirschenbaum's biography, Being Carl Rogers. Lasch and other critics essentially accused Rogers of fomenting a runaway, nationwide cult of narcissism and irresponsible individualism, inventing and leading encounter groups that promoted sexual free-for-alls, undermining marriage and morality, and even causing nuns and priests—attending church-sponsored group sessions—to betray their vows (particularly celibacy) and flee the church in droves.
And yet, if history is any guide, Rogers's continuing influence has more than defeated his critics. Over the last decade and a half, psychotherapy research has repeatedly demonstrated that the success of counseling and therapy depends less on any particular method than on the "common factors" shared by virtually all therapists—support, empathic understanding, positive regard, genuineness, and the ability to establish a strong emotional bond with clients. Furthermore, neuroscience research—for example, the recent discovery of mirror neurons in the premotor cortex that help explain how we "read" each others faces, gestures, and feelings—has substantially reinforced Rogers's intuitive understanding of human connection. Increasingly, brain science has established that the sense of attuned connection that the therapist forges with a client works in therapy because we're neurobiologically wired to respond positively to positive emotional signals from others. The responsive, attentive, caring, comprehending human presence is the most powerful force for emotional healing that exists or ever existed in the world. Every person who's ever tried to help another suffering human being knows it.
Rogers knew it and tried to build a true science around it. Now, at last, science is finally catching up to Carl Rogers.
If all therapists today are at least a little bit Rogerian, it's probably true that most of them are also a little bit Beckian. "Cognitive therapy" (as Beck called it originally), emerged quietly and unobtrusively on the scene in the 1960s, invented more or less simultaneously and independently by Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis. It's now, 40 years on, the blockbuster success called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).