Therapy: An Overview
& Clinical Work
- Coping Strategies
- Survivors Group
- Workshop List
Michael C. Irving, Ph.D.
Cheryl Irving, B.A.
Self Help Program
Creating Coping Lists
Survivor Monument Project
on Child Abuse
Story (Flash Movie)
text presents a brief overview of the field of art therapy and
the role of art as healing.
of Art Therapy
||Art as Therapy
|| Jungian Influenced
Art as Therapy
|| Gestalt Art Therapy
||Directed Vs. Nondirected
Art therapy developed as a
distinct form of psychotherapy in the second quarter of this
century. The development of other forms of creative expressive
therapies soon followed. There is a wide diversity of approaches
and theories in art therapy. Art therapists may be highly
directive or quite "hands off". Particularly in
art therapy's early development, the art production was seen
as something the clinician analyzes and about which the "untrained"
patient has little objective insight.
One approach to art in therapy requires the therapist simply
to be present and aware as a mostly silent, mindful witness
to the client producing art during sessions, and to be non-intrusive,
allowing the natural course of healing to unfold. In some
approaches, the forms or images created between sessions are
treated as rich symbolic material which is discussed in the
therapeutic setting. The images in the art work are viewed
as representations of the unconscious forces of the psyche.
Others conceive the creative process as the raison d'etre
of art in therapy, whereby the individual, on many levels,
confronts and further understands her/himself. In discussing
the power of creativity, Rogers (1993) emphasizes, "The
creative process is healing. The expressive product supplies
important messages to the individual. However, it is the process
of creation that is profoundly transformative" (p. 7).
Thompson (1989) reports that, "When Adrian Hill [using
art while recovering from tuberculosis] first coined the term
"art therapy" in 1938, he meant simply that the
art does the therapeutic work" (p. 3). Many in the art
therapy field debate to what degree the art expression, in
contrast to therapeutic interventions, is healing, and/or
how much "the doing" of art is the transforming
process, or to what degree the product functions as a meaningful
symbol. Naumburg (1973) reports:
A vital implication [of] studies...made on children's art
expression as an aid to diagnosis and therapy is that imaginative,
creative expression is, in itself, a source of growth and
sustenance as well as a language of communication in the
life of every individual. (p. 89)
those not involved directly in art therapy, a perception of
the field may be obscured with myths and misconceptions. As
recently as 1984, Dalley commented, "Art therapy is a
relatively new discipline. Outside of a small number of practitioners,
its concepts and aims are not widely known or understood"
Before I began formal studies in art therapy,
I carried the common mistaken notion that art therapy should
be viewed as a kind of quasi craft exercise which fills idle
time while the real work of psychotherapy is left to those
better trained. I discovered art therapists can be highly
trained psychotherapists using all the skills, techniques,
and foundational theories of psychotherapeutic healing. Added
to these traditional therapeutic skills the art therapist
has a background as a trained visual artist with the ability
and training to encourage the client to use creative expression
as a vital part of the healing process.
Art therapists are in fact highly
trained multidisciplinary professionals. An art therapist
may have a four year arts degree, a year or two of undergraduate
psychology study, two years of art therapy schooling which
focus on the therapeutic process, as well as a year of post
master's practicum and internship. Consequently, art therapists
may have ten years of training for their profession before
registration. For an art therapist with a doctorate, this
can involve up to thirteen years training, a noteworthy amount
of training for a career which is often seen as the "low
position on the totem pole" in the psychotherapeutic
community. Along with our society's lack of respect for art
and artists in general, in our patriarchal society, the fact
that the overwhelming majority of art therapists are women
likely has much to do with the unwarranted low status of art
therapy in the healing professions.
In addition, misconceptions concerning
the sophistication of art therapy and art therapists can be
understood in the context of the initial introduction of "instructions
in art" often as part of recreational or occupational
therapy in mental hospitals in the 1940's and 1950's. Rhyne
The early art therapist was often a person with training
in art media whose function was to provide rudimentary instruction
in techniques to patients. [The art therapist's job was]...to
keep the patient soothed...to kill time; ...to allow him
to express emotions in a presumably nonthreatening way (p.
art therapists gained experience and sophistication their
techniques and approaches for effectively promoting change
and personal growth in the client became equally sophisticated.
In the 1960's and 1970's art therapy was highly influenced
by "the human potential movement and the various therapy
approaches that were closely associated with it" (Rhyne,
1984 p. xii). Workshops, conferences, national associations,
books, and graduate programs in art therapy and creative expressive
therapies seemed to blossom overnight. The first master's
degree in art therapy was offered at Hahnemann Hospital in
Philadelphia in the late sixties. Until that point art therapy
was taught in New York City by Margaret Naumburg, and in Washington,
D.C. at the Washington School of Psychiatry. In 1970 the American
Art Therapy Association held it first annual conference as
a small gathering; by 1980 over twenty master's degree programs
had been started and more have developed since. Art therapy
was finally able to stand as a legitimate discipline incorporating
elements of both art and therapy. The art therapist today
may be either an auxiliary therapist or primary therapist
with significant issue case loads.
As art therapy moved into the domain of acknowledged psychotherapeutic
modalities, its early development was divided into two camps
-- "art psychotherapy," originated by Margaret Naumburg
(1966), and "art as therapy," promoted by Edith
Kramer (1971). Both theories were based in Freudian thought,
the former emphasizing interpretation and the latter emphasizing
the art process. Although some felt the approaches were incompatible,
Ulman (1975) integrated them into her own theory of art therapy.
Harriet Wadeson (1987) went even farther, including "not
only graphic arts but other modalities of expressive therapies"
(p. xxi) and she espoused an eclectic approach to art therapy
"shifting gears as the situation seems to require."
Rubin (1987) suggests in a practical sense today, "Most
art therapists are primarily pragmatic in their orientation,
doing whatever seems to work best most of the time" (p.
The practicality of art therapists can be noticed in reviewing
a wide assortment of print on the subject. Possibly more than
any other modality in psychotherapy, creative expressive therapy
literature emphasizes more the practical activity in the therapy
session itself, rather than complex and abstract theories
about what is happening with the therapeutic process. Perhaps
the presentation of the exercises, process and the events
occurring in the therapy session tend to be portrayed more
frequently because artists and those attracted to art are
physical doers; and when using creative expression in therapy
one can often visually "see" the therapy process
taking place. Furthermore, through the painting or sculpture
one can actually physically put one's hands on the aspects
of the therapeutic process and the product.
of Art Therapy
Art therapists are not only practical doers who spend time
in the clinical setting and try to nab what time they can
for retreat to their own art studios, they are also active
theorists and have amassed a wide range of theories for why
and how art therapy works. The two approaches which started
art therapy, "art psychotherapy" and "art as
therapy", have gained many sisters, cousins and neighbourly
approaches and theories explain the efficacy of creative expression
as healing. In Approaches to Art Therapy, Judith Rubin (1987)
outlined sixteen major theoretical approaches to the practice
of art therapy:
- Freudian psychoanalytic theory: Emphasis
on uncovering and insight, Judith Rubin;
- Sublimation and art therapy, Edith
- Symbolism and art therapy: Theory
and clinical practice, Laurie Wilson;
- Object relations approach to art therapy,
- Self psychology approach to art therapy,
- Jungian analytic art therapy, Michael
- Healing through the visual arts: A
Jungian approach, Edith Wallace;
- Dynamically oriented art therapy,
- Creative arts therapies based on Alfred Adler, Rose
- Phenomenology of therapeutic art expression, Mala Betensky;
- Gestalt art therapy, Janie Rhyne;
- A humanistic approach to art therapy, Josef Garai;
- An Eclectic approach to art therapy, Harriet Wadeson.
- Behavioral approach to art therapy, Ellen Roth;
- Cognitive approach to art therapy, Rawley Silver;
- Developmental approach to art therapy, Susan Aach-Feldman
and Carole Kunkle-Miller
In addition, each of the following authors refers to other
theorists and therapeutic approaches which are not part of
Rubin's primary list:
- Sean McNiff (1989), Depth psychology of Art;
- Aina Nucho (1987), A Psychocybernetic model of art
- Tessa Dalley (1984), Art as Therapy;
- Margaret Keyes (1983), Inward Journey, Art as Therapy;
- H.Y. Kwiatkowska (1978),
- Family Therapy and Evaluation Through Art;
- Arthur Robbins (1970), Creative Art Therapy.
Both lists are still not exhaustive of the variety of theoretical
approaches under whose form different art therapists have
Art therapy may be practised with children, adolescents,
adults or the aged, with an individual or groups, in private
practice, clinics, prisons, medical or psychiatric hospitals,
old age homes, schools, or as a form of self therapy. In addition
to dealing with psychological issues, art therapy is used
in therapy with learning disorders, physical illnesses, and
in business management with group dynamics and organizational
development. The field of art therapy stands on its own and
has undergone many developments and refinements.
The integration of Freudian thinking
about the dynamics of unconscious communication with its facilitation
through the images and symbols of art was primarily initiated
by Margaret Naumburg. As one of the first Americans to enter
into analysis, she did so with both a Freudian and a Jungian
In the Walden School founded in 1915 by
Naumburg (1928) she recommended that all her teachers undertake
analysis and she encouraged the children in "spontaneous,
free art expression" which produced "original and
amazing images" seemingly "created from their unconscious".
This lead to Naumburg's (1926) conviction that, "such
free art expression in children was a symbolic form of speech
basic to all education...that such spontaneous art expression
was also basic to psychotherapeutic treatment" (p. 30).
Naumburg went on to develop Dynamically
Oriented Art Therapy as a method of treating neurotic and
psychotic adult patients, as well as emotionally disturbed
adolescents and children. In 1941 she began her first research
in the therapeutic use of art at the New York State Psychiatric
Institute and the research work was published in Studies of
the "Free" Art Expression of Behaviour Problem Children
and Adolescents as a Means of Diagnosis and Therapy (Naumburg,
1973/1950). She spent much time educating both professional
and lay public before the first graduate program for art therapy
was established at New York University in 1958. Her first
comprehensive text-book Principles and Practice of Dynamically
Oriented Art Therapy (Naumburg, 1966), followed eight years
Naumburg (1958) was clearly Freudian in
her approach and theoretical framework which she says based:
its methods on releasing [unconscious material through]
spontaneous art expression; it has its roots in the transference
relation between patient and therapist, and on the encouragement
of free association. It is therefore closely allied to psychoanalytic
therapy. (p. 516)
Naumburg's work developed, she continually attributed less
importance to the "clients" experience of the creative
process" (Ulman in Rubin, 1987, p. 280). Rather the painted
surface became a place which registered the unconscious fantasies
and inner conflicts without as much of the censorship or forgetting
which occurs in verbal expressive therapy. From the images
on the canvas the psychotherapist could derive a symbolic
language necessary for the analytical process. For Naumburg
(1958), the value of therapeutic art, "is based on the
recognition that man's most fundamental thoughts and feelings,
derived from the unconscious, reach expression in images rather
than words" (p. 511).
When we discuss musings in art therapy,
we are not addressing random scribblings on a paper which
may be related to idle verbal babble, rather, symbolic and
unconscious imagery in art are considered akin to free association
or dream work in analysis. The process of creating art is
understood to allow the psychological and therapeutic mechanisms
of projection, displacement, repression, identification, sublimation,
condensation and dissociation. The art work can become a psychologically
charged form like the dream which Freud found so useful in
following as a path into the inner self. Dalley (1987) claims
many parallels "can be drawn between the art processes
and dreams" (276). The sharing of a drawing may at times
take one even farther than the shared verbal recall of a dream.
Freud (1963) elucidates:
We experience it [a dream] predominantly in visual images:
feelings may be present too, and thoughts interwoven in
it as well: the other senses may also experience something,
but nonetheless it is predominantly a question of images.
Part of the difficulty of giving an account of dreams is
due to our having to translate these images into words.
"I could draw it," a dreamer often says to us,
"but I don't know how to say it." (Vol. XV, p.
as Freud suggests, the drawing of an image will express and
explore the dream and its emotional content more clearly and
deeply, then the use of art in psychotherapy should be as
effective as the verbal exploration of dream material.
Freud wrote much about artists and the
symbolic nature of art, but in a practical sense he felt art
that did not address the issues directly. For Freud, the highly
symbolic nonverbal content of art led to an unacceptable level
of displacement and verbal inaccessibility of the significant
psychological material. He judged that art acted out and reverberated
the therapeutically available anxiety rather than resolved
it. Throughout the nineteen thirties, forties, and fifties,
other traditional psychoanalysts described the use of art
in conjunction with therapy (Pfister, 1917; Naumburg, 1928;
Liss, 1936; Mosse, 1940; Schilder and Levine, 1942; Spitz
1942; Bychowski, 1947; Hulse, 1949; Auerbach, 1950; Sechehaye,
1951; Stern, 1952; Milner, 1957; and Slap, 1976).
As pioneering art therapists, Naumburg
allied more directly with the psychoanalytic techniques; but
Kramer, another founding pioneer of art therapy, incorporated
Freudian theoretical principles more fully than Naumburg (Ulman,
as Therapy (Kramer)
Kramer coined the phrase "art
as therapy" (Ulman in Rubin, 1987, p. 281). According
to Rubin (1987), Ulman was the "originator of one of
the earliest and most widely used theories of art therapy"
(p. 3). Her work was derived from Freudian ideas, although
the actual process of creativity interested her more than
it did Naumburg. Kramer's premise was that the art process
itself allowed the client to recreate primary experiences
and feelings, thereby offering the opportunity to "re-experience,
resolve and integrate conflict" (Ulman in Rubin, 1987,
p. 280). This is a fairly popular theoretical premise for
understanding the use of art in therapy.
A number of English art therapists are
brought together by Tessa Dalley (1984) in Art as Therapy:
An Introduction to the Use of Art as a Therapeutic Technique.
Early British art therapists were theoretically much less
interpretive and more laissez faire than their American counterparts.
British art as therapy was very influenced by the theoretical
principles of Winnicott who believed if the clinician is patient
the client will naturally arrive at an understanding of her
creativity (Winnicott, 1971).
Through the view of "art as therapy",
art productions in therapy most often draw their therapeutic
essence from the process of creativity, and from the images
expressed in the painting or sculpture. Art activity spontaneously
expresses inner experiences of the creator. Unconscious forces
and a felt sense of life is projected into the work of art.
In the process, personal dilemmas of the individual are sure
to be presented in the created images.
Art work allows the client to express
symbolism, metaphor and feeling with much of the freedom of
dreams. Simultaneously with art, the person moves in and out
of the repertoire of practical and psychological skills which
are part of being an aware growing person. Keyes (1983) finds:
Using art materials to make images and
connecting them to feelings and body states brings into the
open emotions and thoughts that have been only vaguely sensed.
Closure becomes possible for unfinished issues that push for
resolution (p. 104)
Art as Therapy
Lyddiatt blends art as therapy and Jungian
art therapy. Jungians are avid writers about art, yet Lyddiatt's
(1972), Spontaneous Painting and Modelling is the sole book
available on the application of Jungian theory to the practice
of art therapy (Rubin 1987). A pioneer in establishing art
therapy in England, Lyddiatt opened up an art therapy department
at Bowden House Clinic in Harrow-on-the-Hill in 1965. Thompson
(1989) reports that Lyddiatt was influenced by Jung's perceptions
on "active imagination and saw her role as a facilitator
and one who `stayed around'" (p. 1). Lyddiatt's approach
was to provide the sanctuary and art materials where the person
in conflict could go about her own healing process and find
her right way. One of Lyddiatt's (1972) patients commented:
The art therapist struck me as woolly, vague and edgeless,
and the lack of shape, direction and order in her department
irritated me. But in looking back I see that in my insanity
it was just those qualities that I needed (p. 119).
While working through his self-analysis, Jung used sculpture,
drawings and paintings as a method of objectifying fantasies.
Dalley (1983) tells us Jung believed that:
art represented a new synthesis between the inner and subjective
world of the artist and external reality. The artist selects,
often unconsciously, material from both external and internal
reality. The work embodies a conjunction between the two,
and this integration gives a sense of reconciliation and
resolution (p. 9).
Although not trained as an artist, Jung was acquainted with
the use of personal discovery through art activity from a
first hand perspective. Through much of Jung's life:
particularly at times of personal crisis, Jung drew, painted,
and sculpted representations of his inner experiences. He
makes it clear that this was not a peripheral activity,
but on the contrary was a vivid source of personal insight
into his situation (Edwards in Rubin, 1987, p. 93)
Jung's theoretical work emphasizes the importance placed
on imagery, symbols and the role of creativity in the unconscious.
Jung's affinity with art as a means of personal insight and
change agent is commented on in 1931 in The Practice of Psychotherapy
in which he describes his reasoning for encouraging his patients
to spend time at creating art:
he begins to play an active part. At first he puts on paper
what has come to him in fantasy, and thereby gives it the
status of a deliberate act. He not only talks about it,
he is actually doing something about it. Psychologically
speaking, it is one thing for a person to have an interesting
conversation with his doctor once a week -- the results
of which hang somewhere or other in mid-air -- and quite
another thing to struggle for hours at a time with refractory
brush and colours.... the effort to give visible form to
the image enforces a study of it in all its parts, so that
in this way its effects can be completely experienced (Jung
perception expects that the patient interact with the painting,
that it is not just the simple painting of pretty pictures,
but, (1966) "It is necessary besides to have an intellectual
and emotional understanding of them: they must be consciously
integrated, made intelligible, and morally assimilated. We
must subject them to a process of interpretation." (Jung,
1966) Predating the formal development of art therapy by two
decades, Jung is fairly accurately describing some of the
basic essentials of art as therapy.
The psychoanalyst Kris's (1952) viewpoint was that relaxation
in artistic activity allowed a purposeful and constructive
form of regression separate from the fantasies of dreams.
For Kris the dilemma for the artist is to balance a personal
dance between creation and criticism; the creative letting
go is poised with a finely controlled functional regression.
As Dalley (1983) clarifies, "When regression goes too
far, the symbols become too private, whereas when there is
too much control, the result will be cold, mechanical and
uninspired" (p. 9).
a means of opening up to inner experience, the controlled regression
of the creative process grants a disintegration of the ego,
allowing emergence of material from the deeper levels of the
psyche. Additionally, creativity and its organizing forms encourage
ego building, catharsis and integration on the higher levels
of cognitive consciousness. The creation of personal art moves
one back, down and in -- and then correspondingly forward, up
and out. One is connected to the present day issue, its origins
and its reintegration.
Gestalt Art Therapy
Janie Rhyne writes that many of the difficult to explain
and rather abstract connections between the theories of gestalt
psychology and gestalt therapy are far more "easily observable
in the activity of art therapy...the concepts are transposed
into vivid percepts as we engage in expressive art experience."
(Rhyne in Rubin, 1987, p. 172). Rhyne (1984) in Gestalt Art
Experience describes the psychotherapeutic use of art as "gestalt
art experience" and often uses that phrase rather than
"gestalt art therapy" to describe her work. The
three constituents of Gestalt, Art and Experience are described
directly following: dreaming, feeling, thinking, acting, expressing,
and being aware at the same time that you are the person who
is doing all of this" (p. 6).
In the creative process, the artist reconnects with that
too often lost awareness and "beingness" which the
child brings to creative painting or other activity. In art
activity, one may experience delight, anger, joy, sorrow,
or splendid play. In Rhyne's (1984) view, whatever the experience,
the client is encouraged to let it be and to have awareness
of the experience.
-"Gestalt" is describe
by Rhyne as "the ability to perceive whole configuration
- to perceive your personality as a totality of many parts
that together make up the reality of you" (p. 9)
Gestalt theory concerns itself with: the perception and
relatedness of the whole; the closure and connectedness to
those things incomplete; configurations of "figure/ground
relationships, dynamic movement, contact/boundaries, coherence
and fragmentation" (Rhyne, 1980, p. 77). These are visual
and perceptual concepts of the environment. Gestalt therapy
applies these elements of perception to human relationship,
and to the organization of the internal psyche. Fagan and
Shepherd (1970) explain:
Gestalt psychology originated as a
theory of perception that included the inter-relationships
between the form of the object and the processes of the
perceiver.... Gestalt thinking emphasized "leaps"
of insight, closure, figure-ground characteristics, fluidity
of perceptual processes, and the perceiver as an active
participant in his perceptions rather than a passive percipient
of the qualities of form (p. 3).
concepts are often too easily abstracted and distanced and objectified
in the exchanges of verbal therapy; but in a therapeutic painting,
the internal self is opened up and laid out on a piece of paper
or in a sculpture. It can be approached and realized. Through
the images of the art these gestalt perceptual concepts are
observable. The perceptual meaning of inner experience to the
person often becomes obvious, and visual concepts of movement,
relationship, boundary and closure take on a clearer significance
and resolution in viewing and therapeutically processing a person's
work of art.
-"Art" of the gestalt
art experience Rhyne (1984) considers as: "the forms
that emerge from our individual creative experiencing"
Rhyne sees humans as having an inherent desire to make things.
The forms created in the gestalt art experience become an
extension of that desire to make. In gestalt art experience,
the how, and why, and what of that making are often left up
to the client. The form which unfolds is as wonderfully unique
and individual as the person who makes it.
According to Corey (1982), the gestalt art therapist encourages
the client to "carry out their own therapy as much as
possible" (p. 98). The emphasis is on experience and
awareness in moving through to closure of unfinished business.
Like gestalt therapy, gestalt art experiences are often practised
in groups, and the mutual support and sharing in the group
process is seen as a vital part of the closure and completeness.
Through association with existential philosophy and phenomenology,
gestalt therapy encourages personal responsibility and authentic
and innate potential. The therapist attempts genuine contact
with the client and transference is not encouraged; rather
the therapist enters into a mutual, present-centered, person-to-person
therapeutic relationship which allows for changes in both
therapist and client.
Psychology of Art
Another group argues that art therapy should not be over-analyzed
and the productions of art therapy belongs in part to the
realm of other and transpersonal. In Depth Psychology of Art,
Shaun McNiff (1989) tries to wrestle away the hold analysts
have on art therapy. Allen (1990), in a book review states:
McNiff questions the conventional view that art therapy
owes so huge a debt to Freud for defining the unconscious,
since that legacy also contains the misguided certainty that
images which form the unconscious can be explained rationally.
He suggests that analytic judgement arrests the process of
discovering meaning in an image. (p. 115)
McNiff suggests we place art in a context which it has historically
often served, as an artifact that embraces the human search
for sacred meaning and a spiritual order. "To express
the purpose of art he coins the term "Ensoulment,"
to make manifest the soul" (Allen, 1990). McNiff (1989)
suggests taking art away from the fortification of science
and acknowledging its role today where it has served humanity
for millennia as "a manifestation of primary religious
instincts" (p. 20).
Vs. Nondirected Art Therapy
The degree to which the therapist should comment on and
direct or simply observe and acknowledge the client's art
therapeutic process has been debated. In the far extreme of
art in psychotherapy, the analyst can be traditionally Freudian.
As in dreams, the creation of art can be allowed spontaneous
unfolding, but when it comes to gaining understanding, the
"good Doctor" "knows" what the patient
is unable to see, encourages transference and clearly directs
and controls the understandings of symbolic significance of
the picture. Ulman (1975) suggests, in its most patriarchal
Expressive therapy centers on the expression of emotion
within the framework of the therapeutic relationship. It
is an integral part of psychotherapy and should be strictly
the doctor's province, for it is often so profoundly revealing
to the patient as to be extremely dangerous in any other
hands. (p. 7)
Moving to less rigidity while still retaining Freudian theory,
Naumburg shifts the application of the analyst's perceptions
Unlike the psychoanalyst, the art therapist does not interpret
a patient's imaged projections but encourages the patient
to assume the active role of explaining his creations....
A therapist's questions as to the mood in which the patient's
designs were created, or the order in which the colors were
used, or just what the pictures meant to the patient may
release his free associations. (p. 6)
believe it is this perspective of accepting the client's experience
and not imposing a therapist-generated interpretation on the
client which allows many of Naumburg's clients to create significant
natalistic womb imagery.
In another mode of highly directive art therapy described
by Oster and Gould (1987) in Using Drawings in Assessment
and Therapy: a Guide for Mental Health Professionals (pp.
85-107.), the client is asked to draw very specific types
of pictures, and as the therapy develops is asked to combine
images from certain pictures or to redraw images in a different
light all in what appears to be an effort to control and direct
the treatment towards very specific objectives which the therapist
In the example Oster and Gould discuss, (1987) the therapist
directs a highly ambivalent and paranoid seventeen year old
male to draw a series of "worst reality," "best
reality," "worst fantasy," and "best fantasy."
The drawings reveal a variety of controlled and organized
views of the world, as well as rather terrifying imagery.
The drawings reflect the young man's inner turmoil, yet reveal
a high need for control. Oster and Gould (1987) describe how
specific therapeutic goals:
The therapist then had David begin
a drawing in which he integrated all four of the above fantasies.
The therapist's goal with this kind of drawing was to help
David see that he did not necessarily have to "split"
and withdraw into his fantasies. (Oster and Gould, 1987,
different degrees, apparently, this form of directed drawing
continued throughout David's therapy, in an effort to move
him towards what the therapist viewed as healthy insights
and appropriate changes. The therapist seemed to predetermine
the next issue David needed to confront, conceptualize or
accept. For David to properly address this next stage of the
therapy process, the therapist created the next "drawing
directive" which would allow David to make the proper
The therapist in art as therapy may operate on a wide continuum
of interpretation, comment and direction. Approaches to using
art in therapy can vary, on the one hand, from having, for
the client, a defined agenda and a goal which is clearly expressed
by the therapist (Clifford, 1986), to, on the other hand,
allowing materials and their uses to flow freely and unobstructed
with the therapist simply making comments primarily of support
and acknowledgment. Keyes (1983) relates from Inward Journey:
I am interested in hearing any reflection he or she might
have on what the material evoked. I ask questions to facilitate
the telling: Where does it seem to be going? How did you
feel when you started? When you finished? What do you sense
as you look at it now? Sometimes such questions are unnecessary:
the experience itself was sufficient. (p. vii.)
Clifford, a therapist colleague of mine, tells her clients,
"My job is not to give answers, but to ask the best questions."
Keyes (1983) agrees, explaining, "Art therapy does not
answer the questions. It provides a process to clarify and
deepen the questions" (p. 4). The therapist serves as
a guide while the individuals are left to interpret their
own experience and make their own discoveries.
Thomson (1989) points out that the extreme non-interference
approach to the use of art in therapy is revealed in a studio
note left by Lyddiatt:
the above approach, the therapist is alert to the therapy
process, yet active primarily as a witness to the journey.
Lyddiatt (1972) suggests this is an experience of silence
and yet of mindful presence. For the therapist this concept
is often difficult to understand in our daily western modern
busy-ness of the everyday world. Lyddiatt (1972) explains
that in a mindful witness there is "a deliberate effort
to let a mood speak without seeking to control it, and without
being overwhelmed by it" (p. 3).
For much of the work I do with art in the therapy setting
I clearly function as witness - I am present, I see and hear,
I empathize and acknowledge, and I may ask the client to summarize
or clarify. The client, in the end, is the one who knows his/her
In terms of the perceptions I may have accumulated, and tentative
conclusions I may have drawn, I prefer to ask open ended questions
leaving discovery and insight to the client. When insights
have been shared I will summarize, acknowledge, and support.
When an issue seems to be pressing but the client is not talking
about it directly, and it seems to me the right time to discuss
it I will ask permission to ask about something. Then I proceed
with the clear designation that this is my perception, wondering
or sense, but it is not something the person should automatically
own or accept as truth. There is a continual fine line in
seeking client permission and subtly directing choice.
Healing with Art
Harriet Wadeson (1980) in Art Psychotherapy lists six major
dynamics which are at play in the healing process of art therapy.
These are: imagery; decreased defenses; objectification; permanence
spatial matrix; creative and physical energy. The following
summarizes Wadeson on these points (Wadeson, 1980, pp. 8-12):
- Imagery: Images made up our
thought processes before words, and as word language develops
we still continue to form thought through images. Imagery
as early conceptual perception forms part of the base for
personality and mental development. If dreaming is an accurate
portrayal of the unconscious then images flourish in the
- Decreased Defenses: Art activity
is not the dominant means of communication and organizing
of thought processes therefore it lacks some of the habituated
defenses associated with verbalization. As creatures of
a left brain culture many of our defenses are expressions
of rational left brain activity. Art activity, however,
bypasses some of these cognitively driven psychological
- Objectification: Through
art, psychological material can be projected into an external
object, thereby distancing from the inner self. As the artworks
are mentally, emotionally and physically manipulated and
transformed, so too is inner experience. In particular,
overwhelming inner experience which is contained in an art
object can be held at a safe psychological distance, and
from the safety of that vantage point can be investigated
and worked through.
- Permanence: Unlike the verbal
content of therapy which can be forgotten, or, at least,
the detail of discussion blurred with time, productions
of therapeutic art will retain their chronicle of the therapeutic
work. The therapeutic content in the art can be returned
to later for further processing. In addition, as the layers
of healing are peeled away, the initial unconscious elements
of the art work can begin to have greater conscious meaning
and therapeutic significance.
- Spatial Matrix:
Art productions are not confined by the linear restrictions
of language, time, relationship in space and the rational
logic of order. As such, art process and images may better
represent the human experience, particularly in areas where
linear words are insufficient.
- Creative and Physical Energy:
Wadeson (1984) describes a phenomenon of increased energy
in the creative process. She believes this charges both
the individual and group with greater alertness and participation.
reviewing my natalistic art therapy and workshop programs I
would add to Wadeson's list the following characteristics which
art provides: holistic synthesis, unconscious expression, dream
material, body expression, emotional discharge, pacing, creating
altered states of consciousness, assisting the preverbal to
become verbal, natalistic expression, repatterning, psychological
induction, communication, ensoulment and interpretation. These
constituents are defined below and are further developed in
the text: Properties
of Natalistic Art.
- Emotional Discharge: Art is
synonymous with expression, and expression is synonymous
with emotional release. As talk in therapy allows and encourages
therapeutic discharge of emotional anxiety, creative expression
can also be a means of telling and letting go of a buried
or pent up feeling. Emotions which are difficult to articulate
with verbal language can have greater opportunity for release
through artistic expression.
- Art Activity as Altered State of
Consciousness: Artistic expression also allows or
even encourages shifts in levels of consciousness or modes
of processing. Early, as well as other, traumatic material
may be reverberating in dissociated states of consciousness
(Stewert, 1987), or non-ordinary states of consciousness
(Grof, 1985). Art activity may have particular advantages
for reaching these states.
- Assisting the Preverbal to Become
Pre- and perinatal experiences are preverbal and, like art,
are nonverbal. This may be one reason why they are such
friendly partners. Art work brings the preverbal to one
level of consciousness. Observation, writing and discussion
bring the material to another level.
- Psychological Induction and Suggestion:
Part of personal transformation as a result of art activity
derives from the visually implied expectation of change.
The energy surfacing in the creative process or the images
themselves can imply and therefore release, understanding
and new ways of relating. For the artist, consciously and
unconsciously, these can serve as concrete suggestions and
induction for change. Art images, then, reach deep into
the psyche and are actively held there for long periods
- Emotional Repatterning Through Art:
The art process may break
through deeply habituated emotional patterns. Through emotional
release and through reframing which arise through the art
process or the visual content of art, new perceptions of
the self and relationships are made possible.
- Physical Repatterning:
Emotional and psychological issues often impact on and are
stored in the body. Art work has a particular facility,
frequently far superior to words, for permitting the expression
of somatic sensation and anxiety. Through visual expression,
and, quite importantly tactile experience and kinaesthetic
movement, body blocks and patterns can be released and repatterned.
- A Holistic Synthesis of the Person:
Art ctivity engages the individual on numerous levels
consciously and unconsciously. As such, art as a therapeutic
modality has a innate affinity with a holistic approach
to the person. In addition, art activity has a propensity
for use in conjunction with other modalities, allowing its
efficient use in eclectic or holistic approaches which incorporate
a wide range of therapeutic approaches.
The text: Properties
of Natalistic Art.discusses each of these healing properties
of art in much greater detail, in particular as they relate
to natalistic art activity.
Michael C. Irving,
Ph.D. and Cheryl Irving, B.A.
have a private practice
as psychotherapists with individuals and groups.
than 20 years their practice has encompased individual
clients and psychotherapy workshops and trainings
on - healing emotional trauma through regressive
therapies, mind/body integration, dissociative
disorders, ego state therapy, primal therapy,
art therapy, prenatal parenting and, working with
pre and prenatal issues through art.
- To book clinical work or
mediation call (416)469-4764