Art Therapy for Groups
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Art Therapy for Groups

A Handbook of Themes and Exercises

Marian Liebmann

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eBook - ePub

Art Therapy for Groups

A Handbook of Themes and Exercises

Marian Liebmann

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About This Book

First published in 2004. Art Therapy for Groups provides detailed guidance on how to set up and run theme-based art therapy groups and discusses factors affecting different client groups.

The second half of the book consists of nearly 400 themes and practical exercises to use with groups, set out in sections ranging from personal work to group interactive exercises. This updated second edition includes:

* new material on race, culture and diversity
* a chapter on recording, evaluation and evidence-based practice
* a survey of literature on art therapy groups
* seventy new themes
* an updated international resources section.

Illustrated with line drawings and black-and-white photographs this book is an essential resource for people working with art therapy and personal art groups.

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Art therapy groups

Chapter 1
Art therapy and groupwork

This chapter gives some definitions of art therapy and a brief outline of its historical development. It lists several of the benefits of art therapy, including its value with diversity issues, and discusses the overlaps between art therapy and art activities. It looks at the reasons for using groups. It goes on to give some background to personal art and art therapy groups, drawing on a survey of 40 art therapists and group facilitators running art/ art therapy groups in a variety of settings, and identifies therapeutic factors in groups. The emergence of several models of art therapy groupwork is charted. Reasons for using themes are noted and the chapter finishes with a look at the flexible use of themes.

Art therapy: some definitions

Art therapy uses art as a means of personal expression to communicate feelings, rather than aiming at aesthetically pleasing end products to be judged by external standards. This means of expression is available to everyone, not just the artistically gifted. There are many definitions of art therapy—here is one based on working in a therapy setting:
Art therapy involves the use of different art media through which a patient can express and work through the issues and concerns that have brought him or her into therapy. The therapist and client are in partnership in trying to understand the art process and product of the session.
(Case and Dalley 1992: 1)

Here is a wider definition including all arts therapies and other settings:

The common ground for all arts therapies includes the focus on non-verbal communication and creative processes together with the facilitation of a trusting, safe environment within which people can acknowledge and express strong emotions.
(Payne 1993: xi)

As will be seen from the examples given further on in Chapter 6, art therapy can be relevant to many people, whether they are grappling with serious problems or just wish to explore themselves and their feelings, using art as the medium. In the words of one art therapist, running a group for the general public: ‘No special ability or disability is required.’

Art therapy: a brief history

The history of art therapy derives from several different strands. The first is from work done in child art. Franz Cizek, a progressive art educator in Austria around 1900, believed in children having ‘free expression’ in art, and arranged an exhibition of child art in 1908. As his ideas spread, he brought the exhibition to London in 1934–5. In England, Marion Richardson promoted the idea and spontaneous work in children’s art classes became widespread during the 1940s (Waller 1991).
A second strand arose through the world of psychiatry. In 1922, Hans Prinzhorn published Artistry of the Mentally Ill, based on the art of mentally ill people in asylums. This inspired two psychiatrists, Erich Guttmann and Francis Reitman, who emigrated to England from the Nazi persecution in the 1930s, to join with Walter Maclay to make a further collection of paintings for research.
Edward Adamson was appointed as artist at the Netherne Hospital, with a brief to facilitate mentally ill patients in drawing and painting without any intervention. In this way he pioneered the ‘open studio’ approach (Adamson 1984).
A third strand was developed by Adrian Hill, who was the first person to use the term ‘art therapy’ in his book Art Versus Illness (1945). He had used his art to pass the time while convalescing from TB in 1938, and was then asked by doctors to help others, especially soldiers returning from the Second World War.
It became apparent that ‘doing art’ achieved more than filling the hours—people actually recovered from their mental distress.
Many other pioneers were involved in the early days of art therapy, often working as artists, teachers or occupational therapists. They came together to form the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) in 1963. In the early days of BAAT there were strong links with teaching, but as art therapists found themselves increasingly working in hospitals BAAT looked more towards the NHS, achieving recognition in 1982. State registration was achieved in 1997 and from 1 April 2002 art therapists are registered by the Health Professions Council (HPC). (For addresses of BAAT and HPC see Resources section at end of book.)
The two books concerning the history of art therapy in Britain are Healing Arts by Susan Hogan (2001), covering 1790 to 1966, and Becoming a Profession by Diane Waller (1991), covering 1940 to 1982.
Now art therapists work in a wide variety of settings. There is still a preponderance of art therapists working in mental health, but with the gradual closure of large hospitals they now work mostly in small hospitals or communitymental health teams. Within the mental health system, art therapists work with those suffering from all kinds of disorders and at all stages of life. Art therapists now also work in forensic settings (prisons, regional secure units and youth offending teams) and in education (special needs schools, ordinary schools). There has been a growth of work in palliative care (cancer care, hospices, AIDS facilities), in addictions work (both alcohol and drugs) and in work with people with learning disabilities and those with autistic spectrum disorders. New areas are being explored all the time: art therapy with refugees and with children in war-torn zones are recent applications, where the aim is to bring appropriate relief in these situations. Several centres for homeless people also offer art therapy for their members or residents.
The non-verbal and creative aspects of art therapy make it the ‘treatment of choice’ (along with other arts therapies) for many who would not benefit from verbal therapies. In settings that include people with a wide range of abilities (both intellectual and emotional), it can be more inclusive of this diversity.
Art therapists undertake postgraduate training, lasting two years full time or three years part time. For those who do not want to train as art therapists but would like to find out more about it experientially, there is now a good range of introductory and foundation courses based at local colleges and some spring and summer schools based at universities, especially those engaged in art therapy training.
Arts therapists work from a variety of theoretical viewpoints, such as psychoanalytic (e.g. Freudian, Jungian, Kleinian) or humanistic (e.g. Gestalt, brief therapy, solution-focused, personal construct psychology, cognitive). Many arts therapists work in an eclectic way, selecting from different approaches; or use more than one approach, depending on the client group and the work to be done. One of the strengths of art therapy is that it can be used in conjunction with most psychological models.

Art therapy: some benefits

The following are some of the advantages of art therapy that may be relevant in different circumstances:

  • Almost everyone has used art as a child and can still do so if encouraged to forget about images having to be ‘artistically correct’.
  • It can be used as a means of non-verbal communication. This can be important for those who do not have a good mastery of verbal communication for whatever reason. For those who cannot stop talking, it can sometimes be a good way of cutting through ‘tangled verbosity’.
  • It can be used as a means of self-expression and self-exploration. A picture is often a more precise description of feelings than words and can be used to depict experiences which are ‘hard to put into words’. Sometimes ‘words are
  • hard to find’, as in dementia. The spatial character of pictures can describe many aspects of experience simultaneously.
  • The process of doing art can sometimes help people become more aware of feelings previously hidden from them, or of which they were only partly aware. It can help people become clearer about confused feelings.
  • Using art can sometimes help people release feelings, e.g. anger and aggression, and can provide a safe and acceptable way of dealing with unacceptable feelings.
  • It can help such people to look at their current situations and at ways of making changes. The ‘framed experience’ (an experience within a boundary, like a picture in a frame) can provide a context to try out or fantasise about possible futures without the commitment of reality.
  • It can be used to help adults play and ‘let go’. Recapturing the ability to play can lead to creativity and health.
  • The concreteness of the products makes it easier to develop discussion from them. The pictures are there to return to at a later date and it is possible to look back over pictures from a series of sessions and note developments.
  • The existence of a picture as a separate entity means that therapist and client can relate to each other through looking at the picture together. This is sometimes a less threatening way of confronting issues or relating. This is also referred to as the ‘triangular relationship of art therapy’.
  • Discussion of the products can lead to explorations of important issues.
    ‘Interpretation’ of a reductive kind is not widely used as pictures are often ambiguous and the most important thing is for the creator to find his or her own meanings.
  • Using art requires active participation, which can help to mobilise people who have become accustomed to doing very little. In a group setting, it is one way of equalising participation. Everyone can join in at the same time and at their own level.
  • It can be enjoyable and this may lead to shared pleasure and to individuals developing a sense of their own creativity. Many people who start art therapy in a very tentative way go on to develop a real interest in a very tentative way go on to develop a real interest
  • For certain disorders, it can be used diagnostically.
Art therapy can be used in many different ways, depending on the setting, the client group, the purpose and orientation of the therapist. As it has grown and been found useful in such a wide variety of situations, it can be practised in many different ways.

Art therapy and diversity

Art therapy and personal art groups have something particularly positive to offer in this area, as mentioned above, in that their non-verbal nature can include a wider diversity of clients than purely verbal therapies. The visual possibilities inherent in the use of art provide an exciting way to explore culture and difference. In areas such as this, questions are often more useful than hard-andfast answers in that they open up areas for reflection and discussion. Campbell et al. (1999) explore this dimension in Art Therapy, Race and Culture and include the following questions in the Introduction:

  1. How does the race and culture of both therapist and client impact on the process, product and relationships in art therapy?
  2. How can we harness the therapeutic possibilities generated by images, colour and language, which reflect people’s racial and cultural histories?
  3. What are the content and meanings of the dynamics that arise in intercultural art therapy?
(Campbell et al 1999:15)

These questions can inform our explorations of race and culture and also of other areas of difference such as learning disabilities, gender, religion, and so on.

Art therapy and art activities

Although art therapists have forged the way, there are now many professionals who are interested in using art in a personal way with their groups. Many art courses and community arts programmes include a more personal approach to involvement in art. In art the emphasis is generally on the final product as an end in itself, whereas in art therapy the person and the process of creating the work are more important. However, with the more personal approaches in art there can be large overlaps. Many orga...

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