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Rollo May

Rollo May
Born (1909-04-21)April 21, 1909
Ada, Ohio, U.S.
Died October 22, 1994(1994-10-22) (aged 85)
Tiburon, California, U.S.
Nationality American
  • Psychologist
  • Author
Known for Love and Will (1969)

Rollo Reece May (April 21, 1909 – October 22, 1994) was an American existential psychologist and author of the influential book Love and Will (1969). He is often associated with humanistic psychology, existentialist philosophy and, alongside Viktor Frankl, was a major proponent of existential psychotherapy. The philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich was a close friend who had a significant influence on his work.[1][2]

As well as Love and Will, May's works also include The Meaning of Anxiety (1950, revised 1977) and, titled in honor of Tillich's The Courage to Be, The Courage to Create (1975).


  • Biography 1
  • Accomplishments 2
  • Influences and psychological background 3
  • Stages of development 4
  • Perspectives 5
    • Anxiety 5.1
    • Love 5.2
  • Criticism of modern psychotherapy 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Sources and further reading 10
  • External links 11


May was born in Ada, Ohio, on April 21, 1909. He experienced a difficult childhood when his parents divorced and his sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was the first son of a family with six children. His mother often left the children to care for themselves, and with his sister suffering from schizophrenia, he bore a great deal of responsibility.[3] His educational career took him to Michigan State University, where he pursued a major in English, but he was expelled due to his involvement in a radical student magazine. After being asked to leave, he attended Oberlin College and received a bachelor's degree in English. He later spent three years teaching in Greece at Anatolia College. During this time, he studied with doctor and psychotherapist Alfred Adler, with whom his later work also shares theoretical similarities. He became ordained as a minister shortly after coming back to the United States, but left the ministry after several years to pursue a degree in psychology. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1942 and spent 18 months in a sanatorium. He later attended Union Theological Seminary for a BD during 1938, and finally to Teachers College, Columbia University for a PhD in clinical psychology in 1949. May was a founder and faculty member of Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center in San Francisco.[4]

He spent the final years of his life in

  • Famous Psychologists - Rollo May
  • Rollo May page at Mythos & Logos
  • - Interview with Rollo May Ph.D.Thinking Allowed
  • Saybrook Graduate School's Historical Origins
  • "Personality Theories - Rollo May"
  • "Existential Primer: Rollo May"
  • [Existentialism webring]
  • Famous Psychologists: Rollo May
  • Interpersonal-Humanistic web
  • Rollo May: Love & Will
  • The Meaning of Anxiety
  • Rollo May on nndb
Secondary sources
  • The Meaning of Anxiety By Rollo May, 1950, 1977, 1996
  • The Courage to Create, by Rollo May, 1975
  • Man's Search for Himself , By Rollo May, 1953, 1981, 2009
  • The Discovery of Being: writings in existential psychology By Rollo May, 1983
Primary sources

External links

  • Rank, Otto, A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures [talks given 1924–1938; edited and with an introductory essay by Robert Kramer], Princeton University Press 1996 (ISBN 0-691-04470-8).
  • Friedman, Howard S. and Miriam W. Schustack, Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research, Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon, 2012 (ISBN 9780205050178).

Sources and further reading

  1. ^ "Paul Tillich as Hero: An Interview with Rollo May". Retrieved 2012-10-21. 
  2. ^ "Paul Tillich Resources". Retrieved 2012-10-21. 
  3. ^ (April 1996), 51 (4), pg. 418-419"American Psychologist". Retrieved 2012-10-21. 
  4. ^ [1] Archived May 9, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Pace, Eric, "Dr. Rollo May Is Dead at 85; Was Innovator of Psychology", "The New York Times", October 4, 1994
  6. ^ James F.T.Bugental
  7. ^ (Rank, 1996, p. xi).
  8. ^ a b Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. United States of America: Basic Books. 
  9. ^ May, Rollo. (October 2009) Rollo May on Existential Therapy. Volume 49 Number 4. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 419-434.


See also

  • "Humanity's dark side: Evil, destructive experience, and psychotherapy", Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2013.
  • "Existential psychology East-West", Colorado Springs, Colorado: University of the Rockies Press, 2009.
  • "Rollo May on the Courage to Create" in Media and Methods 10 (1974), 9:14-16.
  • De Castro, Alberto, "An integration of the existential understanding of anxiety in the writings of Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, and Kirk Schneider", ProQuest Information & Learning, 2011 (AAI3423854).

a revised 1977.
b with Kirk Schneider.

Year Title Published by ISBN
1940 The Springs of Creative Living Whitmore & Stone unknown
1950a The Meaning of Anxiety W W Norton (1996 revised edition) 0-393-31456-1
1953 Man's Search for Himself Delta (1973 reprint) 0-385-28617-1
1956 Existence Jason Aronson (1994 reprint) 1-56821-271-2
1965 The Art of Counseling Gardner Press (1989 revised edition) 0-89876-156-5
1967 Psychology and the Human Dilemma W W Norton (1996 reprint) 0-393-31455-3
1969 Love and Will W W Norton / Delta (1989 reprint) 0-393-01080-5 / 0-385-28590-6
1972 Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence W W Norton (1998 reprint) 0-393-31703-X
1973 Paulus: A personal portrait of Paul Tillich Harper & Row 0-00-211689-8
1975 The Courage to Create W W Norton (1994 reprint) 0-393-31106-6
1981 Freedom and Destiny W W Norton (1999 edition) 0-393-31842-7
1983 The Discovery of Being: Writings in Existential Psychology W W Norton (1994 reprint) 0-393-31240-2
1985 My Quest for Beauty Saybrook Publishing 0-933071-01-9
1991 The Cry for Myth Delta (1992 reprint) 0-385-30685-7
1995 The Psychology of Existenceb McGraw-Hill 0-07-041017-8


May believed that psychotherapists in the late 1900s had fractured away from the Jungian, Freudian and other influencing psychoanalytic thought and started creating their own 'gimmicks' causing a crisis within the world of psychotherapy. These gimmicks were said to put too much stock into the self where the real focus needed to be looking at 'man in the world'. To accomplish this, May pushed for the use of existential therapy over individually created techniques for psychotherapy.[9]

Criticism of modern psychotherapy

May particularly investigated and criticized the "Sexual Revolution" in the 1960s, in which many individuals were exploring their sexuality. "Free sex" was replacing the ideology of free love. May explains that love is intentionally willed by an individual, whereas sexual desire is the complete opposite. Love is real human instinct reflected upon deliberation and consideration. May then shows that to give in to these impulses does not actually make one free, but to resist these impulses is the meaning of being free. May perceived the Hippie subculture and sexual mores of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as commercialization of sex and pornography, as having influenced society such that people believed that love and sex are no longer associated directly. According to May, emotion has become separated from reason, making it acceptable socially to seek sexual relationships and avoid the natural drive to relate to another person and create new life. May believed that sexual freedom can cause modern society to neglect more important psychological developments. May suggests that the only way to remedy the cynical ideas that characterize our times is to rediscover the importance of caring for another, which May describes as the opposite of apathy.

  • Sex : Lust, tension release;
  • Eros : Procreative love, savoring, experiential;
  • Philia : Brotherly love, liking;
  • Agape : Unselfish love, devotion to the welfare of others;
  • Authentic love : Incorporates all other types of love.

May's thoughts on love are documented mainly by Love and Will, which focuses on love and sex in human behavior and in which he specifies five particular types of love. He believes that they should not be separate, but that society has separated love and sex into two different ideologies.


Anxiety is a major focus of Rollo May and is the subject of his work "The Meaning of Anxiety". He defines it as "the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value which the individual holds essential to his existence as a self" (1967, p. 72). He also quotes Kierkegaard: "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom". May's interest in isolation and anxiety developed strongly after his time in the sanatorium when he had tuberculosis. His own feelings of depersonalization and isolation as well as watching others deal with fear and anxiety gave him important insight into the subject. He concluded that anxiety is essential to an individual's growth and in fact contributes to what it means to be human. This is a way that humans enact their freedom to live a life of dignity. He is adamant in the importance of anxiety and feelings of threat and powerlessness because it gives humans the freedom to act courageously as opposed to conforming to be comfortable ((8)). This struggle gives humans the opportunity to live life to the fullest (Friedman). One way in which Rollo proposes to fight anxiety is by displacing anxiety to fear as he believes that “anxiety seeks to become fear”.[8] He claims that by shifting anxiety to a fear, one can therefore discover incentives to either avoid the feared object or find the means to remove this fear of it.[8]



These are not "stages" in the traditional sense. A child may certainly be innocent, ordinary, or creative at times; an adult may be rebellious. However, the only association with of the stages with certain ages is in terms of importance and salience. For example, rebelliousness is more important for the development of a teenager than for a child two years old.

  1. Innocence – the pre-egoic, pre-self-conscious stage of the infant: An innocent is only doing what he or she must do. However, an innocent does have a degree of will in the sense of a drive to fulfill needs.
  2. Rebellion – the rebellious person wants freedom, but does not yet have a good understanding of the responsibility that goes with it.
  3. Ordinary – the normal adult ego learned responsibility, but finds it too demanding, so seeks refuge in conformity and traditional values.
  4. Creative – the authentic adult, the existential stage, self-actualizing and transcending simple egocentrism

Like Freud, May defined certain "stages" of development. These stages are not as strict as Freud's psychosexual stages, rather they signify a sequence of major issues in each individual's life:

Stages of development

May was influenced by American humanism, and interested in reconciling existential psychology with other philosophies, especially Freud's. May considered Otto Rank (1884–1939) to be the most important precursor of existential therapy. Shortly before his death, May wrote the foreword to Robert Kramer's edited collection of Rank's American lectures. "I have long considered Otto Rank to be the great unacknowledged genius in Freud's circle", wrote May. [7] May is often grouped with humanists, for example Abraham Maslow, who provided a good base for May's studies and theories as an existentialist. May delves further into the awareness of the serious dimensions of a human's life than Maslow did. Erich Fromm had many ideas with which May agreed relating to May's existential ideals. Fromm studied the ways people avoid anxiety by conforming to societal norms rather than doing what they please. Fromm also focused on self-expression and free will, on all of which May based many of his studies.

Influences and psychological background

  • The Meaning of Anxiety was Rollo May's first book. It was based on his doctoral dissertation, which in turn was based on his reading of the 19th century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. The Meaning of Anxiety was written mainly to relate to people of western cultures, who are more likely to focus on anxiety as an issue in their life. May wrote this book with the intentions of it being easily read, yet still providing all the information that came from the research in studying the cause and effects of anxiety.
  • In 1956, he edited the book Existence with Ernst Angel and Henri Ellenberger. Existence helped introduce existential psychology to the US. He explained how existentialism is not just a varied form of Freudianism in the books. He also explained what the many concepts of existential psychology covers.
  • Love and Will is another of May's famous texts. This book investigates the shifting viewpoints of love and will in human behavior. It looks at the deep, internal dilemmas humans face through their relationships.



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