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Rollo May (1909-1994)

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What is the significance of Rollo May's (1909-1994) life and personality theory? Provide a brief biography and touch on the main points of his theory. Thanks.

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1. What is the significance of Rollo May's (1909-1994) life and personality theory? Provide a brief biography and touch on the main points of his theory. Thanks.

ROLLO MAY 1909 - 1994


Rollo May was born April 21, 1909, in Ada, Ohio. His childhood was not particularly pleasant: His parents didn't get along and eventually divorced, and his sister had a psychotic breakdown.

After a brief stint at Michigan State (he was asked to leave because of his involvement with a radical student magazine), he attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where he received his bachelors degree.

After graduation, he went to Greece, where he taught English at Anatolia College for three years. During this period, he also spent time as an itinerant artist and even studied briefly with Alfred Adler.

When he returned to the US, he entered Union Theological Seminary and became friends with one of his teachers, Paul Tillich, the existentialist theologian, who would have a profound effect on his thinking. May received his BD in 1938.

May suffered from tuberculosis, and had to spend three years in a sanatorium. This was probably the turning point of his life. While he faced the possibility of death, he also filled his empty hours with reading. Among the literature he read were the writings of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish religious writer who inspired much of the existential movement, and provided the inspiration for May's theory.

He went on to study psychoanalysis at White Institute, where he met people such as Harry Stack Sullivan and Erich Fromm. And finally, he went to Columbia University in New York, where in 1949 he received the first PhD in clinical psychology that institution ever awarded.

After receiving his PhD, he went on to teach at a variety of top schools. In 1958, he edited, with Ernest Angel and Henri Ellenberger, the book Existence, which introduced existential psychology to the US. He spent the last years of his life in Tiburon, California, until he died in October of 1994.


Rollo May is the best known American existential psychologist. Much of his thinking can be understood by reading about existentialism in general, and the overlap between his ideas and the ideas of Ludwig Binswanger is great. Nevertheless, he is a little off of the mainstream in that he was more influenced by American humanism than the Europeans, and more interested in reconciling existential psychology with other approaches, especially Freud's.

May uses some traditional existential terms slightly differently than others, and invents new words for some of existentialism's old ideas. Destiny, for example, is roughly the same as thrownness combined with fallenness. It is that part of our lives that is determined for us, our raw materials, if you like, for the project of creating our lives. Another example is the word ...

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The significance of Rollo May's (1909-1994) life and personality theory are overviewed, including a brief biography and the main points of his theory.

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