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4 Personal Reflections on Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center in Chicago—A Case Study

4 Personal Reflections on Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center in Chicago—A Case Study

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4 Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center in Chicago—A Case Study

direction of the discussion, and yet relevant because they dealt directly with the

topic at hand. That’s the power of person-centered leadership. But that brand of

leadership can be distributed among all the members of the group, though it helps if

some individual or individuals can model that for the others.

In our Western culture, especially in management, humanistic or otherwise, it is

hard to imagine a totally leaderless group, though the dynamic of leadership can be

pervasive among its members. The most powerful concept we got from Carl Rogers

was that any group that did not deal with the underlying emotional dynamics of all

the members would be unlikely to reach its maximum potential as a functioning

group. In other words, attending to the people-oriented agenda in an appropriate

way is vital for succeeding as a group, team or organization.


So How Can Leaders Transform Their Organizations

for the Best of Their Members’ Growth

and Organizational Success?

Here is a quote from David Ryback’s book, Putting Emotional Intelligence to

Work, recalling some of the talks David had with Carl while walking the beach

behind his home in La Jolla:

“So at each step of the way,” I say, “the employee needs, or at least could use, honest

feedback—less hierarchy and more understanding feedback.”

“You see,” now Carl is beginning to show signs of excitement, “that’s where the magic

comes in—that special feeling when two people are really communicating, when the formality is given up anda real sharing is taking place, so both people are learning.”

“What’s the boss learning?” I ask, knowing the answer, but wanting to hear it in Carl’s own


“The magic of careful attentiveness to someone whose welfare you care about,” he says

with that special glint in his eyes, articulating the elegant simplicity of his theory better than

an armful of textbooks. “If that employee really feels listened to and understood—deeply

understood—then he will work to the best of his ability, be eager to grow and will feel

intensely loyal to his company.”

Feeling listened to and understood are the keystones to this new way of management. This may sound so extremely easy, however, as you, the reader, may have

experienced, can pose a real challenge, if the understanding is to be comprehensive,

covering what really matters to this person in the context of the organization in this



Humanistic Management

In our view, the best humanistic leaders are those with the least ego issues. The best

humanistic leaders are not ambitious for power or attention. Rather, they are

4.4 Personal Reflections on Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center …


fulfilled by the dissemination of power and attention among the group, in a way that

feels fair, relevant and authentic. They tend to query others as to their ideas and

opinions rather than advertise their own and be more likely to appear hesitant and

ambivalent, even passive, as they survey all the resources in the individuals around

them. Humanistic leaders are busy giving up their leadership at every opportunity

(as did Rogers), but their “leadership,” at the core, is precisely their determination

to give each individual the safe space to risk revealing her/his option to act in a

responsible and responsive manner, to offer an opinion or solution to the matter at

hand, and, ultimately, to make themselves invisible in terms of power and attention,

except for the sensitivity and fair-mindedness so necessary to keep things going in a

humanistic direction.

Besides Rogers’ personal capacities, his trusting the staff, and sharing power,

some features stand out that contributed to the success of the Counseling Center at

the University of Chicago.


Keeping Interface Conditions

From the perspective of a hierarchical organization consisting of units or departments, the way Rogers and his team chose to interface with the rest of the organization is noteworthy. Rogers and his staff kept what we would call the “interface

conditions.” For the sake of being compliant with the administration of the rest of

the organization, they transferred their open, flexible practices to a few rigid documents. This way, they met the requirements of the organization on top, and not the

other way round, namely to interfere with the encompassing, traditionally administered, big organization. In brief, the “adaptation of practices at the interface”—

from the side of Rogers—served to comply with the rules of those in power.


Staff Meetings

Another essential feature were the staff meetings, in which all staff participated and

could bring up whatever they considered relevant. This reminds us of a community

meeting in the person-centered tradition that allows each to be transparent, open and

yet in a respectful tone und with a deep desire to understand the other. It is a means

to renew and strengthen person-centered attitudes and thus to advance personal,

interpersonal, and organizational capacities to move forward, whatever forward

may mean to each and their organization.



4 Carl Rogers’ Counseling Center in Chicago—A Case Study

Cooperation Over Competition

An essential dynamic was the setup that puts cooperation between staff members

and their moving forward on their own projects far ahead of competition.

Nevertheless, there must have been some degree of competition since resources

naturally were limited and not all staff could stay endlessly long. Also, there was no

competition—in the traditional sense—with the outside world, except for excellence and acknowledgement of research and practices and for acquiring research



Business Perspective

In any business, profit is essential if the enterprise is to survive. A humanistic

business not only survives in an economic world but also creates a working space

where all associates can enjoy the process of mutual togetherness in a way that we

were meant to be (Ryback 1998). Empathy is the lubricant that enables groups to

mesh and work together most effectively. The research reveals that such groups

make more money (Spencer and Spencer 1993), have less turnover (Spencer et al.

1997), get better ratings on their management styles (Lopes et al. 2006) and, most

important, find their work most meaningful (Rode et al. 2008). This, I daresay, may

be the wave of the future.


Person-Centered Attitudes and Skills

In our view there is, however, a characteristic that applied to the Counseling Center

that would be hard to achieve for other units: the very core for the “functioning”

and impact of the Person-centered approach, being the degree to which staff

members already had developed their person-centered attitudes and thus were able

to live them and to pass them on in the organization and beyond. Thus, we in the

next generation, we who want to promote and facilitate the Person-centered

approach that we have seen can bring about unbelievable transformation and result

in unbelievable productivity coming genuinely from the people without external

control or regulation—are left with a significant puzzle. How can we facilitate the

personal transformations needed in people to really function in a truly democratic,

truly person- or people-centered unit (if not organization) and bring about the

unbelievable creativity and productivity that Rogers managed to set free in his


Part of further elaborating on that question will be to listen and reflect to what

four colleagues-friends who embodied a humanistic leadership style experienced

and were willing to share in the subsequent four chapters.




Lopes, P. N., Grewal, D., Kadis, J., Gall, M., & Salovey, P. (2006). Evidence that emotional

intelligence is related to job performance and affect and attitudes at work. Psychothema, 18,


Rode, J. C., Mooney, C. H., Arthaud-Day, M. L., Near, J. P., & Baldwin, T. T. (2008). Ability and

personality predictors of salary, perceived job success, and perceived career success in the

initial career stage. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 16(3), 292–300.

Rogers, C. R. (1978). On personal power. London, UK: Constable.

Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Rogers, C. R., & Russell, D. E. (2002). Carl Rogers the quiet revolutionary an oral history.

Roseville, CA: Penmarine Books.

Ryback, D. (1998). Putting emotional intelligence to work (p. 28). Boston:


Spencer, L. M., McClelland, D. C., & Kelner, S. (1997). Competency assessment methods. Boston:


Spencer, L. M., & Spencer, S. (1993). Competence at work. New York, NY: Wiley & Sons.

Chapter 5

Chairing the World Association

for Person-Centered and Experiential

Psychotherapy and Counseling

Jeffrey H.D. Cornelius-White


Introduction and Context

This case reveals the purpose, goals, and structure of the World Association.

Subsequently, I share my experience as serving as a chair, focusing on surprisingly

powerless leadership activities, virtual communication around the world, and

reflections on the effects of person-centered leadership.

The World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and

Counseling (WAPCEPC) is dedicated to promoting person-centered and experiential perspectives internationally. Its purpose is to serve as a forum for fostering

exchange of research, theory, and practice and stimulates cooperation and dialogue

with other psychotherapeutic orientations. WAPCEPC operates under specific

principles that relate to person-centered and experiential approaches and an openness to development and elaborations from those. It operationalizes goals related to

cooperation between organizations, supporting individuals, promoting related scientific study, and sociopolitical processes, including an international conference and

high-quality journal (WAPCEPC 2000).

The structure of WAPCEPC consists of individual and organizational members,

regional chapters with various committees and individuals to oversee different

functions, all operating within the contexts of statutes and bylaws. There are about

505 individuals and 35 organizations (WAPCEPC 2012). The general assembly

occurs once every two years at the biannual conference. The board reports on

specific topics to the general assembly and requires a vote for any change to the

bylaws or significant new venture. The board stewards the organization in the

interim and proposes policies to implement decisions of the General Assembly, and

a part time paid administrator oversees routine daily tasks. The board includes a

chair, treasurer, and secretary and can include up to nine people by statute though

With reflections by Renate Motschnig and David Ryback

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

R. Motschnig and D. Ryback, Transforming Communication in Leadership

and Teamwork, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45486-3_5



5 Chairing the World Association for Person-Centered …

other roles are often frequently held and shared by board members, such as

newsletter editor and liaison to the conference organizing committee. A conference

organizing committee, a scientific committee, auditors, election committee, and/or

small groups provide specific functions.

WAPCEPC publishes an indexed journal, Person-Centered and Experiential

Psychotherapies with over 2000 subscribers in both print and online versions. The

journal is led by a team of co-editors and includes dozens of reviewers and other

persons (book review editor, copy editors, language reviewers, etc.) who help

solicit, mentor, and publish authors’ work.


Leader Actions, Failures, and Successes

I served on the board of the WAPCEPC from 2006–2010, two terms, and as chair

from 2008–2010, one term. What did I say and do? A lot. There were thousands of

email communications. Including some I’m proud of and some I’m not. I want to

highlight a few themes related to my time as chair: serving the principles and

guidelines of the organization, communication frequency, means, and quality,

interdependence and facilitation.


Servant Leadership

The first thing I felt like I learned was that leaders have limits. In a large, democratic

organization like the WAPCEPC they are meant to serve more than they are to

initiate. This is an inversion of typical visions of what it will feel like to be a leader,

or even what it has felt like to me to be a leader in other contexts, including

person-centered context. I saw my purpose as chair of WAPCEPC to serve the

organization, which means to follow the voice of the general assembly and follow

the principles of the bylaws and statutes. As a chair, a difference from being an

individual member, organizational member representative, and board member, I felt

a responsibility to understand and uphold the tenets, to represent in essence the

bylaws and statutes as a party in each discussion and activity. This resulted in

leadership that felt “bad” to me because it was not clearly fostering the people

around me, but essentially helped the integrity of the organization; it was a

responsibility to a role, a contrast to the person-centered value of not playing roles,

and being true to oneself. When board members threw out ideas or developed plans

to further the aims of the organization, I felt like a naysayer to initiatives by board

members, a devil’s advocate, voicing the limitations of the board as essentially a

group meant to follow through on plans and suggest new plans to the General

Assembly more than to lead or initiate directly. While I tempered my view during

my term through the influence of others, my first learning was that person-centered

leaders have a different constituency than other persons in person-centered organizations, the constituency of limits.

5.2 Leader Actions, Failures, and Successes




There was an enormous amount of email communication in the board, particularly

during my time as chair. The second thing I want to highlight is that email communication is a poor way to realize the core person-centered attitudes. A small

study by Grafanaki (2001) found that they were all three primarily communicated

nonverbally, not verbally (from three times as much with empathy to 23 times as

much with congruence). I learned this the hard way. I saw myself and others, who

are frequently seen as experts at listening, do a poor job of listening within this

email context. And once that poor listening occurred, resolving conflict through

email was even harder. We did result to telephone and Skype conversations at

times, which were pretty successful, but probably lost potential potency and productivity of board members through these failures. On the plus side, the board did

recommend to the General Assembly and the future boards to have and to fund

more regular face-to-face meeting through Skype and in person, in part to increase

the likelihood of person-centered communication.



The third theme is about interdependence. Any group of people functions best when

leaders are so transparent and facilitative that they become invisible. This may seem

a contrast to the two themes above, but it should seem right at home in a discussion

of person-centered practice. Leaders are chiefly facilitators, persons who listen well,

and help empower those they work with to become who they can be and help foster

a group’s goals through individual visions and actions. In this sense, I feel humbly

indebted to the other board members I served with. It was a privilege to serve with

them and see how the complementary functions of a group, despite and at times

because of conflict, release wisdom and inspire others. In particular I want to

acknowledge the other chairs of the WAPCEPC.


Other Chairs

Elke Lambers had served as chair from 2000–2008, three terms, the limit, and

provided invaluable motivation, responsibility, stability, clarity, and insight to the

organization and to me. Susan Stephen served on the board from 2008–2014, three

terms, and was chair from 2010–2013. Susan epitomizes diplomacy. Patricia

McCann, on the board since 2012, two terms, and serving as chair from 2013 to the

present, currently fosters the aims of the organization. I invited each of them to

share a few words of wisdom with two of them providing some impressions in

Figs. 5.1 and 5.2.

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