Giving Life to Carl Rogers Theory of Creativity
Natalie Rogers, Ph.D., REAT
carry the joys and burdens of such privilege. I enjoy the doors that
have been opened to me professionally by being Carl’s daughter, and
carry some of the legacy of keeping his work alive in order to bring
his humanistic values and methods to a world full of conflict and
others have also created ceremonies and conferences, journals and
bibliographies to further his principles. I applaud all that we can do,
collaboratively, to remind the world that the answer to conflict is not
answer lies deep in the roots of the causes that bring individuals to
such desperation that they rage and kill. For those of us who live in
the privileged and often misguided United States, I hope the recent
tragedies of September 11th will be a wake-up call that our government
has had policies that have devastated whole cultures.
celebrations for Carl honor his concern over world events and his
beginning attempts to use the person-centered approach with high-level
government officials such as the Rust Peace Project (C. R. Rogers,
1986) and diversity groups such as his work with Ruth Sanford.
Sanford died recently (Nov 2001) at age 94. I honor her work with Carl
and her dedication to the person-centered approach and to furthering
the work in diversity in South Africa (Rogers and Sanford, 1987).
Carl Rogers Symposium was truly inspiring. Our international diversity
(350 people from 23 nations) electrified the group. This was a first
because we included nine fields of endeavor as major themes:
Psychotherapy, Education (Higher Ed., and K through 12) Organizational
Transformation, Expressive Arts, Peace and Conflict Resolution, Health
and Spiritual Life, Research, and Politics, Civic Engagement, and
range of topics included: the person-centered approach in diversity
training, a person-centered school in Los Angeles, recent developments
in psychotherapy theory, person-centered sand tray therapy, and
building for peace in Palestine and Israel.
humanistic psychologists, educators, peacemakers, spiritual guides,
expressive artists, and researchers, we have a large web of people
that, if working together, can manifest positive shifts in a troubled
focus has been to giving an active life to Carl’s “Theory of
Creativity” (C. R. Rogers, 1961, Ch. 19). In these times where
conformity is being thrust upon us by governments, we urgently need
strong individuals who are able to think and act creatively. Creativity
threatens those who demand conformity.
squelch self-expression and the creative process. They do not want
their citizens to think for themselves or to be spontaneous,
imaginative or self-determined. Thus, creativity is subversive to those
who demand conformity to a political system.
was a very creative individual, himself. He personified the creative
person who stays open to options, is flexible, and values individual
conformist, on the other hand, is closed, rigid in his/her thinking,
and follows the leader without using his/her self-knowledge or ability
believe that to maintain and foster democracy in our world we must be
creative – that is, be able to play with ideas, see alternative
solutions, and be able to listen empathetically to all sides. Carl was
a master at this.
Carl’s remarkably brief but concise chapter on creativity he discusses
the urgent social need for the creative process to be awakened, and the
person-centered conditions under which it can blossom.
states the conditions for fostering constructive creativity: the first
is psychological safety, which includes accepting the individual as one
of unconditional worth, empathic understanding, and providing a climate
second condition is a climate for psychological freedom (C. Rogers,
1954). To these two conditions, I have added an third; offering
stimulating and challenging experiences (N. Rogers, 1993, p. 14). To
explain what I mean by this, I need to backtrack, a bit.
expressive arts work evolved when I moved from Boston to California and
asked my Dad if I could work with him. He was delighted, of course. I
quickly designed a ten-day intensive workshop. We asked six to eight
other staff to join us and we then co-created what was called the
Person-Centered Approach workshops.
staff included at various times; Carl Rogers, and Maria Bowen, Frances
Fuchs, Maureen O’Hara, Joann Justyn, Jared Kass, Betty Meador, Alan
Nelson, Natalie Rogers John K. Wood, Dick and Marion Vittitow. Because
of Dad’s appeal around the world, it was easy to get a huge crowd for
were international workshops during very experimental times. As staff
we learned as much, or more, than the participants. Day after day the
large group would sit talking about their lives, telling their personal
stories full of emotional content – their tragedies, confusion, fear,
staff, we were very good at reflecting their feelings and holding the
safe space for these very personal moments. We also knew how to
facilitate the confrontations people had with each other. However,
because I am such a kinesthetic person, I became very restless and
thought, “How can we sit here for three hours in the morning, three
hours in the afternoon and three hours in the evening?”
finally said, “I have a studio room with art materials, and anybody who
would like to find other ways of delving into these personal issues can
come and join me. We will experiment with non-verbal ways to talk about
all the stories we are sharing, and we will use movement, art, sound
and drama for self-exploration.”
several colleagues who were also interested in exploring this with me
Jared Kass and Maria Bowen. We created playtimes that were deeply
meaningful to people. We had very few guidelines. We just kept learning
from what we were doing.
way to become a good facilitator is to constantly get evaluations and
feedback from participants and ask, “What are we learning? What works
and doesn’t work?” We found that our ability to play, to use costumes,
drama, and role playing as well as using art materials was very
meaningful to people.
now call “the Creative Connection”(N. Rogers, 1993, p. 27-130) evolved.
We discovered that using movement, visual art, sound and journal
writing in sequence with very little verbalization helped us tap
into our unconscious and our archetypal persona, bringing insight to
our personal issues.
facilitators we suggested possibilities for these experiments, but in
true person-centered fashion (C. R.Rogers, 1970, p. 43-59), we always
checked this out with the individual involved. The client or the group
member may choose to participate, or not, and we follow her lead.
created a safe, non- judgmental environment, giving people both
stimulus and permission to take off their social masks to discover
inner truths. After an hour or more of this engaging creative process,
we talk about what we had learned through our art. This was the time
for deep, empathic listening.
never interpret a person’s art. I am as adamantly opposed to analytic
art therapy as Carl was to analytic psychotherapy (Barton, 1974).
Experiments or experiences designed to involve the individual in the
expressive arts give that person the opportunity to engage in the magic
of the creative process and learn by doing (N. Rogers, 1993).
is where I feel my work has been an expansion of Carl’s work. For a
while I felt I was being a bit rebellious to take his work and actually
create exercises that would stimulate people to use art and movement,
sound and journal writing for self-expression.
worked with my father for many years, and taken classes from him, and
knew his philosophy and methods very well. I had incorporated them into
my own way of being. So, to do something a little different was a
difficult process for me at the beginning.
realized I was actually breathing life into his theory of creativity.
One further point: using the expressive arts gives people a safe place
to explore their shadow side.
book, The Creative Connection (1993), I spend one chapter talking about
accepting the shadow, embracing the light. The shadow is the part we
have repressed in our lives (Zweig 1991). Some people have denied their
anger and rage for a lifetime.
have hidden or denied their ability to love or be compassionate. Using
movement, sound, color and drama offer opportunities to first become
aware of one’s shadow, and then to explore it fully through many media.
and grief are often more easily expressed in paintings or movement than
in words. Rage can be splashed on large sheets of paper until some of
the energy has been released and transformed.
authentic self-expression if experienced in a compassionate,
therapeutic environment helps the individual to release energy, gain
insight, and take responsibility for his/her feelings and move toward
this leads to improved self-esteem and an ability to give and receive
love. Most of us who knew Carl realize that he had difficulty
acknowledging or expressing his anger in person. (He could do it in
letter writing, occasionally).
should not surprise anyone, therefore, that I was eager to create a
person-centered environment where people could delve into these
feelings of rage or fear, or shame, in non-verbal as well as verbal
humankind in such a volatile state of rage, violence, loss, grief, and
confusion, coupled with outpourings of generosity, compassion and love,
I feel the place for person-centered expressive arts therapy is timely.
timely for those of us who are capable of facilitating the healing of
the grief, anger and pain and the sense of hopelessness. It is time for
us to move into communities to help people find their sense of
empowerment through the arts.
creative process is a life force energy. If offered in a safe,
empathic, non-judgmental environment, it is a transformative process
for constructive change.
Carl Rogers who has offered us the theory and methods in the
person-centered approach that gives us the firm foundation on which to
build. One of his greatest qualities was his ability to stay open to
new ideas and learn from his own experience. In celebrating his life, I
hope we will be inspired by his way of being.
A. (1974). Three worlds of therapy: An existential-phenomenological
study of the therapies of Freud, Jung, and Rogers. Palo Alto,
California: National Press Books.
Carl R. (1954). Towards a theory of creativity. ETC: A Review of
General Semantics 11, 249-260.
Carl R. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of
psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Republished 1965
Carl R. (1970). Carl Rogers on encounter groups. New York: Harper and
Carl R. (1986, Summer). The Rust Workshop: A personal overview. Journal
of Humanistic Psychology, 26, (3), 23-45.
Carl R. and Ruth Sanford. (1987). Reflections on our South African
experience. Counseling and Values, 32 (1), 17-20.
N. (1993). The Creative Connection: Expressive arts as healing. Palo
Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.
C., and Abram, J. (Eds.). (1991). Meeting the shadow: the hidden power
of the dark side of human nature. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher,
A new book, Carl Rogers the Quiet Revolutionary an Oral History, was released the week of the Symposium. This is Carl Rogers, in his own words, as interviewed by archivist David Russell.
CD-ROM, Carl Rogers: A Daughter’s Tribute, was also released. The CD
includes excerpts from each of Carl Rogers’ books, his private letters
and journals, and photos and videos from his life. To order go to the
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here with kind permission of the author.
Rogers, Ph.D., is an author, artist, psychotherapist, and
founder of the Person-Centered Expressive Therapy Institute. She is the
daughter of Carl Rogers.
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