When Natalie Rogers was very young, she would enter the living room of her home where her parents, renowned psychotherapist Carl Rogers and artist Helen Elliott Rogers, sat reading. She'd turn on some music, look over at them and say, "Please don't watch me." Then she would begin to dance, describing this blissful experience as "the music flowing through me." Little did she know these impromptu rituals would set the stage for her own important work that would expand on the humanistic principles of her father, yet encompass elements of the creative process itself.
Life With Father
Natalie Rogers' father, Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was a founder of the humanistic psychology movement. His theories and research have had tremendous impact in the fields of counseling, psychotherapy, education, conflict resolution and world peace. His deep belief that each person has worth, dignity and the capacity for self-direction was counter to the pervading thought of his day. In his ground-breaking book, Client-Centered Therapy (1951), he introduced a form of psychotherapy which recognizes that "each client has within him or herself the vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes and self-directed behavior-and that these resources can be tapped...by providing a definable climate of facilitative attitudes." He defined these basic conditions for a therapeutic relationship as: empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard. Often misunderstood or oversimplified, Roger's research into the psychotherapeutic process revealed that when a client felt accepted and deeply understood, healing occurred.
Although his initial research described the client-therapist relationship, it became apparent that these guidelines were true for other types of relationships: parent-child, teacher-student and manager-employee. When the applications of this philosophy broadened, Rogers often substituted the words "person-centered" for "client-centered." (Note: On Becoming A Person and Freedom To Learn.)
In the 1970s Carl Rogers became interested in encounter groups. It was at this time that his daughter, Natalie, a Brandeis University graduate with a master's degree in psychology, began working with him. Natalie, a licensed psychotherapist, had been in private practice in Boston using art and movement therapy to enrich the client-centered process. Eventually she left Boston and a 20-year marriage that had produced three daughters. (She chronicles this journey in her 1980 book Emerging Woman: A Decade of Midlife Transitions). She moved to California, where she furthered her training in the expressive arts by enrolling in classes with creative movement pioneer Anna Halprin and with art therapist Janie Rhyne.
Collaborating with her father and other staff in large (150 participants) person-centered approach workshops gave Natalie the opportunity to experiment with expressive arts in group settings. The workshops were primarily verbal experiences, and Natalie soon found herself feeling "antsy" sitting in a chair all day. Always a very kinesthetic person, she decided to create a studio space within the 10-day person-centered workshops. These sessions rapidly became a place for creative expression-incorporating movement and art to express the deep feelings participants had previously described only in words.
In the large community group an individual's life story-complete with its grief, frustration and anger-would be heard. That was helpful, but often that individual felt stuck. Rogers explained that by expressing some of those same feelings through movement, art and drama, the participants would gain further insight, empower themselves and often find ways to envision steps for their future. The integration and interplay of mind, body and emotions in the supportive group setting allows material from the unconscious to become conscious.
The positive feedback from a wide variety of international participants of these workshops encouraged Rogers to continue to study the effectiveness of the expressive arts as a therapeutic practice in groups as well as the client-therapist setting.