Art therapy, Children & Interpersonal violence

This article is of particular interest, as it shows that not only is the creation of images within art therapy useful for children to open up channels of communication about events that they have been through that they struggle to verbally express (for whichever reason), but it also helps them to begin to resolve these issues. I imagine these two processes are inextricably linked. The anxiety of not being able to express oneself is sometimes very uncomfortable, something which I have experienced personally and know that the process of art making relieves this. In one way, it gives space to experience the emotion and give it attention it deserves, instead of trying to ignore or repress it, and it also evokes a feeling of control over the situation. The process of creation is empowering and cathartic.

‘As Rollo May notes, ‘In all creativity, we destroy and rebuild the world, and at the same time we inevitably rebuild and reform ourselves.’’

This is what particularily makes me think art therapy may be one of the most useful of therapies for children on the autistic spectrum. As there is a vast spectrum of different abilities and disabilities, there will be some children who respond really well to getting creative, and those who don’t. There will be those children who’s developmental challenges and symptoms will inhibit their ability to engage with art making in a way which is useful for them, and those who take to it beautifully. For those who’s symptoms prevent them from fully engaging in the art therapy, I propose the introduction of another therapy, one that has shown to be very beneficial at helping those with ASD; Animal Assisted Therapy.

This leads me onto discuss two articles, one written by David Maclagan called ‘Re-Imagining Art Therapy’ and a response to this written by David Mann.
Maclagans article basically evaluates the language in which the observer/interpretor/art therapist often uses to describe imagery produced in art therapy settings, which he feels falls short of being anywhere close to being able to articulate the many layers, feelings and undertones of any piece of artwork and therefore any interpretations based on this ‘shut down’ imaginative discourse. It also discusses individual capacity for imagination, stating that some patients are simply lacking in imagination and that this is something that needs to be addressed through re-jigging the established formula of art therapy sessions. After reading this article, I felt there were lots of interesting points raised, but that they were slightly abstract. I felt unsure about how they would actually work and that perhaps Maclagan was attempting to reinvigorate imagination post-creation, rather than addressing the fundamental causes that may be restricting imaginative flow in a person pre-creation. Mann argues that, from a psychoanalytical perspective, that what stops someone from being imaginatively ‘free’ would be something (an incident, perhaps) from the individuals history in infantile or childhood development, which has consequently resulted in negative experiences or feelings associated with the shock of the new, therefore fantasy and imagination have become places of anxiety’.

As Mann states, “if the art therapist is experienced as judging the artwork negatively, I think that is one of the easiest ways to close down imagination”.

It would be interesting to visit an art therapist/psychoanalyst myself with my childhood drawings, of which my grandparents kept many of, and produce work in a session to investigate any underlying psychological conditions and practically explore these theories myself. I used artwork in many ways as a child, mainly as a fun way to spend my time, but also to express anger and intense emotions.

In terms of the Maclagan vs. Mann debate, I feel it would be most beneficial to pay attention to both aspects and use more poetic, metaphorical descriptions of images to lead the patient down the road of imagination once the root cause of ‘imaginative block’ has been addressed – otherwise surely one will encounter ‘road blocks’, or be lead on a wild goose chase where no real meaning is ever found in the images, and undoubtedly this helps no-one.

The article below goes into some detail about the various aspects of children artwork and what they might be expressing.


Childrens drawings: What we can infer from them?


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