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Thoughts on art therapy, therapeutic art and autobiographical art

by on September 26, 2011

Art therapy focuses on the psychotherapeutic transference process between the therapist and the client who makes art. The therapist is qualified in both art and therapy, and their role is to interpret the client’s symbolic self-expression, as communicated in the art, and to elicit interpretations from the client. The relationship between the therapist and the client is of central importance. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication. There is no aesthetic value placed on the work produced, no judgement is made as to aesthetic merit, and the client is not encouraged to view themselves as an artist. The artwork is a way into the client’s issues. The therapist uses the work to dig deeper into the clients psyche. Art therapy focuses predominantly on negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. The art stays “in the room” (or might make it into an exhibition of “outsider art”) and the focus is on therapy.

Therapeutic art, what we can also call creative arts occupation, encourages the person to reframe themselves from being seen as a service user to seeing themselves as a creative individual. High value is placed on the artwork. The participant (and the group) is/are their own therapist, working only with material they are comfortable with. The group are not seen as service users, they are seen as creative individuals. The artist facilitators’ role is to structure the time and guide the activity. In this case, they are also active participants in the activity, freely sharing their own “material”. There is no discussion of what lies behind the work. The work is all. Emphasis is placed on peer support and on moving towards participating in other art activities and groups, ultimately moving into mainstream art groups and courses, public exhibitions etc. The focus is on creativity and making.

Autobiographical art focuses on creative self-expression which may enable the participant to view themselves differently through externalisation of thoughts and images. It explores the similarities and differences between who we were, who we are, and who we would like to be. A recent literature review[1] reported “by using creative arts occupations to express feelings and moods, participants were empowered to decide what feelings and emotions they wanted to express.” Resonance between an inner feeling and the representation of it enables participants to recognise themselves and their true feelings. Participants are encouraged (in this case through guided worksheets) to connect with the whole gamut of their thoughts, feelings and emotions, and are given free choice (control) over which they work with. The aim is to produce a feeling of wellbeing, success and a sense of pride in the finished work.

D Rosier

Service User Consultant, SLaM and Artist (BA (Hons), Central Saint Martins)

September 2011

Nadia Perruzzai and Elizabeth Anne Kinsella, BJOT Vol 73 No 7, June 2010, quoting Reynolds, 2000 p111.

One Comment
  1. Thomas Tobias permalink

    Thanks for the clarity of thought in this piece, very stimulating – do you see your workshops or your wider workshops as leading people through this process or inspiring people to take the step from one to the other? I am assuming so. The power of art is extra-ordinary in helping humans come to terms with themselves – that’s perhaps what art is….hmmmmm….anyway thanks for the piece, and am looking forward to reading other blogs in the coming months. Caritas Abundat XX

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