Rollo May was born in 1909 in Ada, Ohio. He studied English at Michigan State and earned his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College. May spent time at a seminary and eventually finished his studies at Columbia University, where he earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Teachers College in 1949. May also founded the Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, located in San Francisco. May, an existential psychologist, was heavily influenced by other philosophical theories and humanism. He studied the teachings of Freud, but believed Otto Rank to be the genius of his time. May published many articles, but is best known for his works, Love and Will and The Courage to Create.
Contribution to Psychology
May identified that individuals develop through stages. He believed that each person experienced several stages throughout their lifetimes. Innocence, as May defined it, is the stage of pre-self-consciousness. This is followed by rebellion, a stage in which a person exhibits their free will with little concept of the responsibility that accompanies freedom. During the decision stage, a person exerts their independence from their parents and must decide how to proceed with their life and meet their needs. When an individual emerges from the decision stage, they find themselves in the ordinary stage, with a developed ego and comprehension of responsibility. It is at this point that a person may feel overwhelmed or unable to meet the responsibilities generated by their rebellion, and they conform and adopt socially acceptable values. Ultimately, an individual finds their authentic self during the existential or creative stage, achieving self-actualization and fulfillment. May’s theory of stages do not relate to traditional stages, one following another sequentially. They can occur at different times in different people’s lives.
May also had definitive views on sexual behavior. He believed that pornography and sexual commercialization had resulted in a distinct break in society’s views on sex and love. He believed that the emotional bond of love had become segregated from sex, allowing people to easily fulfill their sexual desires without emotional attachment. He thought that this behavior could negatively impact the psychology of society. This apathy could only be fixed, according to May, if society rediscovered the value of caring and loving for one another.