Erma Alperson


     At a time when change is sweeping the world with ever accelerating speed and unprecedented impact, it may be that the only way that humankind can keep abreast of the kaleidoscopic change is through genuinely creative adaptation. [1]

     A society fosters creativity to the degree that it encourages within its members, an openness to internal and external experience [2] This includes an allowance for a broad range of differences in behavior and states of consciousness as well as a receptive attitude toward change and novelty.   A culture encourages conformity to the extent that it insists that its members behave within a narrow range of behavior and levels of awareness and proceeds to punish deviations through social isolation and ostracism.

     It can be argued that our highly pragmatic-technological society has produced individuals who are partially educated and only partially functioning entities by virtue of having lost contact with their less rational and less conscious levels of awareness. [3] For as Maslow [4] informs us, to be creative in life and work, individuals must allow themselves to be childish, to engage in fantasy, to have an opportunity to voluntarily regress without losing their ability to engage in rational discourse.

     Rogers  [5] further characterizes the creative individual as someone who seeks the challenge of ambiguous conflictful situations and is able to accept this ambiguity without needing to force closure on the perceived situation.    The person allows herself to be guided by her own subjective experience while engaging in spontaneous play with percepts, concepts and relationships; inadvertently acquiring in the process, a new integration from her experience, a new way of seeing her surroundings and her relationships.

     Personality change concerned with an individual actualizing all of her potential is a creative process.

     “The mainspring of creativity appears to be the same tendency which we discover so deeply as the curative force in psychotherapy — man's tendency to actualize himself, to become his potential”. [6]

     Therapists who believe that self-actualization is one and the same with the creative process, believe that it is desirable for a person to become self-directed in behavior and choices, that one's emotional states can be trusted to provide meaningful feedback about one's self and one's world, that personal growth involves perceptual and behavioral change of the type that speaks directly from the person's experiential field of the moment, and that the outcome or the content of this change cannot be known in advance by another. [7]

     Therapists who hold this view also tend to adopt an inside-looking-out approach to the study of man's experience. [8] This approach makes the person the central source of her own experiential process discovering what her experience is as it unfolds in her awareness.    The function of the therapist becomes that of a facilitator; enhancing optimal contact with the entirety of her phenomenological experiential process.

     Gendlin's [9]  work on the phenomenological experiencing process, has led him to conclude that there are basically two levels of experiencing that can be distinguished; both must be present and interact with one another if personal growth and integration are to occur.

     The first level which he calls the felt-level of experiencing, includes all that one can experience when asked to focus on "the way it all feels. "[10]   It includes sensory and kinesthetic awareness, including emotional states.   It is a body-sense of a problem or situation.   It is an implicit way of knowing one's experience, since it is knowable only to the experiencing person.

     “A body sense of a problem or situation is pre -verbal and pre-conceptual. ... it is not equivalent to any one verbal or conceptual pattern.    To attend to it or speak from it is a further living and therefore a further structuring, a 'carrying forward. ' . . . Experiential body process is carried forward by action and feedback.   As one acts, one perceives one's own acting. . . .[11]

     The second level of experiencing is the symbolic level.   It flows directly from one's felt-level and permits the person an opportunity to conceptualize and verbalize her felt-experience; thereby making explicit at least some portion of it.    This level provides an opportunity to validate experience in the presence of others.   It is clear from Gendlin's work that neither the felt-level nor the symbolic level alone, represents the totality of human experiencing.

     Ornstein[12]     believes that there is a physiological basis for the distinction between these two levels of experiencing.    The right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex of the brain appears to be primarily responsible for our orientation of space, artistic talents, body awareness and recognition of faces.   It processes information more diffusely than the left hemisphere and integrates material simultaneously rather than in linear fashion.    The left hemisphere seems to be predominantly involved with analytic thinking, particularly language and logic.   Ornstein believes that a complete human consciousness has to include both modes of thought.

     At present, there is a need on the part of psychotherapists to find more effective means of facilitating their clients' synthesis of both levels of their phenomenological process—the verbal with the pre-verbal, the conscious with the less conscious levels.

     The problem with most verbal therapies of today meant to promote personal growth and change, is that they have failed to recognize that the felt-level of experiencing must precede the conceptual-verbal level.    Furthermore, verbalization may not be the best method for contacting one's felt-level experiencing.   Often the very act of verbalizing about experience, causes one to adopt the role of an observer looking at one's self, rather than being the active-participant-creator of one's experience.   Verbalization frequently serves to alienate us from our own experiential body process.    According to Gunther[13],      verbalizing and analyzing our experience, Leads us to filter out the uniqueness of each evolving event.   We learn to see the world from a series of expectations, leaving little room for surprise at the unexpected or unknown.

     The consequence of distancing ourselves from our experiential body process, is that we literally cut ourselves off from the kinesthetic and sensory input on which we rely to know our various feeling reactions toward ourselves and others.    Fisher [14]  found that the more definite one's own body boundaries are, the clearer the person's sense of identity was likely to be,  Laing[15] refers to schizophrenics lacking an awareness of their own bodies as, "unembodied selves," to underscore the degree of estrangement they experience from their own experiential body process.

     This body-sense dissociation, however, is not peculiar to persons generally considered to be most regressed.    Many of the clients seen today in out-patient clinics, prove to be unsuccessful clients by virtue of their "externalizing," and "intellectualizing," attitudes.   To be "externalized," is to be in a state of dissociation; not to see one's self as the source of one's own experiential, but rather as outside of it, and therefore, not within one's control.    To be "intellectualized," implies that the person has a cognitive or abstract understanding of her difficulties; yet lacks an emotional involvement with them.   Both of these states of being simply reflect the person's lack of connection with her own felt-level experiencing, which is bodily derived.

     In this paper a new approach to the realization of the "meaning," of one's felt-experiencing will be explored:   Away that places the person in contact with her body in motion and allows emotional states,   images and ideas to emerge from this movement experience, and these can be subsequently conceptualized through verbalization.

     The earliest and most direct contact one can make with one's self as the source of one's experience is through one's body. It is through the kinesthetic experience of one's body and its way of moving that one has the only direct, immediate physical experience of one's self from within. [16]  One is able to interpret the muscular behavior of others through one's own kinesthetic sense because one has experienced similar muscular reactions.   Berger [17]    calls this kinesthetic reaction to others' motor behavior, "kinesthetic empathy."

     The distortions, tensions and restrictions evidenced in one's body reflect one's psychological state of being of the moment. [18] Our bodies in motion confirm or betray our verbal communications. When movements and words are in harmony, we experience ourselves as "in one piece," or congruent; when they contradict each other, we experience ourselves as dissociated.

     The moving body is the center of our human experience[19]. How we move not only reveals what has been conceptualized and perceived by us, but our movements themselves are capable of generating feelings; which are then transformed into images, percepts, memories and concepts. [20]

     Movement therapy concerns itself with the latter process of transformation, i. e., how we transform an ongoing continuous flow of energy and incipient body movement to felt-body movement—to imagery—to verbal communication. [21]

     Movement therapy is founded on the premise that it is possible to discover the meaning of our felt-experience by exploring fully our potential for "authentic movement," (movement that is involved and spontaneous), in the context of a relationship established with a movement therapist.   Movement therapists are sensitized to a range of human movement experience.    The expectation is that by becoming increasingly sensitized to internal and external stimuli as we move in space, at varying rhythms and at different levels of energy, alone or in relation to others, in stillness or in motion; our movement responses will begin to merge naturally with other modes of representation (images, memories), and the summation of these experiences will allow us to achieve a new integration or "meaning," from our experience.

     Therapists who emphasize the process of creating one's meaning from authentic movement responses are referred to as "process-oriented movement therapists," to distinguish them from others interested in movement as a form of exercise or entertainment, or those intent on producing a specific outcome or product; e. g., the movement therapist who suggests to her client that she move within a set of prescribed images in order to reproduce the various Freudian psychosexual stages.    The process-oriented movement therapist is interested in movement as a form of communication as well as a process for self-actualization.   It is expected that the client will acquire an increased vitality, self-awareness, individuation, integration and greater effectiveness in relating to her environment as a consequence of having gone through this process.   As a therapist, the movement therapist, is concerned with the creation of the conditions that will maximize her client's opportunity to create the content or "meaning," of her felt-movement experience.

     In the early sessions, the therapist provides structured movement tasks through which the person may move, but leaves the client free to produce the content of her experience; e. g., the therapist may ask the client to explore in movement, abstract movement dimensions such as "open" and "closed," "up" and "down."   These tasks are geared to acquaint the person with her body and its various parts, the numerous possibilities of moving *in space and time with varying effort or energy qualities, and to the fact that she has a unique style of patterning her movement. In the process of becoming familiar with these aspects of movement, the person becomes sensitized to her body as an instrument for obtaining experiential feedback.   She becomes increasingly aware of her body as both the medium and the message:   She not only receives but also reacts to her own kinesthetic and sensory experiences.    The process is always self-directed.    The client is free to ignore part or all of the therapist's cues.   She can choose to move or not, in her own way and at her own pace.

     Examples of the kind of structured movement tasks that the person may be encouraged to explore might include:

     Exploration of external space:   The client's attention is drawn to the space around her.   As she moves, she may be asked to attend to how much of the space she uses, what the timing of her pace is, and the energy quality that emerges as she moves.  If she is moving in a group, she may be encouraged to focus on how her movements are similar or different from others.

     Exploration of person's internal space:   The client is encouraged to focus attention inward and allow whatever thoughts, sensations and images emerge, to flow freely without censorship.

     Through self-controlled relaxation methods:   Intended to release residual muscular tension, the person is encouraged to achieve a state of relaxed-concentration, Rugg [22]  refers to as a state of "off-conscious."   In this state, the person is relaxed, alert and in control of her actions, unlike hypnotic or dream states.   Jacobson [23]    believes that by learning to observe their own tension patterns and learning to relax them, clients can remove the "continuing causes" of their psychosomatic conditions; and effect better utilization of the muscular energy available to them.

     All of these movement tasks are intended to achieve a heightened kinesthetic sensitivity, and extend the range and flexibility of the person's movement responses.

     With time, the movement tasks provided by the therapist progress to make greater usage of the person's own imagination (e.g., the client may be asked to fantasize an object she cannot stand, and explore it through movement.   She may be asked to locus on her feelings as she allows herself to move toward or away from the object).  With time too, the degree of structure Initially provided by the therapist decreases and the person Increasingly provides self-direction without the need of cues from I he therapist.    The initial function of the therapist as a guide is transformed into that of an observer, who intercedes only when the client is unable to move at all.   At such a time, she functions to help the client move through the experience of feeling blocked.

     Experientially the movement therapy process appears to be characterized by two distinctive phases. [24]   During the first phase, the person becomes aware of her body and its increased reactivity to internal and external stimuli.   She begins to realize that there is a relationship between her own energy level and her various feeling states.   In addition, during the first phase, the person begins to try new, non-characteristic movement patterns.    The conclusion of the first phase is reached when the person can move freely, and with involvement.

     The second phase is marked by an almost totally self-guided movement process.   As the person moves freely and with involvement, following her own impulse to move, she begins to contact tensions experienced as blocks.   Because these tensions are experienced as uncomfortable or painful, they disrupt the flow of the felt-movement process.   During this second phase, the person experiences periods of feeling "stuck."   Her movement begins to meet with some resistance.    This resistance is experienced as emanating from within. By allowing herself to move through such an impasse, the person is often able to gain new insights about herself or herself and others.

     The following illustrates how movement, imagery and verbalization interact in a movement session, to produce new meaning for the person:

     Peggy is a hospitalized "paranoid schizophrenic" patient. In the sixth movement session, she broke into tears in the middle of a  relaxation experience.   When asked by the therapist what she was is experiencing, she mentioned that her voices were commanding her to something terrible, but would not mention what the The above demonstrates how movement therapy which provides an opportunity to synthesize felt-movement experience with subsequent imagery, memories and verbalization, can promote perceptual and behavioral change.   Hawkins believes that one possible outcome of the self-directed felt-movement process, is the attainment of new integration and insight:

     . . . When one is able to self-direct at the felt-level, and can draw on imaginative responses, one then begins to combine the sensory data of the immediate response with the memory traces, and builds a new kind of integration.   I believe that it is out of this integration and forming, that man gets insight and meaning from his experience in this world.[25]


     I believe that the unique contribution of an authentic movement experience within the context of a movement therapy session is that:

     1.   It can acquaint a person with the physical self as the source of felt-experiencing process.

     2.   It puts the person in touch with what actual felt-experience is.

     3.   It allows the person an opportunity to express outwardly the intent of actions, in a safe, non-explicit way.

     I further believe that the verbalization,  flowing directly from such an authentic movement experience; can enhance and extend felt-experiencing outward by allowing an opportunity to make explicit felt-reactions toward self and others.   In the process of sharing felt-experience explicitly, the person is able to validate experience, clarify ambivalent perceptions, feelings and actions; and acknowledge full responsibility for them. The end result is that the person becomes more fully integrated with the totality of experiential process: Verbal and non-verbal; conscios and less conscious.



     Alperson,  E.    "Experiencing Forward Through Authentic Body Movement, " Psychotherapy:   Theory, Research and Practice, 1973.

     Berger, M. R.    "Bodily Experience and Expression of Emotion, " American Dance Therapy Association, Monograph No.  2, 1972, pp.  191-230

     Bull, N.    The Attitude Theory of Emotion.    Nervous and Mental Disease,  Monograph No.  81, New York:   Coolidge Foundation Publishers, 1951.

     Fisher, S.    Body Image and Personality.    New York:   Dover,  1968.

     Gendlin,  E.  T.    Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. New York:   Free Press of Glencoe, 1962.

     .    "Focusing, " Psychotherapy:   Theory, Research and

     Practice,  1969, 6, pp. 4-15.

     Gunther, B. "Sensory Awaking and Relaxation, " Ways of Growth. Otto, H. A. and Mann, J. Eds. New York: Viking Press, 1968, pp. 60-68.

     Hawkins, A.    "Six Treatment Programs, " Proceedings of_the First California Regional Meeting,  February, 1972, pp2-6.

     Hunt, V.    "The Biological Organization of Man to Move, "

     Developmental Conference of Dance,  1966, pp.  51-63.

     Jacobson, E. Modern Treatment of Tense Patients. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 1970."

     James, William.     The Principles of Psychology.   New York:   Henry Holt and Co.1905, Vol.  2, pp.  442-485.

     Laing, R. D.    Politics of Experience.   New York:   Ballantine, 1967.

     Lowen, A.    "The Body in Therapy, " American Dance Therapy Association Proceedings,  1970, pp.  1-9.

     Maslow, A. H. "Emotional Blocks to Creativity, " A Source Book for Creative Thinking. Parnes, S. J. and Harding, H. F. Eds. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962, pp. 93-103.

     Ornstein, R.    The Psychology of Consciousness.    New York:   Viking Press, 1973.

     Reich, W. Character Analysis. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1949.

     Rogers,  C. R.    "Toward a Theory of Creativity, " Creativity and Its Cultivation.    Anderson,  H.  H.  Ed.    New York:   Harper and Bros., 1959, pp. 69-82.

     _______.   On Becoming a Person.    Boston:   Houghton and Miiflin

     Co. ,1961

     Rugg,  H.    Imagination.    New York:   Harper and Row,  1963.

     Schachtel, E. G.   Experiential Foundations of Roischach's Test. New York:   Basic Books,  Inc. ,  1966."

     Schaefer-Simmern, H.    The Unfolding of Artistic Activity. Berkeley:   University of California Press,  1948.

     Stein,  M.  I.    "Creativity as an Intra and Interpersonal Process, " A Source Book for Creative Thinking.    Parnes, S. J. and Harding, H.  F. Eds.   New York:   Charles Scribner's Son 1962, pp. 85-92.

     Toffler, A.    Future Shock.   New York:   Random House, 1970.

     Werner, H.   Comparative Psychology of Mental Development. New York:   Science Editions, Inc.,  1961.

     Whitehouse, M.    Physical Movement and Personality.    (Undated Typed Manuscript).


[1].          C. R. Rogers, "Toward a Theory of Creativity," pp. 69-82. A.  Toffler, Future Shock.

[2].          M. I. Stein, "Creativity as an Intra and Interpersonal Process, " pp. 85-92.

[3].          H. Schaefer-Simmern,  The Unfolding of Artistic Activity.

[4].          A. H.  Maslow, "Emotional Blocks to Creativity," pp. 93-103.

[5].          C. R. Rogers, "Toward a Theory of Creativity," pp. 69-82.

[6].          Ibid., p. 72.

[7].          C. R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person.

[8].          H. Rugg, Imagination.

[9].          E. T. Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning.

[10].        E.  T. Gendlin, "Focusing, p. 5.

[11].        Ibid., p. 8.

[12].        R. Ornstein,  The Psychology of Consciousness.

[13].        B. Gunther, "Sensory Awaking and Relaxation, " pp. 60-68.

[14].        S.  Fisher, Body Image and Personality.

[15].        R. D.  Laing, Politics of Experience.

[16].        E. G. Schachtel, Experiential Foundations of Roischachs

[17].        M. R. Berger, "Bodily Experience and Expression of Emotion," pp.  191-230.

[18].        W. Reich, Character Analysis.

[19].        V. Hunt, "The Biological Organization of Man to Move," pp. 51-63.

[20].        William James,  The Principles of Psychology,  pp. 442-485. N. Bull, The Attitude Theory of Emotion.

[21].        E. Alperson, "Experiencing Forward Through Authentic Movement. "

[22].        H. Rugg, Imagination.

[23].        E. Jacobson, Modern Treatment of Tense Patients.

[24].        E. Alperson, "Experiencing Forward Through Authentic Movement."

[25].        A. Hawkins, "Six Treatment Programs," p. 5.