What are or what leads to mental health/psychological problems/difficulties?


‘Two Strong Influences upon Behaviour’

In his ‘Theory of Personality’ Carl Rogers emphasises the pivotal need of human beings for ‘positive regard’1 – to experience ‘attitudes’ such as ‘warmth, liking, [and] respect’ (‘Theory of Therapy, 206) or to feel accepted, valued, and loved. Rogers, also, notes the tendency in us to formulate certain strategies for, or conditions upon, how we might behave, such that if one is successful in employing such strategies, or behaving according to such conditions, then one sees oneself as deserving of value, warmth, respect, acceptance and so on (see, for instance, Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory (London: Constable, 1951) 499-500).2 Such strategies tend to shape one’s view or understanding of oneself (one’s ‘self’, ‘self-concept’, or ‘self-structure’ – see Rogers, ‘Theory of Therapy’, 200 & 223) and bear a strong influence upon how one actually behaves. Rogers also sees the needs, or the experience, of the ‘organism’ as another strong influence upon behaviour.3


Psychological problems arise when these two influences upon behaviour – the needs or experience of the ‘organism’ and one’s strategies for acquiring value, acceptance, love and so on – conflict. Such a conflict is a threat to the integrity of one’s strategies or conditions for acquiring value, acceptance and so on (one’s conditions of worth). Rogers writes that if ‘experience…incongruent with the self-structure (and its incorporated conditions of worth)’ is ‘accurately’ perceived then one’s ‘conditions of worth would be violated and [one’s]…need for…[positive] regard would be frustrated’ (‘Theory of Therapy’, 227). There is then a strong tendency to preserve the integrity of one’s strategies or conditions for worth, respect, acceptance and so on through

  • the ‘selective perception or distortion…and/or denial…of the experience’ of the organism (Rogers, ‘Theory of Therapy’, 227)
  • ‘perceiv[ing] in distorted or selective fashion’ or ‘unrecognis[ing]’ (Rogers, ‘Theory of Therapy’, 227) – ‘not “own”[ing]’ (Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy, 509) – behaviour motivated by the experience of the organism (and which was in conflict with one’s conditions of worth).


‘Some Characteristics of Mental Health/Psychological Problems/Difficulties’

  • ‘behaviour [is]…guarded, cautious, self-conscious’ (Carl Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory (London: Constable, 1951) 515)
  • ‘behaviour…not felt to be…part of the self’ but ‘dissociated from…and over which [one]… exercised no conscious control’ – ‘“I don’t know why I do it. I don’t want to do it but yet I do”’ (Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy, 510); ‘conscious control [is]…difficult’ (Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy, 511)
‘many elements of experience…cannot face…[-] fac[ing] them [is]…threatening to the current organisation of self’ and so must defend from – ‘cost of alertness of defence is great’ (Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy, 40 & 513)
  • unrecognised feelings; keep distant from subjective experience/implicit meanings
  • blocked internal communication
  • rigid personal constructs – seen as fixed facts; high incongruence/contradictions between what think and feel
  • unrecognised problems – ‘no desire to change’
  • avoid ‘close and communicative relationships’

(Adapted from Carl Rogers, ‘A Process Conception of Psychotherapy’ (1957), On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (London: Constable, 1961) 132-155 & Alan Walker, Richard Rablen, and Carl Rogers, ‘Development of a Scale to Measure Process Changes in Psychotherapy’, Journal of Clinical Psychology 16:1 (1960) 80-81.)


1Such a need, Rogers writes, is ‘pervasive and persistent’ in all human beings (‘A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-Centered Framework’, Psychology: A Study of Science, Volume 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context, ed. Sigmund Koch (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959) 223).

2Rogers calls such strategies or conditions ‘conditions of worth’ (see ‘Theory of Therapy’, 224).

3See also, for instance, ‘Theory of Therapy’, 222.