Philosophical Roots of Person-Centered Therapy in the History of Western Thought Harry A. Van Belle, Ph.D.

This fact may account for its success in healing hurting people. and Continental Rationalism and Romanticism on the other. and especially toward the end of the article. which themes have inspired the members of this civilization throughout the ages. and Orpheus who explained the being and becoming of the world . called Verstehen.part thesis: 1) that the Person-Centered approach to therapy has roots as far back as the Greeks. Yet I see no other way to argue my thesis than to walk us through this history from the Greeks on up. Throughout this article I will have occasion to demonstrate this thesis. and 3) that this fact may account for the success of the Person-Centered approach in healing hurting members of that civilization. such as that of Copleston.Abstract In this article I argue a three. which included French Sensationalism. But to demonstrate the validity of my thesis I will have to walk you. Philosophies of Ancient Greece The history of Greek philosophy starts with such mythological thinkers as Homer. Two new philosophical movements arose during the Modern period after the Middle Ages. In this article I want to argue a three-part thesis 1) that the PersonCentered approach to therapy has roots that go all the way back to the Greeks. It also describes the impact of the Christian religion on the history of Western thought during the Middle Ages. takes more than ten volumes to be told. and 3) that this fact may account for the success the Person-Centered approach has in healing hurting members of that civilization. it will become clear how deeply the Person-Centered approach is rooted in the history of Western thought. The article ends with a description of Nineteenth Century Anti-Positivism with its emphasis on the necessity of a unique hermeneutic method. 2) that it resonates with basic themes found in the history of Western thought. To demonstrate this thesis my paper offers a survey of relevant events in the history of Western thought. for the “human” sciences. 2) that it resonates with basic themes found in the history of Western Civilization. As we walk through the history of Western thought. Hesiod. My paper focuses extensively on the latter movements of Rationalism and Romanticism since these appear to have influenced the Person-Centered approach more than Empiricism and Sensationalism. which themes have inspired the members of Western Civilization throughout the ages. Many people believe that the Person-Centered movement has only a short history. It began in the mid-forties with Maslow and Rogers and is barely a halfcentury old. During this period of philosophy these were British Empiricism on the one hand. It describes the central theme of Greek philosophy as the relation between the indefinite and the definite. the reader through the entire history of Western thought from the Greeks to the present in less than twenty pages! This is difficult to do when one knows that even an abridged version of this history.

they said. It lacked a starting point. unknown cause. the father of medicine. starting with Thales they formulated a worldview in which the origin of the world was to be found in this world itself. orderly and predictable. 1998: 43-51) For Aristotle the relation between the definite and the indefinite in the world was governed by the distinction between form and matter. uncomplicated worldview. The empirical reality they daily experienced was far too colourful. The Greek Sophists who came after the Pre-Socratics tried to live their lives as if only those four stuffs were important. And he constructed a more familiar world of matter. far too indefinite for the PreSocratic Greeks. two-dimensional personality theory. (Kirk and Raven. It also helped Galen much later to construct his four-factor. Kok. Two worlds. 1983. (Armstrong. Plato did it by constructing two worlds. are the result of (re) combinations of four basic stuffs. the other. water and dirt. The things of the visible world we inhabit. To know these stuffs and how they combine gives a person a definite. So. mythological thinking involved Greek thought in infinite regression. caused by some other. They lie underneath the visible world like the subway of a big city. For one thing. All things. So the Sophists rejected this pattern for living out of hand as so much intellectualistic speculation. Kok. fire. not. predictable. They would do one thing one time and for no reason at all do something entirely different another time. 1963: 8-24) Mythological thinking was far too fuzzy. 1998: 31-38) This view of the cosmos helped Hypocrates.and everything in it as the result of the actions of the gods. Kok. So. to make his medical diagnoses in terms of four humors of the body. or eternal verities. But they found this Pre-Socratic world-and-life view much too definite and confining. variegated and complicated to be explained by some four-factor worldview. this mythological worldview completely lacked predictability. 1998: 38-43) After them Plato and Aristotle sought to include both the definite orderliness and the changeable. but a world where nothing is predictable or lasting. They emphasized the individuality of things and instead of logical thinking they promoted non-logical. 1963. the one definite. more aesthetic ways of relating to the world. because Hesiod taught that the gods also had come into being. which theory even more recent psychological luminaries as Wundt and Eysenck still found useful. a world where all is predictable and nothing ever changes. But for the Pre-Socratics who came after these mythologists this was a very unsatisfactory way of looking at the world. They valued the indefiniteness and unpredictability of human life. indefinite unpredictability of the world we live in into their magnificent cosmological. anthropological and epistemological thought constructions. 1983. a world accessible by thinking alone. Among the cultures of their time this was not an uncommon way of explaining why everything that exists is the way it is. (Armstrong. (Kirk and Raven. those gods who were said to have caused the world to be were totally unreliable. accessible via sense perception. Moreover. where everything you believe depends on your point of view. Every thing in our world can be reduced to a combination of these four substances. he . a much more colourful world. a world of ideal forms. air.

to deny that one has a body and. is one of reason. to reach for contact and union with the Divine. The world of their time was in an uproar. (Armstrong 1983. But the most fundamental difference between these two mindsets relates to the direction they want human life to go. which has definiteness. who was believed to be eternally beyond this world. consist of indefinite. in the history of Greek thought the definite and the indefinite alternated in taking center stage. Thus. (Van Belle. It was a world of war. The acorn is destined to become an oak tree. but it is clear that for them order eventually gains the upper hand. marble can become a statue. but which also is a concept frozen in time. actual form. more specifically for the Neo-Platonist Plotinus. 1980: 111-112) Philosophies of the Middle Ages and the Impact of Christianity Probably the most shocking event after the Greeks in the history of Western thought was the entrance of Christianity into the Hellenistic world at the beginning of the Middle Ages. For the Hellenistic Greeks of that time. Kok. the meaning of human life was to escape this evil world. potential matter that strives to become definite. Ultimately.taught. by means of a life of asceticism and intellectual contemplation. they lost faith in the logically constructed world systems of these intellectual giants. The definite triumphs over the indefinite. for Christians the relation is one of love. 1998: 60-69) The relation between the definite and the indefinite has become a major theme in the history of Western thought subsequent to the Greeks. Greek thinking tends to be abstract. we find this theme back in the writings of Carl Rogers when he describes the relationship between a person’s self. That was not what the Hellenistic Greeks who came after Aristotle empirically experienced in their world. if Rogers has to choose between a definite. including its relation to human beings. Kok. This event was revolutionary because the Greek Mind and Hebraic-Christian Mind are quite different and in many ways opposed to one another. wood a chair or a table. Instead they opted for a more chaotic view of reality that was in keeping with their world of experience and they advocated a lifestyle of ataraxia or the escape from this chaotic reality. stable personality structure of the self and the more ambiguous process of the personal unfolding of the organism. For example. he chooses for the latter. To the Greek Mind the relation between the Divine and the world. Someone described Plotinus as a man who was ashamed of having a body. Or so I argue in my 1980 book. Hebraic-Christian thought is essentially concrete. 1998: 51-59) Hellenistic Philosophy It may be that Plato and Aristotle made room in their thought constructions for both order and chaos. between this self and a person’s experiential organism which is essentially indefinite but wiser than the self and is the principle of growth within us that constantly updates the content of the self to make it more in tune with current reality. The meaning of life for him. famine and sickness. and in that he personified the Hellenistic Greek Mind was . (Armstrong 1983. and orderliness as its main characteristic. So.

The aim of this highly intellectualistic exercise was to provide a rational ground for belief in the Christian God. The observable. 1998: 6973) The contrast between this view and the central teaching of the Christian religion is huge. I believe that this teaching about the importance of ordinary life. All you have to do is accept and receive it. (Copleston. evident things of this world were said to obstruct this process.49) This sentiment was evident in attempts by scholars like Anshelm and Aquinas to logically prove the existence of God. Duns Scotus by name. which fosters non-directivity and a receptive. the direction of the Christian Mind was downward to us. (Armstrong 1983. For the Greeks union with God was to be achieved by walking the difficult uphill life path of denial. blood and bones. The Church Fathers who were leaders of the early Church after the apostles had died were faced with two opposing sources of inspiration. However. The Person-Centered approach prizes life and other people as gifts to be received. Kok. To harmonize these two ways of living they formed a synthesis between NeoPlatonism and the Christian religion. The meaning of the Christian life is entirely defined by the incarnation of the Divine. It is in essence the idea that God becomes down-toearth. (The idea of) God became the most important reality in life. formulated his philosophy of Voluntarism. 1972: 17. It promoted a way of living that had as its aim to come to know that hidden God in our minds. dwells with us there. as whether God can create a stone so big that he Himself can’t lift it. and it counsels people to open themselves up to their experience as a way of healing themselves. (Copleston. takes on a body of flesh. which must be received as a free gift of grace is the essence of the Christian religion. Everything else had to fall into place around it. The direction of the Greek Mind was upward to God.literally out of this world. there are parallels here with a Person-Centered approach. 1972) To safeguard the freedom of God against the onslaught of this abstract theological type of reasoning another medieval scholar. in which the most important activity of life was the intellectual contemplation of the Divine. Greek Hellenism and Hebraic Christianity. historically grown medieval Christianity was anything but the ideal picture of the Christian life I have just sketched. In this way the central theme of Christianity asserted the fact that meaning is to be found in the everyday events of our ordinary lives. In this frame of mind God could only do what was logically possible. and like us. earnestly debated by the medievals. This way of thinking about God produced such logically unsolvable problems. By entering this world God comes down to us and lives in the neighbourhood. This had as an effect that the lives of the members of the Church during the Middle Ages became more Neo-Platonic than Christian. But paradoxically. It restricted the freedom of God. listening attitude to life rather than one of manipulation. and in effect becomes matter. To get it takes no effort. who was principally hidden from view. it had as a result that it made this God subject to logical necessity. and extra-ordinary. in which he placed the will of God . Neo-Platonism turned medieval Christianity into a world-avoiding religion. Christians view union with God as a free gift of grace. And again.

of unconditional positive regard. we say. while it supersedes the bound of reason. non-directivity. the recognition that people are free. When Scotus formulated his philosophy of Voluntarism he appealed to Augustine. To understand human beings one must know what motivates them. we might say. the Person-Centered approach argues that to be therapeutic. one must understand their internal frame of reference. Two intellectual movements dominate that period. at least it does in romantic love. of course. This kind of love is also spontaneous. individuality. is not arbitrary because it is rooted in love. is the fact that they possess qualities that we lack. i. or non-reasoning. By implication. It would be easy to view this debate about the priority of will versus reason between Anshelm and Aquinas on the one hand and Scotus on the other as yet another instance of the problem of the relation between the definite and the indefinite. In the same way. (Copleston. Historically these values of love. The thinking of human beings is governed by the choices they make. uncalculating and not thought through. To love someone entails that you have freely chosen for that person.e. What we love frequently is the otherness of others. The one is British Empiricism. Love also implies an awareness of the uniqueness of the other. He argued that God is free to do as he pleases. Scotus taught that the free will of God. Love is blind. spontaneity and intuition prompted Pascal. These qualities are also core values of a Person-Centered way of living and relating.above the reason of God. this doctrine of free will as transcending reason soon became applied to human beings as well by scholars of the Renaissance movement. which for our purposes also incorporates French . who lived some nine hundred years earlier and who is often called the last Greek thinker and the first Christian thinker. they taught. the debate points to the fact that there are two main sources of inspiration operative in the history of Western thought. some four hundred years after Scotus to exclaim that “the heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing. All of these characteristics we find in the Voluntarism of Scotus. In my view the idea of will is not of Greek origin but has HebraicChristian roots. Human beings are essentially free. The one flows from the other. I think this debate actually represented a clash between the Greek Mind and the Hebraic-Christian Mind. And. It is impossible to love on command. In any case. 1972: 225-229) Philosophies of the Modern Period: Empiricism-Sensationalism and Rationalism-Romanticism Next I will move to a description of the Modern period in the history of Western thought. Augustine taught that the relation of God to the world and to humanity is one of love. whether this makes logical sense or not. Love and free will belong together. But I think that there was something much richer and more profound going on in this debate. is one. will. must be rooted in unconditional positive regard. it was that. unpremeditated.” The debate between Anshelm and Aquinas on the one hand and Scotus on the other had as its result for the history of Western thought that in many ways reason and will came to be seen as each other’s opposites.

because human beings have the capacity to infallibly “represent” reality as it is. Thus. would be self-improvement. The other is Continental Rationalism and its rebellious offspring. Romanticism. Consequently. Modern philosophy was a philosophy that attempted to eliminate the input of tradition from philosophy and had as its other aim the self-perfectibility of human beings.e. which focused its attention on the acquisition of self-knowledge than to British Empiricism and French Sensationalism in which the focus was more on our knowledge of the world. as in the case of Empiricism. This aspect of emancipation through consciousness raising became much later in history the centerpiece of the philosophy of Marxism and of Psychoanalysis. which holds that clients know what is wrong and that under the right therapeutic conditions they have within themselves the capacity to resolve their personal problems through self-reflection. they also saw this reasoning process as a path of progress. Leibniz. Wolff and Kant had a number of characteristics in common. But it had its origin in Continental Rationalism. human beings need the help of tradition to be able to come to know what is true. or the capacity of “right thinking”. The belief of Continental Rationalism was that individual human beings could perfect themselves through self-reflection. .e. For the Christian thinkers that involved the authority of the bible or of Church doctrine. The other aspect of coming to know yourself in their view was that of “unifying plurality”. They viewed philosophy as the “sanitation of the soul”. the ability to “reason”. (Copleston. The adherents to Continental Rationalism. 1960: 40) Continental Rationalism The Person-Centered approach is primarily a therapy movement. They all thought of the activity of the mind as a form of therapy. They held that the inevitable result of this reasoning activity. provided they observe correctly. The path to self-knowledge was a path of liberation. i. By contrast philosophers of the Modern period held that human beings have within themselves the capacity to perfect themselves without the need for outside input. Via this activity mankind would be able to eradicate the errors of the past. so said these Rationalists. This conviction is similar to a core belief of the Person-Centered approach to therapy. Thinking for them was a process of internal housecleaning. For this reason it is more akin to Continental Rationalism. It also would not be hard to find echoes of this faith in liberation through self-reflection in the writings on Person-Centered therapy. For them the process of coming to know oneself was a process of “selfclarification”. Both these movements of the Modern period differed markedly from intellectual movements of the Middle Ages. if people chose to engage in it. Today we might call that the “integration of experience”. All of this is possible. Middle Age philosophers all taught that in addition to the capacity to think and to observe. provided they think straight and also.Sensationalism. of systematizing or “whole making”. of emancipation. For Renaissance scholars the process of coming to know truth required the authority of the Greek and Latin Classics as a necessary condition. like Descartes. i. The term we would use today is “consciousness raising”.

1902-1942. Descartes. The process is spontaneous and self-correcting. and perhaps for the first time in the history of Western thought. 1967: 23) Leibniz. 1714) The idea that human beings are active rather than reactive vis-à-vis experienced reality is a theme that is continued by both Wolff and Kant. who came after Descartes in time. 1713. (Leibniz. Leibniz. 1976. 1980: 74).1794) This theme of the constructive . Wolff and Kant viewed the process of self-improvement through reason. The second is that this process of coming to know oneself occurs entirely within the individual who does the reasoning. It is not informed by reality. It makes conscious what is below consciousness. According to Wolff the mind has the ability to represent reality. It may in some way be evoked. emphasized the fact that this activity of clarification is a process of self-perfection. “up to something” (Van Belle. The process of perception is a naturally ongoing. The first is that in its view the mind is always active rather than reactive. again perhaps for the first time in history. (Wolff. van Rappard. spontaneous growing process in all of us. (Descartes 1637. but it is never caused by the outside. Finally. At the start of this process there is much darkness about the answer to the question one is entertaining.soul sanitizing-error eradicating process occurs within (the internal frame of reference of) the client. This is the idea that human beings are always. Leibniz is also important for our understanding of the Person-Centered approach because he. who started the philosophical school of Idealism after Kant. Contrary to what the Empiricists taught. took this idea that human beings order their experience one step further and proclaimed that reality is a construction of the human ego. Fichte. We might say that this therapeuticemancipatory. 1960) We gain an even better understanding of the connection between Continental Rationalism and the Person-Centered approach to therapy when we look at how the principal representatives of this movement. In the same vein Kant proposed that the mind immediately orders incoming experience by means of a series of innate categories. With Leibniz. which at the same time is a consciousness raising process. it gains more and more clarity. the answer becomes so self-evident that it is impossible to doubt its validity. but constructive of reality. this process requires no external impetus to get started. (Copleston. to hold it before itself so to speak and by representing reality to organize it into a structured whole. The certainty one sought after has been achieved. According to Descartes this self-reflecting process moves an individual from a state of doubt to one of certainty. Fichte. nor is there an external criterion for judging whether the process is on the right track. the insight breaks through of a subconscious. But as the process proceeds.Two things must be added to make the initial picture of Continental Rationalism complete. stressed the idea that reality is essentially dynamic and perpetually growing. The solution to the problem one poses becomes more and more evident. Kant. By means of this thought process we actualize our potentials and integrate parts of ourselves into a unified personal whole. Perception is a process of integration. or even elicited from the outside. Leibniz called this process “perception”. van Rappard. in the words of Carl Rogers.

The motivation behind the views of Pascal and the Romanticists was a desire to stress the importance of caring. (Berlin. 1960:135. for example. or of unconditional positive regard for human life and human relationships. of spontaneity or of feeling and intuition. This love connection between will and love is important for understanding Pascal and also for understanding Romanticism. intuitively. The meaning most appropriate for the heart as an alternative to reason and logic was probably the meaning of intuition. “I think. of freedom. Romanticism That influence is even more pronounced in the thought world of the Romanticists. The reader will recall that Scotus posited the will as an alternative to reason and logic. They reacted negatively to the exclusive emphasis on reason and logic during the Modern period by both the British Empiricists and Continental Rationalists. It could mean the seat. 77-79. pre-logical. most of whom subscribed to some form of universalism and realism.149) Pascal. 1958: 153-174) There are things. but there are also things that can only be known by heart. who was a forerunner of Romanticism. pre-reflective. which can be known by means of logic. therefore I am”. had created a world that was cold and uncaring. Thus far my brief description of Modern philosophies. . It depends more on feeling than on logic. in their view. particularly that of the Renaissance philosophers with their emphasis on free will and the uniqueness of individual minds. (Copleston. I am!” There is no need in his view for a “therefore”. For him the knowledge of his existence was immediate. For instance in contrast to Descartes who said. His notion of the heart was deliberately ambiguous. or the instrument of love.nature of human experience became prominent in later periods of European philosophy. (Pascal. Recall further that this notion of will was rooted in love. stressed the importance of the heart as an alternative to reason in the pursuit of selfknowledge. (Van Belle. individual experience is immediate. The philosophies of the Modern period clearly betrayed the influence of late medieval thought. 1977) For Rogers too. 1662. who followed the Continental Rationalists in time and who were critical of their intellectualism. This form of knowing is an immediate. It had many meanings. 1980:34. But they were much more than a repetition of the Greek Mind. “I feel. This one-sided emphasis. one of the founders of Romanticism said. of will. Herder. spontaneous and a more authoritative grasping of the truth than insights that are obtained through logical analysis. The idea that reason occurs principally internal to the minds of individuals and is constructive of reality would have been foreign to the philosophers of Ancient Greece. To introduce the input of Romanticism into the history of Western thought we must go all the way back to Duns Scotus’ Voluntarism. pre-logical. Copleston. spontaneous grasping of the truth of a thing. In many ways these philosophies of the Modern period represented a revival of Greek thought with its emphasis on the importance of reason and intellectual pursuits.

Nor did they think much of cultures other than their own culture of Enlightenment. judgment and valuation. History is a Geisteswissenschaft. they did not value history as the study of past events since they considered past civilizations inferior to their own. He began his opposition by stating that our knowledge of physical nature is inferior. to be completely unsuited for the study of human experience. It also ignores completely other equally important psychological functions such as feelings. They viewed their time as the ultimate age of Enlightenment. Human life is a project. God made the world of physical nature. To human beings. and via sympathetic understanding. Anti-Positivism These Anti-Positivists were opposed to treating the human sciences as if it were identical to the natural sciences like physics and chemistry. we see our own lives “from the inside out”. as Dilthey was to call it later. literally a “science of the human spirit”. (Berlin. One unfortunate by-product of the exclusive emphasis on reason by both the Empiricists and the Rationalists was that they saw themselves as the pinnacle of social and cultural development. Thus. Human beings make themselves through history. which stated that one couldn’t really know something unless one has made it. or empathy we understand the lives of women and men in other cultures and other historical times as well. which views the human mind as one physical system among many fails to deal adequately with the higher functions of the mind like thought. The Romanticist who most strongly and effectively opposed the devaluation of history and culture by these Enlightenment philosophers was Vico. which Positivism was promoting. emotion and motivation. and second-hand compared to our knowledge of society and of history. However. 1977) The upshot of this development was that during the Nineteenth Century a group scholars who studied the “process of human self-creation” and who were disturbed by the inroads that Positivistic research methods were making into the human sciences began to argue that these human sciences needed their own method of investigation.174) I believe that an analysis of what Rogers means by “experience” would reveal its close affinity to this Romanticist notion of “intuition”. affects. of experimentation and statistical analysis. in fact excludes from the purview of psychology the very essence of human experience. history is the greatest science. He used a criterion of knowledge used regularly during the Middle Ages. to psychology for example. they argued. experimental approach. a natural scientific. They argued that an experimental approach. so only God really knows the natural world. So. The distinction between the “natural” and the “social” sciences started with Vico. a “social” science rather than a natural science. the physical world is given only as “brute fact”. Therefore. They considered the method of the natural sciences. As proof of their superiority they cited the scientific discoveries their culture had made in the physical sciences and elsewhere. We can only observe it “from the outside in”. said Vico. . History is the study of the process of human self-creation.

In order to describe what the Anti-Positivists meant by “understanding” I will introduce the technical term Verstehen. Verstehen The Anti-Positivists argued that the aim of the human sciences is not to experiment with human experience but to understand it. It is subjective. The structure of the mind is intentional. 1938: 27-35. The human person who does the experiencing is always up to something. it is true that Rogers was probably the first therapist to advocate and to practice empirical research in counselling and psychotherapy. 1983: 24-32). (Van Belle. In much the same vein Carl Rogers was later to suggest that there might be as many realities as there are persons. according to the Anti-Positivists the mind. and in particular of the psychology of Abraham Maslow. The elements of this experience can only be understood in terms of that whole. one could argue that this places him squarely in the Positivist camp. By contrast.g. integrated structural whole. or some kind of personality structure. so that a general theory of human experience is an impossibility. Thus. It generates experience. the elements of which are entirely determined by external forces. with his respect for the uniqueness of human beings. 40. a natural scientific. ideals and goals. it is unable to deal with what are possibly the most essential characteristics of subjective human experience such as spontaneity. and unpack the various meanings this term acquired in the development of Anti-Positivistic thought. human experience always presents itself to us as an organized. or to an “I”. or a mind. 79. 1985) Moreover. he was beyond a doubt an AntiPositivist. But the tools he used for this research. It deals with experience that is always connected to an individual subject. choice. Lersch. Finally. based on Kant’s distinction between practical reason and theoretical reason. For this reason an Anti-Positivistic approach to the study of human experience generated typologies rather than theories. etc. Polkinghorne. Thus. meaning and value. is always active. as manifestations of this holistic experience. imagination. (Polkinghorne.) quite clearly demonstrate that in terms of his basic intent.According to the Anti-Positivists reality as experienced by human beings is of an entirely different kind than physical reality. rather than objective experience. For one thing. 39. Furthermore. . 1960: 32. analysis of therapy protocol and the use of Q-sort. teleological or goal-directed and dynamic. purposes. experimental approach to the study of human experience is in the nature of the case compelled to view that experience as a mechanism of causal relations. the experience of one individual differs fundamentally from that of another. It is a structure of motives. (Muller-Freienfels. 68. For another. (e. 67. the study of these aspects of human experience has always been the central focus of Humanistic Psychology. 1983: 22) For him these were two different approaches to two different kinds of knowledge. which is the subject pole of human experience. creativity. Johann Gustav Droysen was the first to coin the term in 1858 when he contrasted Verstehen (understanding) with Erklaren (explanation).

Lersch.Verstehen first of all has the meaning which we already find with Descartes in Continental Rationalism. Specifically. literally “to experience along with”) that person’s experience. Psychotherapy is a process of self-clarification. values and meanings. 1960: 33. They are incomparably unique. Dilthey stated that to understand someone’s experience in the sense of Verstehen one must penetrate his spirit down to his structure of choices. or herself. Human experience. or “the life of the soul” as Dilthey quotes Thomas Reid to say. or the motives behind that experience. which determines the manner in which he experiences the world. (Muller-Freienfels. to understand a person’s subjective experience one must discover the reasons for.or personality diagnostics. Polkinghorne. the emotions. Clinical psychologists will recognize this method as a staple ingredient in psycho. 1938: 33. 1983: 23) The nomothetic approach aims to formulate general theories about human experience that are applicable to all human beings. This meaning refers to Wilhelm Windelband’s distinction between a nomothetic approach to the study of human experience and an idiographic method. The idiographic method is more typological and attempts to formulate personality descriptions of individual persons in an effort to clarify their unique way of experiencing the world.” What I have tried to describe so far is the manner in which one person attempts to understand another. By extension. (Copleston. (Polkinghorne. namely that of the “self clarification of the mind”. Another meaning of Verstehen is the one used by Dilthey. with or without the help of a therapist. The essence of understanding (Verstehen) a person’s experience (Erlebniss) is to empathize with (Nacherleben.” (Lersch. and acts the way she acts. To understand subjective human experience means to look for the activity of the will. Sensations and thoughts are viewed as the products of needs and drives rather than the results of the impact of external stimuli. purposes and ideals. what the experimental approach describes as quantitative differences between people in the method of Verstehen are viewed as really qualitative differences. When the focus is instead on a person attempting to understand him. 1960: 77) When one adopts “Verstehen” rather than “Erklaren” as a research method in the human sciences. It means that we identify a person’s personality. (1833-1911) His use of the term was probably the most influential in Anti-Positivism and is similar to the term hermeneutic method in biblical or literary interpretation. “ Now I know why this person looks at the world the way she does. From the point of view of idiography human beings differ radically rather than by degree. thinks the way she thinks. As used in the human sciences it views human experience as a text the meaning of which needs to be expounded. We see what we need to see and think what we want to think. which is . This means that the elements of human experience can only be understood or interpreted correctly in terms of the whole of human experience. the affects and the drives that determine our experience. this process is more likely to be called psychotherapy. one essentially attempts to understand what makes people tick. 1965: 371-372) The end product of such an exercise is that one can truthfully say. 1983: 26) Yet another meaning of Verstehen is based on the fact that human experience is always individually different. of self-understanding. “is not composed of parts…but is always and immediately an integrated whole.

Finally. to heal and to perfect themselves through self-reflection. to be a successful Person-Centered therapist one must love the ambiguity of therapy. Concluding comments By way of summary. or understanding others. To be non-directive. or person-centered because one believes that clients have the capacity to diagnose and to heal themselves. for both the definite and the indefinite in human experience. One must prefer the disorder of emotion to the order of logic. to be an effective Person-Centered therapist one must demonstrate one’s trust in others by acting with them as if they have a free will. The actions of a Person-Centered therapist must show his or her conviction that people have the ability and the right to choose in addition to having the capacity to reason. Continental Rationalism did. to practice Person-Centered therapy with success one must prize the otherness of others and believe in the importance of empathizing with. One needs to believe in the importance of indwelling a person’s personal frame of reference rather than logically dissecting his or her mind for expert treatment. The necessity of practicing unconditional positive regard represents the central core value of Person-Centered therapy. This is the legacy of Romanticism and Anti-Positivism in Person-Centered therapy. Romanticism had already stressed this point centuries ago. But this analysis of the various meanings of Verstehen illustrates most clearly what the Person-Centered approach means when it states that therapists must empathize with the internal frame of reference of their clients. In addition. none of these factors in themselves are likely to be therapeutic in Person-Centered therapy unless we add the action of unconditional positive regard. These are the central themes of Continental Rationalism and also of Person-Centered therapy. so did Romanticism. or client-centered. here on balance are some concluding thoughts on the connection between the history of Western thought and the Person-Centered approach. In my view this fact points to the significant influence of Christianity on this approach to therapy. and Anti-Positivism. Voluntarism taught that to Person-Centered therapists. The central aim of this approach to therapy is to understand clients from the inside out rather than from the outside in. But then. However. is necessary. as did Carl Rogers. or by following them wherever they want to go. Furthermore. Plato did. if one wants to be a Person-Centered therapist one must in some way believe in people’s capacity to sanitize. All great Western thinkers also attempted to account for themes from both the Greek Mind and the Hebraic-Christian Mind. . as would be the aim of a more Positivistic approach. Second. First off. and so did Carl Rogers.often healing for a person’s emotional life as well. for the Person-Centered therapeutic process is anything but linear and predictable. all great Western thinkers accounted for both order and chaos. But it is not a sufficient condition for therapy to occur. Aristotle did.

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