On never being too sure

I become uneasy when someone speaks with authoritative certainty about someone else. « This is a clear case of X, Y, Z », the XYZ being a defining set of characteristics that describes a person, and given our shortcut liking brains, ends up defining the whole of a person. Through the years I’ve been too often reminded that what I thought was obvious, a neat little package of interpretation, was in fact a much more layered and faceted reality.

Art produced in therapy reminds me daily, that there are always more sides to the story than meets the eye. Imagery is multi-layered and comes to life with time and through storytelling. There is no set truth, but multiple truths that are shaped by the personal and the social, by gender, culture and even how the task at hand is framed. This is one of the reasons many British art therapists rarely use imagery for diagnostic purposes. KHTPHowever this is not the case in the US where art therapists more closely associated with a medical model of practice have done extensive research on indicators of pathology and deviance in images (see Betts, D.J. (2005). Art Therapy Assessment: A Systematic Analysis of Art Therapy Assessment and Rating Instrument Literature. Doctoral Dissertation. Retrieved May 9th, 2008, from : http://www.art-therapy.us/assessment.htm )

A while back I was working with a group reviewing the artwork produced over a number of weeks. One of them impressed by the fact they could identify with most difficulties presented by the other participants, turned to me for reassurance and said: « But I am not just that! » I had a number of choices at that point: I could address the obvious emotional discomfort behind this realization, or instead, reply with what I believed was compassion for someone haunted by how others perceive them : « You are right a life IS always much more than a list of problems, and yours is certainly no different! »

This simple remark reminded me that a narrow therapeutic focus on illness, dysfunction, or maladjustment often presents a skewed picture of the person in care. Too many images of dysfunction and talk about pathology may even be detrimental to recovery in vulnerable clients. There is now evidence that certain therapeutic practices actually create the problem or exacerbate the condition they are trying to alleviate.

In art therapy the artwork mirrors back a difficult reality making it harder to deny but at the same time such « visual confrontations » can be quite difficult to experience. Looking back on the participant’s remark we can see how the power of the imagery can visually drive home the complexity and multi-faceted nature of current difficulties. Something at times hard to swallow but even harder to deny.

One of our mentors Bruce Moon or was it Shaun McNiff?… was found of saying: « Trust the image » images point in the right direction!

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Catégorisé dans Thérapie.

Publié le 09 mai 2008

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