Eis o texto prometido na íntegra, datado de 1991.
Denigrating Carl Rogers: William Coulson's Last Crusade
This article reviews William Coulson's assertions that Carl Rogers,
AbrahamMaslow, and he initiated the humanistic educationfield, that
Rogers repudiated his philosophy late in life, and that they owe the
nation's parents an apology.The author argues that these chargesare
groundlessand self-servingand providesexamplesand quotationsfrom
Rogers's later writings to show how Rogers remained constant to his
basicperson-centeredbeliefsuntil his death.
We often assume that the fields of counseling and education
advance primarily through the development of new
approaches, their systematic evaluation, and the publication
of these results in professional journals. Although it may
take a generation or longer, presumably the soundest and most
effective approaches eventually work their way into common
prctice. Meanwhile, busy teachers, counselors, and school administrators
do their best to keep abreast of the latest research
and practice and introduce new approaches based on these
The work of William Coulson illustrates another approach to
influencing the direction of education and counseling practices
in the schools and society. Coulson, until recently a professor in
the School of Human Behavior at U.S. International University in
San Diego, does not publish in the leading professional journals
nor speak at major professional conferences. Instead, he takes his
brief on the educational practices he advocates or condemns
directly to the public. He sends lengthy "memoranda" and letters
to school boards, federal drug education curriculum panels, and
parent organizations around the country. He testifies before
legislative committees on education and drug abuse. He appears
regularly on radio and television talk shows in localities where
controversy has arisen over school programs. In May, 1990, he
appeared on the nationally televised "Today Show."
Some of Coulson's memoranda and correspondence are written
on his university letterhead. Others give his affiliation as the
Research Council on Ethnopsychology and are copyrighted by
the "Center for Enterprising Families." Still others are on the
letterhead of his own family enterprise "Coulson and Sons-the
Ethnopsychology Institute." In all these capacities and through
this multifaceted approach to communicating his views, in recent
years William Coulson has become nationally prominent as one
of the leading critics of humanistic psychology, affective education,
and drug prevention programs. He has vocally and often
successfully opposed many excellent education and drug abuse
prevention programs in local school districts around the country.
Ironically, he has done so while proclaiming himself to be one of
the leading founders of humanistic, psychological education in
the United States.
In the process of critiquing affective drug abuse education,
Coulson has frequently invoked the name of the late Carl R.
Rogers (1902-1987), stating unequivocally that Rogers changed
his thinking late in life and renounced his belief in personcentered
methods and affective education. Because Rogers is
considered by many to be the most influential figure in the history
of counseling (see Heesacker, Heppner, & Rogers, 1982, and
Smith, 1982), and because no one else has made such an assertion
about Rogers, this is a most significant claim by Coulson. This
article attempts to counter Coulson's arguments about Carl
Nobody is a more vehement evangelist than a converted sinner,
which is how WiIIiam Coulson describes himself these days. This
is illustrated by the following brief selections from his many
writings and interviews.
I helped Carl Rogers and Abe Maslow c'Ookup the field of
Humanistic Education. (1989, February)
Rogers, Maslow and I set up the series and did the original
experimental tests on humanistic education. .. By 1970 Rogers
and I were trying to get the word out that it [humanistic
education] was leading to the collapse of institutions and harm
to children. One of the harms it was doing to children was that
it was getting them worked up in class so that they couldn't
function intellectually anymore. (1989, February)
Rogers and I experimented with classroom adaptations of
humanistic therapeutic principles-active listening, I-messages
and unconditional acceptance-and found them destructive of
mind. (1988, April, p. 2)
Rogers, toward the end of his life (in a 1983 book), called the
whole series of experiments with humanistic education that
we're involved in, a pattern of failure. (1989, February)
If anyone would bother to read their [Rogers's and Maslow's]
later writings, they'd find the three of us were in agreement.
Carl Rogers died last year. He and I and our project
teammates owe the nation's parents an apology. .. (1989, April,
These quotations represent an unconscionable distortion of
Carl Rogers's views, a revisionist history widely circulatep by
Coulson that has no basis in truth. Although I am not familiar
enough with Maslow's work to comment on his alleged evolution,
as author of the biography On BecomingCarl Rogers
(Kirschenbaum, 1979) and co-editor of The Carl Rogers Reader
(Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1989a) and Carl Rogers:Dialogues
(Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1989b), I am concerned that
Coulson's inaccurate statements about Rogers have gone unchal-
JOURNAL OF COUNSELING & DEVELOPMENT. MA YIJUNE 1991. VOL69 411
.I~iiIi! :' Kirschenbaum
lenged. As a consequence, as time has passed, his claims about
Rogers have become increasingly outlandish and damaging. It is
time to set the record straight.
In Coulson's (1973) book, A Sense of Community, he described
his initial relationship with Carl Rogers (in 1963). He was a
research fellow under Rogers at the University of Wisconsin for
one semester and a summer session, but Rogers was away most
ofthat time. When Rogers left Wisconsin that year for the Western
Behavioral Sciences Institute in California, Coulson said, "1asked
if I could come along" (p. 198), and in California, "I floundered;
conditioned to the structure of long years in school, without
Rogers' own well-internalized set of good work habits, I loafed
for the year until my money ran out. But I mean I got away with
it. Self-declared,Eellow of the Institute, I had the freedom to . . .
fail if I would-as for some time I did. . . and slowly to find my
way to my own productivity. . . . By the time the encounter
project peaked in the fourth year of our WBSI holiday, more than
sixty of us were associated in this work" (p. 76).
Eventually Coulson did become a close colleague of Rogers
(e.g., Coulson and Rogers, 1968); however, as the previous sentence
indicates, he was but one of Rogers's many colleagues and
collaborators. His claim that Rogers, Maslow, and he "cooked
up" humanistic education is patently absurd. While Rogers was
a leading light, many individuals developed the humanistic education
movement, most of them working simultaneously and independently.
Confluent education, values education, creativity
education, achievement motivation, group dynamics in the classroom,
and many other 'aspects of what later came to be called
"humanistic education" were getting underway when Coulson
met Carl Rogers. Winkelman (1969) and Read and Simon (1975)
offered two collections of early writings by other authors who
were also forerunners in affective education. Although Rogers
pioneered the use of the encounter group technique in the classroom,
again he was not the only one to do this; the National
Training Laboratories was engaged in similar experiments
(Bradford, Gibb, & Benne, 1964). Most of the other branches of
humanistic education were much more structured than Rogers's
student-centered approach and employed many specific activities
and curricula developed for use in schools and other
The self-aggrandizement in Coulson's fantasy of a Rogers-
Maslow-Coulson triumvirate is apparent. The assertion that
Rogers seriously altered his thinking in later years is more
serious, but equally spurious. I know of only two ways inwhich
Rogers eventually modified his educational views in a more
conservative direction; in other respects, he became even more
radical as he got older. First, he eventually introduced a little
more structure into his own classes. He wrote (Rogers, 1969):
ten or fifteen years ago, I probably would have given the group
even more freedom, presenting them with the opportunity (and
the task) of constructing the whole course. I have learned that
this arouses a great deal of anxiety, and a great deal of
frustration and anger directed toward me. ("We came to learn
from you!" "You're paid to be our teacher!" "We can't plan the
course. We don't know the field.") I am not sure that this
resentment is necessary. Consequently, whether out of
cowardice or wisdom, I have come to provide enough limits
and requirements, which can be perceivedas structure, so that
students can comfortably start to work. . . (p. 73)
The new structure he provided was still quite minimal. He
typically distributed an optional reading list, gave a few assignments
(e.g., come to class, keep a journal, write a final paper or
a subject of your choice), and indicated a willingness to lectun
occasionally or do a demonstration if the students requested it
Other than that, he did not change his style or his views. He stil
typically refused to set the agenda for the class sessions. HE
encouraged the students to set their own goals. He spoke only,
small percentage of the time. When he did speak, his mair
responses to the students were "Rogerian" empathic responses
He avoided giving grades if at all possible. In short, other than,
few modifications, "so that students can comfortably start t(
work," Rogers remained as "student-centered" as ever.
Ironically, considering Coulson's charges, if Rogers had an)
critique of humanistic education as he got older, it was that thE
field had too many structured programs and activities. He advo.
cated that teachers (he preferred to call them "facilitators") giVE
their students even morefreedom in designing and implementin~
their education. To his death, he remained on the more extremE
side of the humanistic education field.
The second way Rogers somewhat tempered his thinking wa!
that he did recognize one "pattern of failure" in his work. HE
noticed that his and his colleagues' attempts to use the encounteJ
group technique as their main intervention with entire facultie!
(such as Immaculate Heart College and the Louisville Public
Schools), in order to change the educational system of that institu.
tion, did not work in the long run. Although short-term excite.
ment and improvements could be observed, in the end, thE
turmoil, dissention, and backlash this approach created left thE
institution in a sorry state. In On BecomingCarl Rogers (Kirschen.
baum, 1979), I noted how Rogers's almost exclusive use of thE
encounter technique for system-wide innovation was naive and
showed an ignorance, or at least an ignoring, of the entire growing
field of organizational development. Eventually Rogers realized
the problem and noted this specific "pattern of failure"
(Rogers, 1983, p. 227).
When Coulson uses the words pattern of failure to claim that
Rogers repudiated his basic educational philosophy and
methods-repudiated much of his life's work-he neglects tc
point out ,that Rogers was descri~ing only the failure of a particularinterventioninaparticulartyPeofcircumstance.
episode in Rogers's (and Coulson's) career took place in
the early 1970s. For the next 15 years, until his death in 1988 at
age 85, Rogers continued to advocate his earlier views.
"In Retrospect: Forty-Six Years" (Rogers, 1980) would have
been the perfect opportunity for Rogers to express his regrets,
because that essay addressed "What does such a psychologist
think about as he looks back on close to a half-century of study
and work? . . . What is my own current perspective on these
years, thinking both about my professional life and its various
periods of development and change?" (p. 47). In the entire essay,
there is not even a hint of the re-evaluation Coulson claims. On
the contrary, Rogers summarized, '1 recognize that... my whole
approach to persons and their relationships changes but slowly
and very little in its fundamentals" (p. 67).
In 1986, the year before he died, Rogers (1986) wrote:
What do I mean by a client-centered, or person-centered,
approach? For me it expresses the primary theme of my whole
professional life, as that theme has become clarified through
experience, interaction with others, and research. . . . The central
hypothesis can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has
within himself or herself vast resources for self-understanding,
for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed
412 JOURNAL OF COUNSELING &DEVELOPMENT.MAYIJUNE1991. VOL.69
behavior-and that these resources can be tapped if only a
definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be
provided. There are three conditions that constitute this
growth-promoting climate, whether we are speaking of the
relationship between therapist and client, parent and child,
leader and group, teacher and student, or administrator and
staff. The conditions apply, in fact, in any situation in which the
development of the person is a goal. (p. 197)
In the same chapter, Rogers (1986) went on to name and
describe these three facilitative conditions: "genuineness, realness,
or congruence"; "acceptance, or caring, or prizingunconditional
positive regard"; and "empathic understanding."
These were the same three helping conditions he had advocated
for decades, and he still maintained that this approach actually
worked in the real world. He continued,
There is a body of steadily mounting research evidence that, by
and large, supports the view that when these facilitative
conditions are present, changes in personality and behavior do
indeed occur. Such research has been carried on in this and
other countries from 1949 to the present. Studies have been
made of changes in attitude and behavior in psychotherapy, in
degree of learning in school, and in the behavior of
schizophrenics. In general, they are confirming. (p. 198)
Finally, in a personal essay titled "On Reaching 85," published
posthumously, Rogers (1987) expressed a "private thanksgiving"
for many aspects of his long life. He wrote, "I feel deeply
privileged to have lived long enough to see the international
influence of my work" (p. 150). He expressed how rewarding it
felt to know that "Translated into more than a dozen languages,
my written words have touched the hearts and minds and lives
of more persons that I can imagine" (p. 152). He gave examples
of the work he had done to reduce intergroup conflict in many
troubled parts of the world, including Northern Ireland, South
Africa, Central America, and the Soviet Union, and wrote
I derive much satisfaction from knowing that, on a small scale,
we were able to demonstrate, in each of these tension-filled
groups, that meaningful dialogue could be established, that
conflicts could be reduced, that a more realistic mutual
understanding could emerge. We worked only on a test tube
scale, but we showed what was possible. Now the question is
whether there is the social will to multiply these efforts. (p. 151)
Such sentiments hardly sound like the writings of a man who
believes he owes the nation's parents an apology. In the writings
of his last decade, Rogers maintained his characteristic humility,
but one finds a totalabsenceof the doubts, regret, or renunciation
Coulson attributes to him.
On a radio talk show in San Antonio, Texas, where Coulson
(1989, February) was opposing the public schools' drug prevention
program, he wondered aloud why some people thought that
"I was trying to destroy the reputation of my dead colleagues
Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow." Why, indeed? In the halfcentury
career of one of America's most prolific psychologisteducators,
William Coulson found a single admission of fal-
Denigrating Carl Rogers
libility, took it out of context, and used itto distortthe truth about
Rogers's later thinking.
Ironically, when Coulson's ideas began to diverge from
Rogers's, Coulson tried unsuccessfully to convince Rogers of the
error of his ways. Valerie Henderson (personal communication,
June 30, 1989), initially Rogers's personal secretary and then his
colleague in his last years, recalled how Rogers, in his usual
accepting, trusting style, encouraged Coulson to speak for
himself. In a friendly, nondefensive manner, Rogers encouraged
Collison to publish his own ideas on why the humanistic
psychology-affective education movement was misguided and
even dangerous. Had Coulson done simply that, there would be
no need for this article. Professionals can agree to disagree. Little
did Rogers imagine that Coulson's crusade would become so
passionate and personal that it would lead him to distort the
memory of his former mentor, colleague, and friend.
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owes parents an apology. AFA Journal, 20-21.
Coulson, W. R. (1989, February 21). [Radio interview on San Antonio,
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(pp. 46-69) Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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Howard Kirschenbaum is an author and consultant basedin Raquette Lake,
New York. Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to Howard
Kirschenbaum, One Morgan Road, Raquette Lake,NY 13436.
JOURNAL OF COUNSELING & DEVELOPMENT. MA YIJUNE 1991. VOL. 69 413