4.3 Areas of Divergence
Cohen (1997, 166) notes significantly that,
in his preparation for his dialogue with Buber, that Rogers “seems to have
ignored the Holocaust completely.” In
short, one can note a certain stubbornness on the part of the great
psychotherapist against looking at all at the reality of evil and human
|There's no arguing with a Rhino, Dublin Zoo, May 2012|
However, it is important to realise that both men were products of their differing social backgrounds. Rogers shows in his work and writings what we may term a Mid-Western Optimism of the 1950s America. This sheer optimism (almost at times saccharine with positivity) simply did not transmit well to Europe in 1940s and 50s which was still ravaged by the evils wrought by World War II. The positivity of Person-Centered Therapy fitted the zeitgeist of America at the time but not that of the darker suffering Europe. This is why, in part, as we outlined above, that while the two are broadly humanist in outlook, Rogers can never be designated an existentialist like Buber.
Rogers has been criticised for over-emphasising the innate goodness of the human person while forgetting almost completely about the evil side to that same person. It is on this issue that Buber has most difficulty with Rogers' basic philosophy behind his theory and practice of PCT. Let us turn to a quotation from the dialogue here by way of illumination:
Rogers: “... I mean when you really get down to what... is deepest within the individual, that’s the very aspect that can most be trusted to be constructive or to tend toward socialization or toward the development of better interpersonal relationships....”
Buber: “I would put it in a somewhat different manner ... I’m interested... in the so called bad, problematic [client] and so on... I experience it as a polar reality... I see him, I grasp him more broadly, more deeply than before, I see his whole polarity and then I see how the worst in him and the best in him are dependent on one another, attached to one another. [Anderson and Cissna (1997, 82-84)]
Buber emphasises here that he sees the person who comes to the counsellor for help as “a polar reality” (that is, as a mixture of good and evil) while Rogers sees the client as essentially good and finds within him or her “something that is basically to be trusted.” Cohen (1997), perhaps a little crudely though understandably, interprets this exchange between the two great men as Rogers insisting that human beings are basically good while Buber insists that they are both good and evil.
To be fair to Rogers, we must admit that he really valued or prized the person in front of him and the potential for what that person could become. He also accepted the choice not to change himself in any way or be other than who he was as a person (congruent) in the counselling situation. I find Rogers to be very positive (if somewhat naive in not acknowledging also the evil in the client and in himself, of course) in his view of the human condition in so far as for him the client is the final choice-maker, and in so far as the authentic relationship with the other is highly valued.
However, Buber’s existentialism went way deeper than the human person as authentic choice-maker to the human being who was open to and willing to be changed by the suffering that happened/happens in his or her own life. This would mean encountering even the problematic case of a client who is capable of evil in his/her life and who then through dialogue is open to change for the better. For those on the European continent during and in the wake of the Second World War, there was much suffering, and indeed sheer evil, to be experienced. Hence any philosophy or anthropology coming from Europe would be tempered by the real situation of actual suffering in the face of naked evil. On the other hand American philosophical anthropology and psychotherapeutic theory would lack such profundity.
A second point of divergence between these two great thinkers is that of the imbalance of power between therapist and client. Buber adverts to this early on in their dialogue, but Rogers sees it as somewhat more egalitarian. Rogers informs Buber that he enters any therapeutic relationship as “a subjective person... not as a scrutinizer, not as a scientist” and that he is “relatively whole in that relationship... transparent.” (Anderson and Cissna (1997, 29) This is essentially one of Rogers's core conditions, namely congruence. He continues by defining “acceptance” as “a real willingness for this other person to be what he is” and by stating that he believes that both of them are changed by the process. (See ibid., 30-31)
Buber sees this as a good example of “a certain mode of dialogic existence,” but he feels that there is an inherent inequality between therapist and client by sheer virtue of their roles. He, at first sees the client as “sick,” though in the course of the dialogue asks his interlocutor to forget that word entirely and refines it by saying that the client comes to the therapist for help. Rogers has to admit that Buber is right to some extent as the client is not trying to get to know the therapist. Buber sees the therapist as more “active” and the client as more or less “passive.” Then he clinches his argument by saying succinctly: “You are able to do something that he’s not able. You are not equals and cannot be.” (See ibid., 32-38)
However, Rogers does deeply believe that there is a certain shared experience, indeed a shared “equal authority, equal validity with the way I see life and experience. And it seems to me that that really is the basis of helping in a sense... And I do feel that’s a real sense of equality between us” (Ibid., p.41). Anderson and Cissna (1997) mention that Rogers did seem surprised at Buber’s vehemence in denying the felt experience of therapist and client as Roger’s reports it in this dialogue.
Another area of disagreement in this dialogue emerges towards its end where Buber implies that the therapeutic relationship itself (after all, it is axiomatic in Rogerian therapy that it is the relationship that heals) may produce “individuals” rather than “persons.” He goes on to explain that an individual “may become more and more an individual without making him more and more human. I have a lot of examples of man having become very very (sic) individual, very distinct of (sic) others, very developed in their such-and-suchness without being at all what I would like to call a man.”  Thorne (1992, 69) maintains that Buber arrived at this conclusion that Rogerian therapy might produce individuals rather than persons because he was “unconvinced about the reciprocity of the therapeutic relationship.”
 See Cohen (1997, pp. 165-166). It is also interesting to note that the existentialist psychologist Rollo May wrote an open letter to Rogers in 1982 through the medium of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology wherein he states the following: “The Issue of evil – or rather the issue of not confronting evil – has profound , and to my mind, adverse effects on humanistic psychology. I believe it is the most important error in the humanistic movement.” Quoted in Thorne (1992, p.72)
 In a footnote these authors report the following: “Years later in discussing the dialogue during his oral history interviews with David Russell, Rogers said as much himself: ‘I thought Buber’s ideas of the I-Thou” relationship was [sic] a very good description of the best moments in therapy. I was surprised to find that he didn’t think that.’ [Rogers and Russell 1991, p. 143] (Quoted in Anderson and Cissna, 1997, n.18, p. 43). It is also interesting to note that both Rogers and Buber have had much to say on education. In a recent address at a conference attended by the author Dom Mark Patrick Hederman, O.S.B. (2011) argues that the Rogerian approach to education emphasises empathy (the cherishing element of education) to the virtual overshadowing of concrete justice in the here and now (the challenging element of education). The Abbot of Glenstal maintains that the dialogical approach of Buber takes more cognizance of justice because the pupils (and/or teacher) are faced with working out in a dialogue in the here and now whatever contradictions or problems or moral dilemmas emerge in their encounter. Again Hederman also suggests that Rogers did not take into account the imbalance of power between teacher and pupil and that Rogers’ teacher would be so much a cherisher that s/he would smother their pupils with too much affection. Too much affection, Hederman argues, could lead to abuse if not tempered by the challenges of justice.
 Anderson and Cissna (1997, 103)