Freedom to Learn Section VI: The Philosophical and Value Ramifications (part three) – the goal: the fully functioning person

This chapter is unapologetically “cast in the framework of therapy” and attempts to answer the question: “What sort of human being do we wish to grow?” This is because “the best of education would produce a person very similar to the one produced by the best of therapy.” Therefore, Rogers wishes to formulate a theoretical concept of the optimal end-point of therapy, or education, which is open to operationalization.

1.   The background from which the problem is approached

Rogers is very clear that his perspective is of a completely successful experience of person-centred therapy, an intensely personal and subjective person to person relationship between client and therapist. This means that the therapist feels this client to be a person of unconditional self-worth, is able fully to empathise with the client and the therapist is comfortable in entering this relationship fully. The client is comfortable in the knowledge of being accepted unconditionally and feels able to experience his feelings fully and completely.

2.   The characteristics of the person after therapy

These are the personality characteristics that would develop in the client as a result of the experience of successful person-centred therapy. The description is unitary, but Rogers breaks it down into three facets for clarity of presentation.

2.1 This person would be open to his experience

This is the polar opposite of defensiveness. There would be no barriers, no inhibitions to fully living the experiences of the organism, no shutting them out of awareness.

2.2 This person would live in an existential fashion

Living without defensiveness, each moment would be new. The hypothetical person would realize that ‘what I will be in the next moment, and what I will do, grows out of that moment, and cannot be predicted in advance by me or by others.’ Self and personality would emerge from experience rather than experience being translated or twisted to fit a preconceived self-structure. “Such living in the moment, then, means an absence of rigidity, of tight organization, of the imposition of structure on experience. I means instead a maximum of adaptability, a discovery of structure in experience, a flowing, changing organization of self and personality.

2.3 This person would find his organism a trustworthy means of arriving at the most satisfying behavior in each existential situation

“He would do what ‘felt right’ in this immediate moment and he would find this in general to be a competent and trustworthy guide to his behavior.”

3.   The fully functioning person

Rogers pulls the threads together into one more unified descriptive strand. Whether from an optimal experience of therapy or education, the fully functioning person emerges, and is able to live fully in and with each and all of his feelings and reactions, sensing the existential situation within and without, unafraid of his feelings. “He is a fully functioning organism, and because of the awareness of himself which flows freely in and through his experiences, he is a fully functioning person.

Some implications of this description

Rogers presents some of the significant clinical, scientific and philosophical implications of his description of the fully functioning person.
A.   Appropriate to clinical experience – “…the concepts I have stated appear to be sufficiently broad to contain the positive outcomes of therapy as we know it.”
B.   Leads toward operational hypotheses – these are not easily tested concepts, however, measurability is possible.
C.   Explains a paradox of personal growth – the paradox is that the personal undergoing marked personal growth has a ‘looseness’, an openness, which some diagnostically-oriented psychologists might see as the person ‘falling apart’ – however, Rogers sees this uncertainty, even turmoil, within the self as part of the pleasure and satisfaction of being more fully onself.
D.   Creativity as an outcome – this fully functioning person could well be one of Maslow’s ‘self-actualizing people’; creative products and creative living would emerge from somebody so open and trusting.
E.   Builds on trustworthiness of human nature – “…the basic nature of the human being, when functioning freely, is constructive and trustworthy.”
F.    Behavior dependable but not predictable – although behaviour in any situation will be dependable and sound, it is not possible to predict in advance how the fully functioning person will behave - with an authority figure, for example.
G.   Relates freedom and determinism – Rogers contrasts the fully functioning person, who is free (to become himself or hide behind a mask, and so on) and the defensively organized person, who is not free, but determined by the factors in the existential situation (including his defensiveness, which denies or distorts his organismic data) – in this way Rogers can both enter subjectively the free experience of his client, as well as, as a scientist, study his behaviour as absolutely determined.

4.   Conclusion

Rogers describes the fully functioning person again, and then says that he does not exist. He is the theoretical goal, the end-point of personal growth – persons move in this direction in the right circumstances, causing Rogers to ask educators to think more deeply about their own goals, the chapter itself being a challenge to educators, should they disagree with Rogers’ description of the fully functioning person, to give their definition as part of a dialogue about education.