All Paths Lead To The Person
A half century ago I came to La Jolla to walk by the side of persons who offered an alternative path for psychologists. A positive path. A soft path. A path with heart. A person-centered path that, for me, has wound ‘round the world, exploring the myriad manifestations of personhood in humanity and beyond to all living beings.
In celebration of CSP’s 50th Anniversary, Will Stillwell has given us the gift of his inspired work – Psychotherapy of Carl Rogers: How It Seems To Me – an intimate look into the personal approach to psychotherapy taken by that man – Carl Rogers. Thanks to Will for finding the perfect place to begin our exploration of the diverse person-centered activities that have emerged from Center for Studies of the Person during our first half-century search for wisdom & healing. While many CSP members have worked in fields other than psychotherapy, we’ve plied our trades with our own personal & professional adaptations of person-centered process.
If person-centered psychotherapy is the foundation on which CSP was built, I’d venture to say that my person-centered path has moved the farthest from that original therapeutic base. For over five decades I’ve roamed six continents and lived in countless cultures investigating, innovating, and promoting person-centered social synergy in humanity and among all organisms. Today, as we face chaos throughout civilization and the biosphere induced by human biodominance, I’ve committed to devote the time I have left to illuminate universal personhood and support person-centered restoration of Biosynergy – the synergy of all living beings.
I met Carl Rogers in 1967 while finishing doctoral research on the neuropsychology of drug abuse and addiction at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric & Brain Research Institutes. When I learned Rogers was about to conduct a weeklong Encounter Group with clinical psychology grad students, I decided to crash the party. Despite having spent six years with laboratory animals, my human empathy and authenticity impressed Carl: he suggested I apply for a postdoctoral fellowship with him. Six months later I was an NIMH Fellow at Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI). As a behaviorist who had implemented UCLA’s first laboratory course in animal learning and induced experimental alcoholism in monkeys, adopting Rogers’ positive person-centered approach was a profound professional and personal revolution.
I was ready! In my encounter group with Carl at UCLA, I had told with teary eyes how a research monkey I’d been tormenting with brain implants and shock training for years had escaped his cage. He was perched atop a bookshelf making a fierce threat display as I entered the lab. He recognized me, leapt into my arms and held on like a child holds his father. I told Carl and the UCLA group how this had driven me to stop experimenting with primates. Later I told my CSP friends how empathy for and recognition of the positive personal core of other animals had made me leave the laboratory, turn
down a professorship in comparative psychology, take the WBSI postdoc, and move from reductionist behaviorism to holistic humanism.
During CSP’s first 15 years I was asked to facilitate in scores of situations calling for person-centered approaches to individual, social, and organizational change. I adapted person-centered psychology to preventing drug abuse on Navy warships, celebrating community in Episcopal parishes, consolidating Forest Ranger Districts and Veterans hospitals, and installing a huge health-care quality-of-service program in 40 hospitals & clinics. All the while, I mused on the state of wildlife & nature.
In 1982 I took a break from working with urban humans to trek through Indonesia searching for wild great apes. In a Sumatran rainforest, once homeland to my late laboratory monkey, I had another interspecies epiphany – this time with a family of orangutans. They appeared on my third day trekking along narrow muddy paths through thick undergrowth under a lush 100-foot high canopy of hardwoods. By chance I stopped to rest, looked up, saw a splash of orange hidden in the green.
Like my escaped monkey, the apes perched above me; looked down from a huge fruit tree. Having never been captured, caged, or tortured by humans, they showed neither hostility nor fear. Mama with babe in arms and her youngster on a nearby branch stared at me with more than curiosity. I sensed a mutual longing to connect, and I cooed as I had done when greeting monkey friends 20 years earlier in the lab. Orangutan faces softened; their bodies shifted, leaned closer, into open airspace. Mama orangutan twisted a fig from the vine above her and gently tossed it down to me. That invitation to share fruit sent my mind whirling, my heart beating, my tears falling. I realized why people across the Indonesian archipelago called these great ape cousins “Orang Utan – Person of the Forest.” We are all kindred spirits!
Two months later I returned to Los Angeles and told my staff at Kaiser Permanente that I’d be leaving. Two years later I was out of the corporate world, tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda, following the path to personhood for all living beings.