Carl Rogers' 19 Propositions
Tudor and Merry (2006: 98) define the 19 propositions as "the group of statements which, together, constitute a person-centred theory of personality and behaviour."
They represent how:
- Consciousness is experienced from the first-person point of view.
- Behaviour is a product of self-belief.
- A safe emotional environment is necessary for psychological change to take place.
Origins of the Term (First Use of the Term)
The 19 propositions are one of the three pillars of the person-centred approach, the other two being the seven stages of process and the six necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic personality change.
First presented in 1951 in Carl Rogers’ book Client-Centered Therapy, the 19 propositions are based on phenomenology.
In developing this part of his theory, Rogers drew on the work of other psychologists and on his own experience of counselling clients:
‘Taken as a whole, the series of propositions presents a theory of behavior which attempts to account for the phenomena previously known, and also for the facts regarding personality and behavior which have more recently been observed in therapy’ (Rogers, 1951: 482)
Rogers' Original List
1. All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the center.
2. The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual.
3. The organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field.
4. The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.
5. Behavior is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.
6. Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behavior, the kind of emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behavior for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.
7. The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.
8. A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self.
9. As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction with others, the structure of the self is formed – an organized, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the “I” or the “me”, together with values attached to these concepts.
10. The values attached to experiences, and the values that are a part of the self-structure, in some instances, are values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.
11. As experiences occur in the life of the individual, they are either, a) symbolized, perceived and organized into some relation to the self, b) ignored because there is no perceived relationship to the self structure, c) denied symbolization or given distorted symbolization because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.
12. Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are consistent with the concept of self.
13. In some instances, behavior may be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolized.
14. Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies awareness of significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organized into the gestalt of the self structure. When this situation exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension.
15. Psychological adjustment exists when the concept of the self is such that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or may be, assimilated on a symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of self.
16. Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself.
17. Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the self structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.
18. When the individual perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated system all his sensory and visceral experiences, then he is necessarily more understanding of others and is more accepting of others as separate individuals.
19. As the individual perceives and accepts into his self structure more of his organic experiences, he finds that he is replacing his present value system – based extensively on introjections which have been distortedly symbolized – with a continuing organismic valuing process
The 19 Propositions in Plain English
The 19 propositions are complex to read and understand, being written in 1950s’ philosophical language.
They can be decoded as follows:
- I make sense of myself, others and my world based on my own consistently changing experience.
- My sense of reality is unique, formed out of what I experience, and out of how I process and understand my experience.
- My entire way of being and doing arises out of my personal sense of reality.
- I behave as I do in order to meet my needs, as I experience and perceive them, and as I experience and perceive reality.
- I am emotionally present in my behaviour. My feelings are part of how I attempt to get my perceived needs met. What I feel now strongly depends on how important the need is.
- Part of my reality is my sense of self.
- You can adequately understand my behaviour only through understanding how I see myself and others in the world.
- My sense of self arises from my experiences and perceptions, especially from comparing myself with others, and from the opinions and judgements of others as I perceive them. My sense of self is fluid but includes consistent perceptions. I attach values to these perceptions.
- I have an innate impulse to care for myself, heal and grow. This includes seeking to keep myself safe and intact, and to realise my inner potential, becoming who I am capable of being.
- The values I attach to my experiences and how I value myself are based on my own experience but also include values taken and absorbed from others. I may be unaware of some of my values derived from others.
- There are a number of ways I can meet my experiences. I can make personal some of the meanings and integrate them into my view of the world. Or I can ignore them because they do not fit with how I see myself or the world.
- I usually behave in ways that are consistent with how I see myself. So if I believe that I have little value, I will behave as if this is true.
- Underlying needs and experiences that I deny or distort – or have not managed to make sense of – will tend to leak through in my behaviour. This behaviour may be less consistent with how I see myself. I am not likely to own this behaviour.
- When I disconnect from my own self, I will deny my awareness of my own experience, so it will be very difficult for me to make sense of the world and other people. This causes unease and tension (sometimes known as ‘incongruence’).
- When I am connected to my authentic being, I am able to be open to my actual experience – its immediacy and totality – and to integrate this into the world.
- I may find the experience threatening if it is inconsistent with how I see myself in the world. The more experiences I find threatening, the more rigid my sense of self becomes, and the more tightly I cling to my viewpoint.
- If I feel accepted and understood, I may be able to look at experiences I had previously denied. When there is this lack of threat, I can begin to make sense of myself. In this way, I am healing myself. (In this statement Rogers was referring to when a client experiences the core conditions in therapy.
- When I am able to hold in awareness and integrate all my actual embodied experiencing, I am inevitably more understanding and tolerant of others, and more able to understand the value of others and to accept them as separate beings.
- When I can reshape my view of the world and myself, and include previously denied experiences, I begin to reshape my values. I can let go of introjected values and become a fully functioning person, trusting in myself and my own experience.
How We Can Use the 19 Propositions
Merry (2014: 34) writes:
‘The nineteen propositions repay careful reading because together they provide us with an elegant theory of how and under what circumstances people change, and why certain qualities of relationship promote that change.’
Thus, they are of value to us as counsellors both in working with clients and in developing ourselves, since ‘part of the counselling journey, specifically in PD [personal development] groups, is about encouraging those elements of our personality that are invisible to us – perhaps not-for-growth elements of ourselves – to come into our awareness, challenging us to look at them’ (Kelly, 2017: 51).
Kelly K (2017) Basic Counselling Skills: A Student Guide. Warrington: Counselling Tutor
Merry T (2014) Learning and Being in Person-Centred Counselling, ROSS ON WYE: PCCS Books
Rogers, C. R., (1951). Client-Centered Therapy. London: Constable
Tudor K and Merry T (2006) Dictionary of Person-Centred Psychology, ROSS ON WYE: PCCS Books
Page updated Dec 2020