Natalie Rogers was the daughter of Carl Rogers, the pioneer of person-centred psychology. While many people associate her with her father, as they were colleagues and worked together, she must be recognised as a pioneer in the use of the arts in counselling. She designed, developed and utilised the multi-modal person-centred expressive arts approach.
In her early career, Natalie trained and worked with her father. But she was also influenced by the creative and artistic skills of her mother, Helen Rogers. Natalie drew on art and movement for her own personal expression and development.
Over time, she integrated music, art, writing, movement, song and storytelling into her therapeutic practice. She wrote The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts as Healing (Rogers 1993) where she explores the way that art, movement and meditation can be used to foster emotional healing, resolve inner conflict and journey into the inner realms of the psyche. Of expressive arts, she said “we express inner feelings by creating outer forms”. Art is a potent media to explore and accept unknown aspects of ourselves. The foundation of person-centred work, developed by Carl Rogers is that every person has the resources within themselves and a desire for healing and growth. Creativity is a doorway to achieving that potential.
She wrote a second book about using expressive arts in groups; The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts for Groups (Rogers 2011). Here, she explores stages of group development as well as the processes for use in groups and with people of different cultural backgrounds, life stages and shared concerns. She explains that fostering creativity within yourself and others revitalises the ability to ‘feel, express and act constructively’.
She offers some useful guidelines for the delivery of person-centred expressive arts. These may serve as a way of explaining the process of art therapy.
- Become aware of your feelings as they are your source for creative expression. Tuning into your emotions and bodily sensations will assist you to express yourself creatively. You can express anger, sadness, joy and confusion with paint, clay and words.
- There is no right or wrong way to do art. We create art to discover our inner essence. Art therapy is concerned with the process and the experience rather than creating a perfect product. We encourage playfulness, messiness and imagination.
- Take care of yourself and your body. If you are moving around or simply working in one place. Take care to ensure that you are safe and comfortable.
- These experiences may stir up many feelings. You may need to cry or let out a sound or express your emotions in the art and you are encouraged to do so.
In art therapy, with individuals and in groups, we do not interpret another’s art, but rather we assist you find your own meaning. Being person-centred means creating a safe non-judgemental space and becoming fully open to the art maker’s experience and understanding of the art piece. We use open-ended questions to help you explore and deepen your experience. “What was it like for you?”, “How do you relate to this art?” or “What do you feel when you look at this art?” A person’s art may include symbols, marks and colours that evoke emotions, memories and story.
If we give our views or interpretations, we are projecting our ideas, our life experience and perceptions onto your art. Many of us experienced teachers and parents who were critical of our creativity. Natalie Rogers held the view that society “squeezed the tasty juice of creativity out of most if its citizens.” Expressive arts can help you experience yourself in kinaesthetic, symbolic, mythological and spiritual ways to bring the unconscious or unknown into awareness and therefore greater understanding.