Being Carl-Rogered

I was in graduate school, finishing a degree before moving back east. I was going through a bad emotional time, from various post-adolescent causes: an order to report for a draft physical (the Vietnam War was getting started), a girlfriend at the start of her descent into schizophrenia, the death of my father some months before, and a job I was heading to that I was sure I would hate.

It seemed like a good time to go to the university’s counseling center for some kind of therapy. I had a single session there with a social worker, which made me feel a lot better; she also advised me to seek help when I got settled in the East.

I told my friends about the session, which consisted mostly in her repeating, sometimes with rephrasing, the things I said.

They pointed out that this was the Carl Rogers technique. Rogers, in fact, had set up the counseling center when he was on the faculty at the university. I had known that, but didn’t realize it while the session was taking place.

Some years later, I referred to the Rogerian method in my writing. Here is an excerpt from my play “Celebrity”:

GLORIA

I even tried psychotherapy. But it was some kind of Carl Rogers therapy—the therapist just repeats what you say.

 BARNEY

He repeats what you say.

 GLORIA

Yes, and that gives validation to your feelings.

 BARNEY

It validates your feelings . . .

 GLORIA

But I started to wonder if it was doing any good.

 BARNEY

You didn’t know if it was good for you . . .

 GLORIA

Stop!

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