Teach me, like you, to drink creation whole
And casting out my self, become a soul.
-Richard Wilbur, 1961
The first way that it works is that the patient will draw a picture that accurately represents an event and will then talk about it.
The second way that Art Therapy works is that the patient will draw a picture representing the event but talk about it only in metaphor. Eventually, when the patient is ready, the metaphor will be broken and used as a springboard for verbal therapy where the event will be talked about for real.
LYNNE: An example of this would be a child drawing a picture of a family doing something representing what happened to her, for example, like witnessing a fight between her parents resulting in physical violence. The child would talk to me about the picture through one or more sessions, making statements like “that girl is hiding behind the couch and the mother is lying on the floor hurt bad because the daddy got mad. The girl is hiding because she is afraid her mommy is dead and her daddy might hurt her too.” The girl might be giggling when she tells the story about the picture. Then I might say something like “Wow. That girl must be really, really scared. Who IS she?” A typical answer early on in this model would most likely be a story: “Oh she’s just a girl.” I might say “Do you know her?” Eventually I might hear, with giggles slowly subsiding, that she went to school with the girl; that the girl was her friend sleeping over, stories progressing from metaphor to the truth. This is a process never to be rushed. Eventually, with many tearsand when I intuitively feel the moment is right to push a little bitshe would express that the girl was her. Then we would have the needed “springboard” to move into verbal psychotherapy about the event, because the art therapy created a disclosure of an event that a child or even a teen sitting on a couch most probably would not have just started talking about, even if questioned.
The third way that Art Therapy works is in its purest form. This is when the art making process is pure sublimation, the cornerstone of art therapy theory and practice. Sublimation is a very unconscious process. It involves taking the memory of a traumatic event and sublimating it by engaging in a higher, creative activity, such as art making. A good example of this would be the case of the woman who was raped, case one.
Art making strengthens the ego, as well as bolsters self-esteem, both primary goals of any type of therapy. Patients who are afraid to try to create for fear of lack of talent are often stunned by what they can do when they are in Lynne’s sophisticated studio environment and guided by her proficiency. Confidence and self-worth can soar. Other times, however, patients do not like what they see they have made, especially early on in treatment. Even if the subject matter of a particular piece is disturbing, and the patient is distressed, saying “It’s ugly! I’m ugly!,” Lynne will say “You’re not ugly, you just have some bad and very upsetting feelings inside of you, and that is why we talk a lot, too.”
Art making also works simply because it feels good. It feels good to stroke with a brush, to slide your hands over slippery, cool clay, to blend chalky pastels into rainbows of colors with your fingertips. To do these things while contemplating what is inside you, while listening to inspiring music or serene, peaceful silence. You don't need to be an artist. You don’t even need to be able to draw a stick figure. Just leave that all to Lynne’s guidance and experience all that the studio has to offer.
Art therapists practice art therapy in different ways, just as, say, doctors practice medicine in diverse ways. Lynne takes art therapy very seriously as it is the cornerstone of her practice. She uses it with almost all her patients from children and adolescents to adults. She has also adapted it to facilitate work with groups, families and partners.
Art therapy is extremely versatile and can do much more than simply treat a variety of psychiatric issues. It can also screen for learning disabilities and developmental disabilities at a very early stage, sometimes faster than they would be picked up in a traditional school setting. A well trained art therapist like Lynne will notice this quickly, do a few art therapy assessments, and if indicated, refer a child for further testing.
Art therapy works with almost all issues, but is especially effective in treating sexual abuse. Recently legislation passed that drawings can be introduced in sexual abuse court cases as judiciary evidence. At the end of this section there will be case studies to select from that will demonstrate ways in which art therapy can be used to treat sexual abuse. All sexual abuse case studies, as well as the case study mentioned earlier about rape, were chosen with great care. Lynne has selected these case studies intentionally so that they would be fitting for a web presence. All examples avoid being explicate while still being illuminating.
Lynne is very particular about the way art therapy is done. She says that art therapists need to be artists themselves. The advantages are many. Therapists often need to draw a quick example of something. They always need to demonstrate how the materials are used. Sometimes they need to know how to mix paint and get an exact color that a patient needs.
Most importantly, the art therapist needs to be able to anticipate what the different types of materials are going to do. Different materials pull for different types of affect and feelings. For example, paint is wet and colorful. This combination is stimulating and perhaps good for a depressed patient but not for an over-stimulated, distracted, or hyperactive child. Other materials are more soothing and calming and would be better choices in that case. Other materials can promote regression too quickly and must be used with caution, especially with trauma patients- materials that can get too “runny” or “messy,” or too quickly out of the child’s control could be frightening and frustrating.
One example would be a teen working so heavily with charcoal that she would not be able to erase it, should be forewarned to help avoid disappointment and a blow to the ego, which the therapist is always trying to strengthen. Or a teen using the wrong kind of glue for a collage could return to her following session to find her artwork with pieces falling off. This scenario would be a major setback in particular because collage is a brilliant medium to use for therapy because of its metaphor of “gluing things back together.”
Yet another example: If the therapist sees a patient get much too regressed or over-stimulated with wet, slippery clay, the therapist should switch them over to a drier clay. There are several types and some can be mixed in with the very wet clay as the project is happening. Only an artist would know this. This is important because sexually abused children are so used to being overly stimulated and then left wherever the assault took place. Therefore if the therapist's intervention is to try to take the whole project away they run the risk of multiple problems.
Finally worth mentioning in terms of why art therapists must be artists to be effective is that if a patient is working on a long-term project that involves many pieces, such as sewing their own puppet or doing a mini 3-d self portrait great for distorted body-image issues that are frequently seen in sexual abuse victimsthe patient may ask the therapist for assistance, for example, “could you paint the legs while I work on the face?” Only an artist can do this. This is also a very healing and maternal experience when the art therapist helps in this way for children and teens who were never given quality play time or attention from a healthy parent.
Art materials play a significant role in another way. This is why there is a studio in Lynne’s office and not just a tray of markers and crayons to be brought to the sitting area. Supplies need to be sophisticated, pristine, and always in excellent condition. For children who have experienced trauma their internal balance, ego, and psyche is shaken. The art materials are like food. Patients of any age feel fed and satiated working with Lynne in the studio. The pencils need to be sharpened at all times, the markers rich with ink, the crayon sticks unbroken, and the choices many.
Lynne takes this idea to its extreme by creating a spectacular studio in her office. It is ready and in immaculate condition as each patient walks through the door just for them, whether art therapy is done that day or not. Her patients can not only draw and paint but sew, sculpt, do mosaic, printmaking, almost anything they dream. And Lynne has assured that her studio avoids the trap of “crafts.” There are no pipe cleaners or popsicle sticks or stencils. Craft work is not art therapy.
Lynne encourages patients to treat each piece of art or writing as something very, very special, from the smallest doodle to the silliest poem to a large scale work of art. She encourages patients to sign and date each piece. She also encourages framing special pieces and showing and publishing art whenever possible. Patients that are willing to take this step are truly taking steps toward healing.
One of the major benefits of art therapy is the rich history of a patient’s portfolio. All work is dated and filed to become a visual record of the treatment. Patients decorate their portfolios and chose a special place in a rack to keep them. They develop even more trust in their relationship with Lynne because they are leaving something private and precious with her that they know will be safe. This is a powerful resource to which patients can refer. For example, Lynne can say: “remember not long ago you wouldn't even include your family in drawings, all of last fall and winter, now look at how many pictures your mom is in. Why do you think that's happening?” The portfolio becomes a touchstone. This allows the patient to experience progress visually and tangibly. Verbal psychotherapy offers no such benefit.
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