On becoming unbecoming


Ill at home. Chest infection that has moved to the head. Reading through a text on models of psychopathology and interventions associated with them. In a section on the humanist counselling of Carl Rogers, the person-centred approach, I came across this quote from one of his defining statements, On Becoming a Person :

It is the urge which is evident in all organic and human life- to expand, to extend, to become autonomous, develop, mature- the tendency to express and activate all the capacities of the organism, to the extent that such activation enhances the organism or the self.

This is what Rogers referred to as the actualising tendency. It forms the bedrock of the person-centred approach to counselling. What I said above is also known as humanist counselling.

But is this identification with Rogers with humanism to quick? Is it really the case that Rogers is a straight up humanist? After all, the text clearly states that the actualising tendency exists in all organic life, among which humanity must be counted as only one kind. If we take this apparently essential element of Roger’s seriously then we must take it as a full ontological claim.

In Roger’s world human beings, flowers, microbes, cellular systems, tissues and so on all possess this ‘actualising drive’. The actualising drive is an urge immanent with the organic. Everything organic seeks to make itself more, to overcome itself, to exhaust all those potentialities most beneficial to it.

If this is what the Rogersian theory is really claiming then counselling, psychotherapy and psychology (all fields that Rogers worked in) can all be carried out- at least in principle- on animals and possibly other forms of life. This is a vitalism… perhaps even an extendable to being an animism.

I wonder how you might counsel a depressed fungus? Could this morph psychogeography in geopsychology? Can we literally speak of weeds in the pavement as being insurgent? Is there an equivalent to Jungian Archetypes nestled in the collective unconscious of the Earth? Are we, that conscious organism, the returning repressed- the symptom- of our ‘natural world’? Biochemistry as the behaviourism of the processes of life. The vastness of some ecological unconscious. The psychopathologies of Life as such. The personhood of the bacteria in the clouds. The neuroses of woodlice under bark and ants under foot.

A question arises. Rogers speaks of ‘the urge’ in the singular. Does each singular organic being actualise itself in this way? Or is this ‘urge’ (itself an ambiguous terms resting on the threshold of desire and drive) immanent to the horizon of life itself?


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