Church Point / Mona Vale NSW 2105 Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm Ph: 0417 462 115 FB Logo1
Maarit Rivers, Child Therapist

Ph: 0417 462 115

Church Point / Mona Vale
NSW 2105

Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm

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Art Therapy Explained

Art has healing powers, and art has been used through the ages. Initially art making as a therapy was done with mentally ill and in hospitals. Later, art therapy was developed as a profession in its own right. Art therapy has since spread all over the world; each country adds its own cultural flavor into the therapy. Australian Aborigines have recognized and used art in their daily lives for tens of thousands of years. I also examine the validity of art as a diagnostic tool.

Art is an integral part of our everyday life. “Making marks and forms of art are activities common to all human beings. Since ancient times, humans have drawn, carved, and scratched as forms of individual expression and communication.” (Case & Dalley, 2011, p. 69) History and culture can be traced back to art or artifacts such as patterns on the pottery, petroglyphs, or cave paintings. “Art has been used to communicate with gods, social rituals, inform others, and help us understand, process, and record our relationship with our environment.” (Campbell, 2005, p. 3.) Taearo (2002) adds how art was used in “tattooing, scarification, carving, tapa-making and printing,… canoe building, architecture and others.” (p. 5). Art is part of the language we communicate with.

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We send visual messages of who we are and how we feel by the way we decorate our home, dress, do our hair.

Without thinking of it as art, people are visually creative every day “The combination of clothes people choose to wear, how they decorate their homes, the way they set out flowers in a garden” (Campbell, 2005, p. 3) is part of making art.
“Art making is to be understood as inseparable from our relations with others and the world.” (Skaife, 2001, p. 40). A great deal of our communication is done visually, it expands verbal communication, which includes both conscious and unconscious meaning. Making art brings the “inside out to be seen” – “the image acts as a bridge between the inner worlds an outer reality.” (Case & Dalley, 2011, p. 137) or, as as Picasso said, “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary” (in Goodreads, 2012).

All children paint and draw, and build worlds and images with whatever materials they have access to; be it sand, sticks, wire, cardboard or more sophisticated paints and colouring pencils. Art is inseparable from our lives.

Art therapy can be divided in two different forms, firstly art as therapy, in which it is understood that the process of creating an object is healing in itself. Rubin (2011) p. 68) confirm this: “Art as therapy… (is seen) as healing through the process” (p. 68), or as Malchiodi (2007) explains, art as a therapy, is “a belief in the inherent healing power of the creative process of making art.” (p. 6). Whereas art psychotherapy is more of a triad between client, therapist and art object. Malchiodi (2007) mentions how “the art image becomes significant in enhancing verbal exchange between the person and the therapist and in achieving insight.” (p. 6). Art psychotherapy uses art partly to gain insight, and as an analytical tool.

I believe that combining these two practices is most effective – healing already happens when one is making art and is further enhanced by talking about the end product either in a group – or in an individual therapeutic setting. People come to therapy when they experience inner mental turmoil; trauma or they feel that they are not able to solve problems, which causes them to feel distressed. “Even people who live satisfying and fulfilling lives will at particular times in their lives be troubled emotionally and may seek help” (Geldard & Geldard, 2001, p. 3). There are times when the full story can only be described through art. “Even the adult, with formidable vocabulary, require hundreds of words in an attempt to convey what picture can do at once.” (DiLeo, 1983, p. 5) Art reaches to the places where pure talking therapy does not. “Art expression takes us to the unknown places beneath the silences of words and brings the terrors of the dark into the light where they may be tamed” (Borowsky Junge, 1993, p. 107).

Even when art is viewed purely as leisure activity, it has healing benefits as Reynolds, (2008) informs, “art making protected the women’s identities, helping them to resist the stereotypes and exclusions … it promotes feeling of aliveness… vitality.” (p. 135).

Art therapy is practiced in many countries. “The International Networking Group 5 Art therapy explained by Maarit Rivers (ING) of Art Therapists’ newsletter goes to 80 countries.” (Stoll, 2005, p. 172). However, different cultures have different perspectives of healing and treatments. “One of the most important aspects of images is that they hold meaning at different levels, reflecting the culture within which they were made and which they are viewed.” (Case & Dalley, 2011, p. 69). Gilroy’s study (as cited in Stoll, 2005 p. 190) mentioned, “Art Therapy is a discipline which develops according to the particular social, cultural, and economic circumstances of individual countries.” Waller (2008) adds “Images have a social and cultural context.” (p. 52).

Art therapist from US, UK and Canada have travelled to other countries and have found “often with some confrontations about the differences in American and other cultures.” (Banowsky Arrington, 2005, p. 200) However, Cameron (2010, p. 407) confirms my belief that art can be the common language for communication, if other ways of communications have failed. “Art not only provides acknowledgment to cultural inclusion, it is valuable tool for communicating with people from various linguistic, social, and educational backgrounds.” Joseph (2009) adds, “Art therapists should look beyond their roots in classical analysis to understand these differences.” (p. 32).

All of the above becomes very relevant when working with the Australian Aboriginal people. The history of Australian Aboriginal people is rich, and tens of thousands of years old. Art for these people has been integral part of their life since the beginning of the time. “Evidence indicates that the rock shelter site in Arnhem Land in the Northern territory was used by people about 60,000 years ago. They used stone tools and red ochre to prepare pigments for rock painting or body decoration.” Jonas & Langton, (in Dudgeon, Garvey & Pickett, 2000 p. 39). Sometimes it is difficult to conduct therapy with Aboriginal people, misunderstandings and behavioural protocols are not understood, however art therapy can reach over this divide “Art adapts to every conceivable problem and lends its transformative, insightful and experience heightening power to people in need.” (Cameron, 2010, p. 407) For some urban and displaced Australian Aborigines. “Art making offers a space where these competing discourses can be worked through and re-considered.” (Gibson, 2011 p. 126) These discourses stem from history of “the physical and psychological effects of displacement and incarceration of Aboriginal societies being forcibly removed from their traditional lands.” Collard, (in Dudgeon, Garvey & Pickett, 2000 p. 23).

Mason (in Dudgeon, Garvey & Pickett, 2000 p. 433) continues how art therapy fits well when working with this group of people “in art therapy, the final art object is not seen as end ‘product’ … rather it is seen as part of a ritual activity which gives expression to a living philosophy.”

Art’s healing power has been recognized for millennia. Art has been part of “shamanic practices that link with music, art, dance, drama, and holistic healing rites” (Irwin, 1988, p. 293). Later, art was incorporated to the treatment of ‘the insane’ in the early 1800s. “The development of art therapy within the ‘moral treatment’ regime…saw the arts as appealing to the more refined sensibilities of patients.” (Hogan 2001, p. 33.)

In the late 1930s, art therapy in Britain was pioneered in hospitals. (Wood, 1997) “Since the end of Second World War, art therapists have had a consistent history of offering therapy to people who experience psychotic episodes.” (Wood, 1997, p. 40).

Art used in psychotherapy has roots from Freud and Jung. Freud “wrote about the images presented in dreams and reported that his patients frequently said that they could draw their dreams, but they were unable to describe them in words.” (Malchiodi, 1998, p. 3)

Freud was more interested of the subject matter than the technique. Freud needed to know the meaning of the art in order to interpret it. (Case & Dalley, 2011, p.115 -117). For Jung, art played an important part in his methods, he encouraged his clients to do art. “Jung’s method of treatment was firmly based in a sense of self healing.” (Case & Dalley, 2011, p.132). He believed that “Alchemical symbolism could provide a key to the symbolism in dreams.” (Case & Dalley, 2011, p. 131)

Jung writes, “it is not question of art – … the patient struggles to give form, however crude and childish, to the inexpressible.” Jung 1970: 79 (as cited in Case & Dalley, 2011 p. 133) Jung himself turned to art making and self-analysis after a difficult period of his life.

The child analyst, Melanie Klein, recognized the power of art making. She believed that “the artist is working through again the infantile depressive position every time a new piece of work is embarked on.” (Case & Dalley, 2011, p. 37). Another pioneer in psychodynamic art therapy is Marion Milner. She is seen as a figurehead for art therapy in UK. “She sees the primary function of the creative arts to provide a perpetual well for the renewal and expansion of our psychic powers both in our own making and in our aesthetic experience.” (Case & Dalley, 2011, p. 124).

Margaret Naumburg is known as the mother of art therapy. She believed that clients had “an insight through art.” Vick (as cited in Malchiodi, 2003 p. 9). Another early art therapy pioneer was Edith Kramer, for her “art as therapy emphasizes the intrinsic therapeutic potential.” Vick (as cited in Malchiodi, 2003, p .9).

Winnicott explored the creativity and capacity to play and its importance for development. He developed “the ‘squiggle game’ in which the child and therapist create a scribble… through drawing together.” (Malchiodi, 1998, p.13). I learned this method in my play therapist training and use it sometimes with shy children. Further using Winnicott’s theory one can view art piece as ‘transitional… in that it stands between self and other and perhaps can be controlled… its fate is in the hands of its maker. It can be hated and it will survive.’ (Skaife& Huet, 2009, p. 76)

Art is also used as a diagnostic tool. Malchiodi, (1998) confirms this by stating that: “In the late 1800s and early 1900s, interest grew in Europe in the art of mentally ill, institutionalized adults, and many noted that drawings by patients could be used as aids in diagnosis of psychopathology.” (p. 2). The Rorschach inkblot test was developed in early 1920, Rorschach designed the blots in such a way that they did not look anything special, however, people who looked at them see insects, animals, humans etc. Sternberg (2004) writes: “Psychologists who use the Rorschach believe that people project themselves into the designs.” (p. 557). The draw-a-man-test, that was developed by Goodenough (Malchiodi, (1998, p. 4) was used “of children’s drawings of human figures in assessment of intelligence” later “other theorists and researchers began to look at children’s drawings as indicative of development and personality characteristics.” I learned this method in my training as play therapist. I use it for my assessment tool, to find out the child’s relationship in the world, and the way they think about themselves. However, I find that this is not very therapeutic, children do it, because I suggest it, it does not come spontaneously. Often, after they have quickly rendered a person, they move on to express themselves, the way they feel, so it works as a gentle way to lead a child to do creative work.

I was also trained to use a projective drawing test called tree house person. This test is believed to reflect personality and attitudes. In order for me to become a ‘good’ art therapist, I need to know about art, know what is different with art and art therapy, but above all I need to know myself. Quality human contact is the most important healing element in any of the therapies. I need initially to form a trusting, deep empathetic client relationship. (Wood, 1997, p. 149). I need to like people and like working with the people, not only that I need to have the capacity for empathy. “Sessions between psychiatrist and patient should maintain a creative alliance… healing is more likely when therapists do not see themselves in elitist position.” (Joseph, 2006, p. 32).

I must practice my own art to ensure creative drive is transferred, to provide suitable materials, and provide a safe, secure space to do so. As (Riley, 2001, p. 9) points out “the ability to use art most effectively in therapy rests on taking the risk to ‘do” art personally.” This includes knowing the materials and how to use them, so that I can guide the client.

Because I am trained also as Jungian sand play therapist, I tend to look for archetypes and symbolism emerging in the art. “Good art therapists are particularly talented at seeing.” (Borowsky Junge et al., 1993, p. 107) Case and Dalley (2011, p. 193) add: “The art therapist is trained to pick up communications of great sensitivity through the process of image making, and more importantly waiting with, holding and containing the anxiety and uncertainty.” To acquire that depth I need therapy and supervision to recognize possible counter transferences and blind spots. I believe that continuous learning is important through ones life span, so I will continue to attend more related courses, workshops, and seminars to keep my mind open to new ways of working. Furthermore, I will read more books on the related matters, and if need to be open to therapy myself.

Observing the process of the client, “most can only be seen through close observation of the doing itself.” This includes the observation of the client’s facial expressions, body movement, and voice. Furthermore, because I am working predominantly with children, I need to know normal development, additionally I need to know the theories and recognize the stages of the therapy. Most of all I need to contain my urge to interpret – to be comfortable with ‘not knowing’.Because I am trained also as Jungian sand play therapist, I tend to look for archetypes and symbolism emerging in the art. “Good art therapists are particularly talented at seeing.” (Borowsky Junge et al., 1993, p. 107) Case and Dalley (2011, p. 193) add: “The art therapist is trained to pick up communications of great sensitivity through the process of image making, and more importantly waiting with, holding and containing the anxiety and uncertainty.” To acquire that depth I need therapy and supervision to recognize possible counter transferences and blind spots. I believe that continuous learning is important through ones life span, so I will continue to attend more related courses, workshops, and seminars to keep my mind open to new ways of working. Furthermore, I will read more books on the related matters, and if need to be open to therapy myself.

I conclude that art is an integral part of our everyday lives. Out of art making has developed a therapy called art therapy in which one creates art in a therapeutic setting, and its mainly two different forms: art as therapy and art psychotherapy. Art therapy can explain our deepest emotions, that are difficult to explain with words. This therapy has reached out to all continents, and each country has modified it to fit into their cultural specifics. Australian Aborigines have used art as therapy for tens of thousands of years. The essay further acknowledged the forerunners for art therapy. Furthermore, art has developed to be used as diagnostic tool. I then examined the areas that I need to develop and to pay attention to in order to be effective art therapist.

 

References

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