Art making and healing
When words fail
Often considered one of the first art therapists, Jung understood that ' Often the hands know how to solve a riddle with which the intellect has struggled in vain.' (Jung 1960/69). What he meant by this is that there are times when it is difficult to put thoughts and feelings into words, but engaging with art materials can facilitate meaningful expression of these difficult-to-say thoughts and feelings.The process of engaging with art materials within a relationship with a trained art psychotherapist can in and of itself be transformative. Because art psychotherapy has to do with self-expression, deepening understanding and shared thinking, prior experience of art making is not necessary. The emerging art works reflect deeply personal experiences that are communicated within the safety and confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship and are generally not suited to exhibition and display.
The idea that children make good use of art materials and processes to support the expression of and thoughts about their experience is easily accepted by most people. What is less commonly understood is that adults too can benefit from the use of art making within a safe and supportive relationship with an art psychotherapist.
Adults and couples
The idea that art making has a role to play in the treatment of adults with physical illness as well as those suffering emotional and psychological distress emerged during the early and mid-twentieth century, when art making was introduced to patients recovering from physical illness, as well as those suffering what we might now call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and other psychiatric conditions. The profession has grown since then and there are many different kinds of art therapists working in different settings with different client groups. I am an analytical art psychotherapist which means that I consider the art making process, the images that are made as well as the relationship between myself and my patient and our thoughts and feelings about the images as a complex matrix to be thought about and understood.
How does it work?
I provide a range of art materials which I encourage patients to use to express their thoughts and feelings. Together, we share our understanding and thoughts about the artwork and the art-making process. I endeavour to be sensitively attuned to the nature of the relationship between myself and my patients. In this way, through shared thinking and discussion, together we can try and understand the underlying issues presented through the art work and art-making process.
'To paint what we see before us is a different art from painting what we see within... It is not a question of art at all – or rather, it should not be a question of art – but of something more and other than mere art, namely the living effect upon the patient himself.' (Jung, 1931/1985).