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In “Child’s Play: How Play Therapy Works,” Casado-Frankel tells us that parents often ask about the effectiveness of play therapy. According to statistics art therapy has been successful when helping children improve self-esteem and social skills. Like play-therapy it is not just “play,” art therapy is “expression” used to help children engage in self-exploration, it also involves purposeful meaning-making through specific art making.
1. The Art Therapist’s Third Hand
Edith Kramer(link is external), a renowned US art therapist, artist and author, is credited with coining the term “third hand,” an idea central to her approach to art as therapy. The theoretical framework ” Third Hand” is based in the main on Freudian psychoanalytic thought. The emphasis, however, is on the idea of art as therapy rather than on psychotherapy which uses art as a tool. His therapeutic medium is as old as mankind. Since human society has existed the arts have helped man to reconcile the eternal conflict between the individual’s instinctual urges and the demands of society. Thus, all art is therapeutic in the broadest sense of the word. The artist who applies modern psychology in the field of art has to adapt his methods to the medium so that the therapeutic value of art is heightened by the introduction of therapeutic thinking, not destroyed or weakened by the introduction of concepts and methods that might be incompatible with the inner laws of artistic creation.
2. Active Imagination
Active imagination, in its broadest sense, has a much larger role in art therapy than just allowing spontaneous images to unfold. It has a timely relevance in contemporary practice because of recent interest in mindfulness and techniques such as dialectical behavior therapy, somatic experiencing and focusing that encourage one to “stick with the image” and the body’s “felt sense.” These approaches are increasingly being used as methods for addressing trauma reactions and posttraumatic stress, among other emotional challenges and disorders. Mindfulness, espoused by neuroscience gurus like Dan Siegel(link is external) and others, is a practice of balancing, very much similar to the non-judgmental, watchful attentiveness found in active imagination.
3. It’s All About the Metaphor
Archetypal psychologist James Hillman suggests that in order to find that deeper understanding, we should first admit our “lostness” in the presence of the image, whether it be an artwork or the content of dreams. In reality, my art therapy clients come to treatment not only admitting they are lost in their journey to understand themselves and overcome life’s challenges, but also searching for meaning, particularly through art and imagination. So just how do you find meaning and metaphor in your drawings, paintings, or collages? That’s the subject of Cool Art therapy
3. Mask Making
In art therapy, creating a mask from scratch or decorating a pre-made mask often leads to exploring one’s persona. Persona actually is a word that derives from the Latin for “mask,” but often refers to the practical and successful personality that we use most of the time in the workplace and social relationships. It’s a bit like a facade that we start to develop in childhood when we get approval for behaving in certain ways. At the same time, we also learn to disguise and repress those features and traits that not approved- negative characteristics such as anger, greed, envy, and jealousy. We also may repress any other aspects such as creativity or self-confidence if these qualities are not appreciated or affirmed.
Family art therapists have developed a cool variation of the original family sculpture technique, translating it into an intervention involving simple modeling clay or Plasticine [a non-hardening clay that comes in several colors]. Simply put, a client makes a clay representation of each family member– mother, father, siblings, and any other close or influential family members. The goal is not to make a realistic image of each family member, but rather an abstraction that reflects that individual’s personality and role in the family. When all the sculptures are complete, the client arranges them in relation to each other, reflecting relationships and interactions.
5. Show Me How You Feel Today
Draw on your feelings to get in touch with your senses. Children use image making to express what they were feeling in the moment. Decades before somatic approaches to treatment became popular, she also asked people to explore how their feelings were connected to body sensations– in other words, using what’s going on with your muscles, your breathing, and your posture as the basis for artistic expression. The creative approaches help to treat; mood disorders, stress reduction, and trauma and loss.