Sunday, January 18, 2009


In art therapy clients and therapists need to cultivate patience towards their journey. “Patience is one of the most important qualities of creation, especially for anyone who wants to begin making art. The results cannot be pushed. Everything emerges in its time” ( McNiff, 1998, p.96). Clients must be able to endure a period of not knowing and be able to enter the mystery of self with a curiosity and openness. It takes patience, courage, not knowing, and new ways of perceiving to allow change. “The empty canvas is a forum ready to create a new life . . . .I respond to whatever presents itself” (McNiff, 1998, p. 63).
There are many ways a therapist can take a client safely into their unknown space: warm up activities such as movement, visualizations, and working with the breath. These activities prepare the client to enter their artwork with an open mind. Scribble drawings, spontaneous non-directed painting, and finger painting all facilitate client’s exploration of unknown territory. The frustrations of not developing patience, not knowing and feeling lost in the mystery of self discovery can be explored and contained safely in art. It is tangible proof to clients that they are engaged in process and are doing important inner work even if they don’t feel much is changing in their outer world. The process of staying focused on the path, witnessing change, and developing patience is reflected in the art images. Clients can see their growing ability to witness their journey.
When the mind becomes still as a result of disciplined meditation practice, an inner presence reveals itself, a form of Witness awareness, an inner observer Who gently pulls the mind back, without judgment, to the single thought: stay alert, stay focused...The process is similar to the form of attention--or observing ego--required during an art therapy session. When the mind wanders, one tries to be aware of the sensation of drifting away, gently bringing attention back to the present and, as Epstein pointed out, attending to the current circumstances with “equally suspended attention”. (Franklin, 1999, p. 2)

In the practice of mindfulness we learn to simply note. One way of practicing this is to stare out a window at nature and observe without labeling or judging what we are seeing. In doing art therapy as clients become relaxed, engaged, and curious with their process they naturally move into a state where they can simply note. They can use the sessions to observe old beliefs, feelings or reactions in a new way. Even if clients are working with old beliefs or material it can take on a new life in their art expression if the conditions in the studio support clients to safely enter their unknown space. “The energy of the event directs us. The really vital material arrives spontaneously” (McNiff, P.63, 1998). For a client in an art therapy session to experience the ability to respond to whatever presents itself, the therapist needs to fully accept the client experience of reality, quiet the storm around her/him, and to be able to help the client ground experience in clay, painting or some other medium. “When we enter into therapy with an experienced guide we never know where we will end up and we would do well to both expect and affirm that” (Johnson & Kurtz, 1991, p. 77). The art therapist must be comfortable with not being in control and be able to hold what emerges for the client. The therapist creates the safety and containment for departure from known space to unknown space, from entanglement to simply noting, from fear to acceptance.
The most powerful thing the therapist does for us is provide a setting, a nourishing womb, in which our lives can unfold. Through the physical setting and, most important, the setting of his own being, he creates a place of safety; a trustworthy place where all of life is befriended through an affirmation of faith in our wisdom and creativity. (Johnson & Kurtz, 1991, p. 99)


Anonymous said...

It was so fitting that I read this today. I only now found out about a doctor's death back in July 2008. He was a psychiatrist with the Vince Lombardi Cancer Care Center here in Milwaukee, who began a fantastic program that included art therapy. This was the first time I had been introduced to any program like this, while my mom was dying from cancer.

I cannot tell you how much this affected my life moving forward, stirring the creative juices from that point on.

I love your posts... I am so anxious for your workshop with Kathy from Valley Ridge it can't happen soon enough.

Have a great week...

Karen Wallace said...

Jennifer, Thank you for your words. I am also excited about coming to Valley Ridge. See you in July! Warmly, Karen


Related Posts with Thumbnails