A Legacy Enhanced

Dec 01, 1996

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.

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.

Expressive Arts Interest

Rogers explains in her 1993 book The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts as Healing how she uses her father's philosophy as the roots of her psychotherapeutic practice and expands that philosophy by incorporating the expressive arts: "Using expressive arts to enhance and deepen verbal psychotherapy is a natural evolution. More and more we are coming to understand the need to engage in processes that integrate all aspects of self: the body, mind, emotions and spirit. Simply put, we cannot integrate all aspects of self without involving all aspects of self."

She points out how using the creative arts is a powerful and effective way to help clients express feelings that are not yet conscious: "This approach is particularly useful for people who tend to be highly rational, intellectual and verbal. Clients often become experts in talking about their problems rather than allowing authentic feelings to well up. It is also a profound method to use with depressed persons and individuals with character disorders who find their inner worlds chaotic and confused. The arts can be a channel to help them be in touch with, release and identify their feelings as well as gain new insights."

Describing expressive art as using the emotional, intuitive aspect of ourselves in various media, she explained: "We express inner feelings by creating outer forms. To use art expressively, for instance, means to go into our inner realm to discover feelings for expression through visual art, movement, sound, writing or improvisational drama. We are not concerned with the aesthetic properties of the product. It is the process that is healing. We use the arts to channel our feelings in constructive ways, whether those feelings are frustration, anger, grief, sadness or joy."

Rogers has coined the words the creative connection to describe the enhancing interplay among the arts. From her book of the same name, she writes: "When we move or dance it changes our art, and when we create art it changes our writing. Each art form stimulates and nurtures the other, leading us to our inner essence or truth. And when we reach our inner core, we find our connection to all beings. One of the exciting aspects of this work is that it helps individuals go beyond their personal problems into new realms of creativity and spiritual development. This work engages people in using their innate creative abilities to envision, to solve problems and gain a larger sense of self."

Rogers has used these methods in a psychiatric setting for disturbed college students, in a family counseling agency working with couples and children, and in a school for emotionally disturbed children. She has also adapted this work for hospice trainings, team development for mental health agencies, women's groups, and groups for male/female relationships. She has also trained therapists and mental health workers in Europe, Russia, Japan, Mexico and Argentina.

Founding of PCETI

With an all-consuming passion in the blossoming field of expressive arts, she founded the Person-Centered Expressive Therapy Institute (PCETI) in Santa Rosa, Calif., in 1985.

PCETI was designed for people from all walks of life including psychotherapists, educators, mental health workers, nurses, physicians and business professionals. The institute's mission is to empower people to move ahead on their own life path. Courses focus on training to build self-understanding and expertise in the use of expressive arts that can be applied in a wide range of professional settings. Through hands-on work and play with movement, art, music, writing, sound and improvisation, participants learn to tap their creative energy and release healing potential in an environment of empathy, unconditional positive regard, openness, honesty and congruence.

The faculty is international in scope. Besides its five faculty in California, PCETI has satellite programs in England, Mexico, Russia and Argentina. The advisory board heralds such pioneering names as George Leonard, Clark Moustakas, Frances Vaughan and Anna Halprin. Carl Rogers and Virginia Satir were advisory board members before their deaths.

Over the past 12 years PCETI has offered a certificate program. In 1997 the institute will also offer a master's degree program emphasizing the person-centered approach to expressive arts therapy.

Natalie Rogers has said she believes the motivating factor for psychotherapy is an impulse toward self-actualization, which to her is the same thing as the creative force. "I think psychotherapy does allow us to tap into the deep well of our unconscious, which is the wellspring of self-expression and creativity. We often tighten and inhibit ourselves. To really find our full potential we have to be courageous to tap into that unknown. My work is about integrating the mind, the body, the emotions and the spirit in order to create personal and global change."

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