Paul Gauguin is most famous for his paintings of South Pacific islanders using lush color, the denial of perspective, and the use of flat, two-dimensional forms. His powerfully expressive yet stylistically simple paintings helped form the basis of modern art. Gauguin was not always an artist, however. In 1872, Gauguin started a very successful career as a stockbroker in Paris. His marriage to his Danish wife Mette produced five children, and they led a content, upper-middle-class life in Paris. Gauguin always wanted to paint, however. He felt he could be a great painter, but his job as a stockbroker consumed all of his time (Hollmann, 2001).
In 1874, Gauguin attended the first Impressionist painting exhibition in Paris. He was entranced with this style of painting. He had a strong desire to become a painter, but instead he put all of his energy into his stockbroker's job and used the proceeds to purchase some paintings by Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir. This was the closest he could come, he felt, to realizing his potential as an artist.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the bank that employed Gauguin began having difficulties in 1884. Gauguin began to take time away from work and started painting. His income went down, and he had to move his family from expensive Paris to the town of Rouen, where the cost of living was lower. As Gauguin devoted more time to painting and less time to stockbrokering, his income went even lower and his marriage started to suffer. Neither Paul nor his wife were happy with their current situation, but
for different reasons; Paul wanted more of the new life of painting he was discovering, and his wife wanted more of the old life and for him to return to the Paris life of stockbrokers, banks, and the upper middle class.
After a period of some marital discord, Paul Gauguin left his wife and five children and, with absolute sincerity and clarity of purpose, began to realize his potential as an artist. He fell in with the likes of van Gogh, Degas, and Pissarro, who mentored him in impressionism. In 1891, he decided to flee civilization in search of a new way of life, one that more matched his painting style: primitive, bold, and sincere. He sailed to Tahiti and the islands of the South Pacific, where, except for a brief visit back to France, he remained until his death in 1903 (Gauguin, 1985). In Tahiti, his paintings of indigenous people grew more powerful and distinctive, and on a large scale he achieved his potential as one of the modern world's greatest artists.
The ethical questions in Gauguin's life concern the competing responsibilities that are so evident; he had one life as a responsible banker and stockbroker, complete with a loving wife and five dependent children. On the other hand, Gauguin felt (correctly) that he had the potential to become a truly outstanding artist. Should he have been true to this inner calling, or should he have been true to his responsibilities as husband, father, and provider for his family? How should we judge his decision to abandon his family to pursue his self-actualization? What role does his success as an artist have in our judgment? What if, for example, he had abandoned his family then failed miserably as an artist? What should get priority in life when there is a conflict between one's immediate responsibilities and one's inner calling to become someone else? These are the difficult ethical questions of choice and responsibility that sometimes come to people on their way toward self-actualization.
People who are not moving forward in terms of self-actualization experience frequent episodes of anxiety . Anxiety, according to Rogers, is the result of having an experience that does not fit with one s self-conception. Imagine a young woman who worked hard all through grade school and high school to earn good grades in an ef fort to make her parents happy. Part of her self-concept is that she "is smart and gets good grades." Then she enters college and obtains some less than perfect grades in some of her courses. This experience is alien; it does not fit with her self-concept as a person wh is smart and gets good grades, so it makes her anxious. "What will they think," she says to herself, referring to her parents, "when they find out about these grades? This new experience is a threat to her self-image, and that self-image is vitally important to her because in the past it brought her the positive regard of her parents. Rogers believed that people needed to defend themselves against anxiety , to reduce the discrepancy between one's self-concept and one' s experiences. A fully functioning person could change his or her self-concept to incorporate the experience (e.g., "Perhaps I'm not so smart after all, or perhaps I don' t always need to get perfect grades").
A less functional response to anxiety is to alter the experience by using a defense mechanism. Rogers emphasized the defense mechanism of distortion. Persons who engage in distortion modify their experience, rather than their self-image, in order to reduce the threat. For example, a person might say , "The professors in these classes are unfair," or "The grades really don't reflect how well I did, or in another way distort the experience. Or perhaps the person decides to take only "easy" classes, in which she is likely to earn high grades. Her decisions about which classes to take are based not on her own interests and desires (as would be the case for a self-actualizing reason) but on which classes are more likely to result in better grades to make her parents happy (a con-dition-of-worth reason). Taking classes merely to obtain easy grades is at odds with her self-concept of someone who is smart, and she may become anxious over the fact that so many of her experiences do not fit exactly with the way she would like to see herself
A recent study found a relationship between the self-actualizing tendency and emotional intelligence (Bar-On, 2001). Emotional intelligence is a relatively new construct that has five components: the ability to know one s own emotions, the ability to regulate those emotions, the ability to motivate oneself, the ability to know how others are feeling, and the ability to influence how others are feeling. This may be an especially adaptive form of intelligence, which we will describe in more detail in the chapter on cognitive approaches (Chapter 12). In the Bar -On (2001) study, the self-actualizing tendency was defined as working on actualizing one s talents and skills, and it was found that emotional intelligence correlated with this tendency . The author ar gues that emotional intelligence may be more important for self-actualizing than IQ, or mere cognitive intelligence. People may get of f the path toward self-actualization, not because they lack IQ or education, but because they have gotten out of touch with their emotions.
Rogers's approach to therapy is designed to get a person back on the path toward self-actualization. Rogers's therapy, sometimes called client-centered therapy, is very different from Freudian psychoanalysis. In client-centered therapy , the client (a term Rogers preferred over patient) is never given an interpretation of his or her problem. Nor is a client given any direction about what course of action to take to solve the problem. The therapist makes no attempts to change the client directly . Instead, the therapist tries to create the right conditions in which the client can change him- or herself.
There are three core conditions for client-centered therapy (Rogers, 1957). These conditions must be present in the therapy context in order for progress to occur . A film of Carl Rogers conducting a therapy session with "Gloria is widely available and is sometimes used in training therapists. In this film, Rogers expertly sets u these three conditions in his conversation with Gloria (see the analysis of this film b Wickman and Campbell, 2003). The first core condition is an atmosphere of genuine acceptance on the part of the therapist. The therapist must be genuinely able to accept the client. Second, the therapist must express unconditional positive r egard for the client. This means that the therapist accepts everything the client says without passing judgment on the client. Clients trust that the therapist will not reject them if they say the "wrong" thing, or if something unflattering comes out in the course of ther apy. The atmosphere is safe for clients to begin exploring their concerns.
The third condition for therapeutic progress is empathic understanding. The client must feel that the therapist understands him or her . A client-centered therapist attempts to know the client's thoughts and feelings as if they were his or her own. Empathy is understanding the other person from his or her point of view (Rogers, 1975). The therapist conveys empathic understanding by restating the content and feelings for the client. Instead of interpreting the meaning behind what the client says (e.g., "Y ou have a harsh superego, which is punishing you for the actions of your id"), the client-centered therapist simply listens to what the client says and reflects it back. It is analogous to lookin in a mirror; a good Rogerian therapist reflects back the person s feelings and thoughts, so that the person can examine them in full and undistorted detail. The client comes to understand him- or herself better by making the therapist understand. The therapist expresses this understanding by restating the content ("What I heard you say is . . .")
and by reflecting back the person s feelings ("It sounds as if you are feeling . . ."). This may sound simple, but it is a very ef fective approach to helping people understand themselves and helping them change how they think about themselves.
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