These three terms are a big part of what Carl Rogers is known for. They are the foundation of the relationship between counselor/therapist and client. He proposed (and backed up with lots of testing) that they are the most significant factors needed for a client to make progress and grow.
CONGRUENCE (Genuineness): It has been found that personal change is facilitated when the psychotherapist is what he is, when in the relationship with his client, he is genuine and without front or façade, openly being the feelings and attitude which at that moment are flowing in him.
UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE REGARD: When the therapist is experiencing a warm, positive, and acceptant attitude toward what is in the client, this facilitates change. It involves the therapist’s genuineness willingness for the client to be whatever feeling is going on in him at that moment—fear, confusion, pain, pride, anger, hatred, love, courage, or awe.
EMPATHY (Empathic Understanding): When the therapist is sensing the feelings and personal meanings which the client is experiencing in each moment, when he can perceive these from “inside,” as they seem to the client, and when he can successfully communicate something of that understanding to his client.
Christians often hear terms and definitions like this and react negatively, assuming it means “anything goes” and “I’m Ok, You’re OK,” and is a bunch of touchy-feely, wishy-washy, Postmodern lies.
Although Rogers was a Humanist/Modernist and turned away from the fundamentalist religion of his parents, he is not saying there is no right/wrong or good/bad. He is simply stating that for someone to grow, they must receive this. A person needs this kind of atmosphere to recognize who and where they are, so that they can improve, change, let go and move on. Why is that so scary?
I fear that too often, because of a well-intentioned love for Truth and distinguishing right from wrong, we don’t allow others or ourselves to start here.
Imagine if church were a place…
where people felt accepted instead of judged,
heard and understood instead of preached at, and
saw transparent preachers and elders and Christians.
How would that change things?
What if instead of hearing, “You’re a sinner, you need to repent/change or else!” they heard, “You know what, I am a sinner, too, and I really need Jesus.”
Can we do that as Christians? Without immediately moving to judge, change, fix, preach? Should we?
I had been reading (and posting here) Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr and saw a great connection between the two authors. Rohr, writing from a spiritual perspective, was saying similar things (perhaps influenced by Carl Rogers, I don’t know). Confession and Repentance come from a place of total honesty and transparency about our sin. The book deals with addiction and the 12 Step philosophy. Alcoholics must admit they are alcoholics and never stop admitting it even as they grow. What about Christians? Once I have been a Christian for 10-20 years, should I have it altogether and be “past” sin? Of course not, then why do we act that way. Why do we give off those kinds of signals to the lost world around us?
How can we ever allow God to change us if we are not honest with ourselves about our sin and our sinfulness? If we continue to wear masks around each other and lie to ourselves about how great we are–as individuals, congregations or the Church universal–will we ever change and grow?
I don’t know much about Carl Rogers’ spiritual or Biblical beliefs, or even his eternal salvation, but I believe he says a lot that the church of the 21st century needs to hear.