Movement Toward Actualization
Human beings are viewed by the person-centered theorist as always striving to obtain the maximum amount from themselves. They seek any means to develop all their abilities "in ways that maintain or enhance the organism" (Rogers, 1959, p. 196). This is the driving force in the positive development of the individual. It clearly moves the individual away from control by others based on conditions of worth and toward autonomy and self-control. The movement toward autonomy and self-actualization provides individuals rather than outside persons (parents, counselors, therapists, teachers, etc.) with the primary motivational strength behind development. This energy source is also seen as potentially more influential than environmental factors such as socioeconomic status, hunger, and danger, which also affect how the individual perceives or seeks self-actualization.
The problem teenage girl discussed in the previous section would likely be seen by many to have inadequate self-control and little desire to overcome her problems. The result is that individuals and society will probably seek to control and pressure her to change in ways deemed appropriate by others. The person-centered view, however, emphasizes how the girl is actually working toward making the most out of herself in the best ways she can and that she will continue to do so. Others need to provide a safe environment where she can lower her defenses and antisocial behaviors without fear of being denounced for failures. When this occurs, she can be expected to continue pursuing self-actualization in productive and socially viable ways.
The actualizing tendency provides the motive for positive development in people. But do people have the capacity to carry out this motivation? Person-centered theory presumes that they do (Rogers, 1961). Holding the belief that people have the motivation to grow in positive directions does not automatically mean that counselors will also have confidence in a client's ability to follow through on that motivation. The person-centered approach emphasizes a belief that this ability to grow in positive directions is available to everyone. Certainly some of the most heartwarming stories told throughout the ages have demonstrated how people can overcome tremendous odds to change and become a person whom others and they themselves like better. These same stories also cause people to question why it happens for some and not others. Person-centered theory emphasizes that these potential differences in degree of ability to change and overcome are not as important as people's beliefs that they can accomplish great things on the journey to improve. In many ways, it presumes two fairly well-accepted principles of human dynamics. The first principle states that people always have much more potential than they use most of the time. The second emphasizes that it is in the journey where success is found more than a preconceived goal. Person-centered counselors must believe in these principles if they are to help clients recognize and accept their own abilities.
The person-centered counselor must communicate the confidence that the troubled girl we have been discussing has the inner resources as well as the motivation to grow. The demonstration of this confidence allows the creative ideas and actions to emerge that can expand potential options and encourage growth in new directions. When this confidence is not conveyed, both counselor and client are likely to aim for goals that are far short of her potential.