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Art as Therapy: Creativity as Part of the Therapeutic Process 2

February 2nd, 2015 · art as therapy

In the first part of “Art as Therapy” we looked more generally at how art can be effective as a form of non-verbal therapy; in this post, let’s look at some more of the specifics.

art as therapy

What actually goes on when people create art as therapy?

How the Unconscious Speaks Through Art

“Well,” someone might say, “the unconscious parts of the mind speak through an individual’s artwork.”  OK, that’s fine as far as it goes — but what does that actually mean?

To answer this question, we need to be clear about the overall significance of the unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind is huge, relative to the size of the conscious mind.  Renowned neurologist Prof. Antonio Damasio of  USC has summarized a vast body of research on consciousness and the unconscious, and concludes that:

The unconscious, in the narrow meaning in which the word has been etched in our culture, is only a part of the vast amount of processes that remain nonconscious…  In fact the list of the “not known” is astounding [and includes] all the hidden wisdom and know-how that nature embodied in innate, homeostatic dispositions

The Feeling of What Happens, 1999

So, the “unconscious” contains the vast majority of brain functioning — much more than repressed memories etc.  There is inherited wisdom within us that is relevant to the life situations in which we find ourselves.  But does the unconscious embody this wisdom in any particular form that allows our conscious selves to experience it, and to begin to dialogue with it?

There is such a form: the symbol, which Jungian analyst Warren Colman describes as “the clothing of affect in image”.  The symbols that come forward from the unconscious embody the wisdom of the unconscious, if we have the courage and the humility to accept it.  They manifest in many forms: in dreams, certainly, in myth and folk tale, and, often without our even being aware of it, in all the forms of artistic expression.

art as therapy

How Art as Therapy Can be Involved in Healing

If the individual lets him or herself go, the unconscious will manifest itself in works of art, often giving us a clear commentary on what is going on in the depths of the person.

“Creative work is intimately close to the operation of destruction, at least when old forms must be rejected to arrive at a new form of expression”, Jungian analyst Prof. Christian Gaillard of the Ecole Nationale Superior des Beaux-Arts tells us.

Destruction and creation are intimately connected in the use of art as therapy.  Initially it’s creative to demolish old perceptions, often the perceptions of the conscious self separated from our instinctual grounding, so that new perceptions, new ways of seeing, and being, can be available to the individual.

Can engaging in such destruction and creation be healing?  Yes: profoundly so.

What Use is Doing Art If I’m a “Lousy Artist”?

I watch many analysands wrestle with what they feel to be their artistic limitedness when they come into analysis.  I can relate: I felt exactly the same way when I began analysis and started to create in paint and clay.  But whether one measures up to some aesthetic benchmark is irrelevant.  This is the power of art: if a person strives to bring his or her passion and vision into the clay or paint or writing, something powerful and transformative will start to happen. It will bring a certain kind of encounter with the self.

To Make the Inner Life Concrete

art as therapy

What does making these aspects of one’s inner life concrete and outward in this manner do?

It’s not too extreme to say that what one sees as emerging from a person’s work of this kind is an alternate life story.  Perhaps it’s even better described as an alternate mythology.  A story that is both an “explanation” of the individual’s lived experience and a letting-go-of-explanation, as I become aware that something more is going on in my personal existence than I can possibly comprehend.

But I can connect with it through the symbols.

Jungian or depth psychotherapy encourages each individual on their creative journey, providing transformative ways in which to take in the meaning and vitality of this process.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Art as Therapy: Creativity as Part of the Therapeutic Process 1

January 26th, 2015 · art as therapy

When people think about therapy, they generally imagine that it entails lots and lots of talk; yet  depth psychotherapy often makes powerful use of art as therapy.

art as therapy

Jungian analysts have considerable training in the ways that the deep self of the individual can be expressed through art, and so it can often be an incredibly helpful part of the process.

Why Be Creative?

Creativity is fundamentally an expression of the self, including the deeper parts of the psyche.  If the individual is genuinely letting themselves be free, and engaging in creation, as opposed to copying others, he or she is letting an important aspect of her or his identity come to the surface.

Art as therapy is fundamentally about a kind of self acceptance.    Can I accept what comes from me, that which I create?  It can be a key turning point in a client’s work if the therapist can create an environment where what is created and springs up from the depths of the self is accepted and welcomed.

Not Everything is Verbal — or Nor Can It Be

If we reflect, we all know that there are fundamental truths about human life — about our lives — that simply can’t be expressed in spoken language, or in prose — what psychoanalyst Christopher Bollis calls the “unthought known”.  This can be true of the full measure of love, the intensity of religious experience or the experience of the ground of our being, or sometimes of the extent of loneliness, or of yearning… or of the pain that is deepest in the soul.

Yet, even though we can’t just verbally describe these things, often we need to express them.  These potent things fill the human heart — and they need to find a way to be “put out there”… to live and breathe.

Certainly the community of artists exist to express such things.  We non-artists could just leave such expression in the hands of “the professionals”.  We may feel that a Group of Seven painting or a Mozart sonata, or lines from Shakespeare express something ineffable, something that we could never express.  And perhaps that’s right.  But what about our own unique truth, the truth that is unique to our own lives — that no one can ever express but us?  Yes, this truth exists: trust it to express itself, and it will.

Some Things Want to Become Conscious

They just do!  There are things within each of us that long — that need — to be expressed and made conscious.

It takes a measure of security with one’s ego, and with one’s deeper self to let this emerge.  We can all find it very easy, consciously, or unconsciously, to put on the brakes.  Yet, if we wrestle to let this inner voice come forth, we may just find ourselves in contact with the voice of the deep self.

art as therapy

The Experience of Creation

I can recall many moments in therapy work, when individuals were prepared to disengage their inner censor, and bring forth something from within themselves that really wanted to exist — a drawing, a painting, a piece of music.

This can be extremely powerful — almost more so in the work of the individual who, without special training, is just giving room for expression to something in her or his inmost self.  Perhaps not expressed in a perfect form, or through the most elegant of means, and yet I cannot describe to you the incredible privilege of seeing the way life incarnates itself in these individuals’ creative works.

art as therapy

Individuals should be encouraged to draw, paint, be creative as they explore themselves.  In doing so, they are speaking the language of the deep self and of the unconscious..  A Jungian or depth psychotherapy approach embodies much that can enrich and enliven the process of art as therapy.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © BurnAway ; Ann   
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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