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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Compare and Contrast Essay on Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls

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There was a time in history where it was believed that human beings were born to accomplish certain economic and political objectives. (“Humanistic Psychology Overview” 1) It was also thought that human fate is determined from the moment one is born and that human dignity depended on the value ascribed by the existing institutions.  In response to these beliefs, there were psychologists who affirmed the inherent value and dignity of every human being.  They believed that every human being has a potential to become greater than what he is and that the role of the institutions is to help individuals in realizing the potentialities of every human being. This is known as the humanistic psychology.

There are several known Humanistic Psychologists.  One of these psychologists was Carl Rogers.  He developed a therapy method called the Person-Centered Counseling which is based on the idea that every person has the capacity for self-actualization.  This means that every person has the capacity to achieve his potential and become a better individual.  Individuals are all born with a set of skills, talents and abilities that he can use to improve and become a better human being.  Though these skills, talents and abilities may differ from one person to another all individuals are provided with these resources.

Self-actualization can be achieved through therapy and counseling.  Therapy and counseling is a process used to free a person and help him remove obstacles so that the individual may overcome his limitations and become an independent and self-directed individual.  In achieving self-actualization Carl Rogers stressed that limited role of a counselor in a counseling session.  The therapy should be non-directive, should not use assessment procedures and should not establish any goal for the client. (John Sommers-Flanagan & Rita Sommers-Flanagan 184)

In Person-Centered Counseling, the counselor does not require the individual to perform any act.  The counselor’s role is only to remove the obstacles to the normal growth and development.  He also does not need to tell the individual what to do as he already knows what to do. 

Because Rogers believes in the ability of the individual to fully realize his potential, he thinks that the counselor should not give any feedback or any solution to his problem.  For him, the individual “knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been buried.”  Under this approach, the individual is believed to have all the answers to his problems.  The task of the counselor is merely to listen to the individual and empathize with the client’s feelings.  

During therapy sessions, the individual is also allowed to speak freely about his feelings.  The counselor is not allowed to interrupt the individual as he expresses his fears, doubts, anger, and any kind of feeling.  It is believed that by not interrupting the individual reveal his thoughts and feelings the is able to understand the obstacles to self-actualization and find solutions to these problems.   

While the role of the psychologist is limited, he is still important because he helps explore the individual’s relationship with other people.  His role is to bring out the issues which could be buried in the individual’s subconscious mind.  For example, if based on what the individual has stated there are internalized conflicts which needed to be brought out, the psychologists will help bring out these internalized conflicts so that the individual may directly deal with them. 

More importantly, in Person-Centered Counseling, it is essential that the counselor should ensure that the following conditions are met to achieve self-actualization.  These conditions are unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence.  Unconditional positive regard means that the counselor should accept the client unconditionally and non-judgmentally.  Empathy means that the counselor should be able to understand the individual’s thoughts and feelings from the perspective of the individual.

On the other hand, Fritz Perls developed a therapy method called the Gestalt Therapy.  This is very similar to Rogers’ Person-Centered Counseling in the sense that they both believed in the intrinsic capacity of an individual to achieve greater freedom and independence.  They both believed in the intrinsic ability of every human being to achieve self-actualization.  The key is to break free from the obstacles that hinder the individual from his self-development.  Gestalt Therapy also affirms that many individuals are only able to tap into a small part of their personality which is just the tip of the iceberg.  The greater part about an individual’s personality lies blocked somewhere in the unconscious. (Joe Reilly & Veronica Jacobus 15)

The goal of Gestalt Therapy is to help the individual become fully aware which according to Fritz Perls is the “only basis of knowledge and communication.” Awareness is similar to insight which is a “patterning of the perceptual field in such a way that the significant realities are apparent; it is the formation of a gestalt in which the relevant factors fall into place with respect to the whole.” (Gary Yotnef 1)

Gestalt Therapy seeks to help the individual become aware of any kind of barriers and to eliminate these barriers so that the individual may be able to effectively communicate and relate to other people.  The task of the counselor is to evaluate in whole the individual’s communicative abilities and to point out any kind of behavior, body language and language that the patient uses which may serve as a barrier to communication.  Thus, it is common for the counselor to interrupt the individual during a therapy session and point out to the individual his behaviors that he thinks may serve as barrier to communication.  Through discussion with the individual, the counselor is able help the individual become aware of obstacles to his development.

In contrast to the Person-Centered Counseling which limits the role of the counselor to a mere passive receiver of information, Gestalt Therapy believes that the counselor has a more active role in counseling.  In Gestalt Therapy, the role of the counselor is not merely to listen to what the individual reveals about himself.  Rather, the counselor engages the individual into a continued dialogue.  By engaging in a dialogue the individual starts to see himself from the perspective of the counselor.  In so doing he becomes more aware of what he is doing, how he is doing it and how he can change himself. 

Gestalt Therapy is also different from the Person-Centered Counseling in the sense that it does not give emphasis on what the individual should do.  Person-Centered Counseling believes that every individual already knows what he should do and what should be done.  Gestalt Therapy only helps the individual become aware of the present situation.  It only helps to stress awareness of what is.  For example, the counselor who is counseling a married couple does not tell the couple what to do to save the marriage.  Rather, the counselor’s role is merely to make the married couple become aware of what they are doing as married couples.  He does not tell the married couple what is wrong with the marriage.  He also does not advice them what to do to correct their mistakes.  He simply helps them realize what the married couples have been doing so that they could figure things out for themselves and modify their behavior for the purpose of saving the marriage.

In Gestalt Therapy, the counselor does not need to empathize with the individual.  The counselor does not need to understand the thoughts and feelings of the individual from his perspective.  It is the role of the counselor to make the individual become aware of things that he may have been unconscious of.  The counselor’s role is to point out the perceptions and behaviors which may serve as obstacles to achieving self-actualization.


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