Lessons from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: The Back Story

Judith A. Rubin, PhD, ATR-BC, HLM

“Lessons From Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was conceived, edited, and directed by trail-blazing art therapist, psychoanalyst and initiator of the web streaming project, Dr. Judy A. Rubin. A tribute to her mentor, Fred Rogers, who was host and originator of the “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” TV show for children, Rubin’s deep friendship with Rogers began when she played the “Art Lady” in the early years of the show. Secondly, in this film, we discovered Judy Rubin’s own backstory as a filmmaker under the tutelage of Fred Rogers. The universality and therapeutic power of personal art expression when made available to all, from the blind children she first worked with to renowned artists, resounded clearly as her clarion call.

As the first among several films honoring the life and work of Fred Rogers, Judy Rubin’s special window into Rogers’ psychological approach to communicating with children enabled her to give us a glimpse into the thinking behind his brilliance and his extraordinary empathic impact upon the lives of young children. She highlighted what Rogers was really saying through his puppets and songs. Speaking to children beyond mere entertainment, he tapped into their unspoken concerns, and modeled what being a good friend and confidant (just like a good therapist!) was. He offered a safe “holding environment” (à la Winnicott) in his “neighborhood of make-believe” whereby children’s inner concerns could be shared, and understood.

Not everyone knew that Fred Rogers studied psychoanalytic theory and was supervised for each TV episode by a leading psychoanalyst and child development specialist. Rogers enlisted psychoanalytic concepts intentionally to underpin his narratives. His “teachings” included such concepts as: self and object constancy, “permissible” regression, body image, delaying gratification, frustration tolerance, and more, showcased in the film through footage from the shows. This objective, masterfully executed by Rubin, stands as her gift to the mental health profession, in particular, to creative arts therapists and play therapists as well as child development specialists, psychologists and psychotherapists. She enabled the psychologically informed professional to view Rogers’ relational stance as the basis of all good therapeutic work. In a deceptively simple manner, Rogers modeled what it meant to really relate to a child and affirm his or her unique intrinsic worth. Rubin has known this herself, like no other.

Total Running Time: 1 hour 7 minutes, 14 seconds

 

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