Portfolios in art therapy part one

Part one: What is a portfolio in art therapy?

Preserving and documenting

When I begin with a new child or family, a large poster size folder 24 x36  is assigned with their name on it; it is first used to collect all 2D art work created during the therapeutic process. The exception may be a large mural that doesn’t fit inside. All 3D materials are kept together as an extension to the flat work; at times in a box or a corner of a cupboard (some pieces are awkward shapes or over-sized). Ephemeral creations are captured with photographs or serve to document a drawn out creative process. All are dated and added to the portfolio. At times the child may wish to decorate his folder, a way to make it special by valuing the container that will receive their work. It is a symbolic means of saying I value myself, and value what we are doing together.

Keeping work for the duration of therapy

At the onset of therapy, I explain that their work remains in the art therapy room, safely tucked away in their own portfolio for the duration of our work together. I add that it belongs to them and they will get it back at the end of our work together. Most children are comfortable with this, others need to adjust to the idea of leaving what they do behind. While others yet take weeks negotiating the limits imposed by this kind of therapeutic frame. 

The therapeutic impact of collected artwork

After a time, many come to realise that week after week they can count on finding their artwork safely tucked away, unharmed, preserved for them as they request to leaf through it periodically. For some it is the first time they see so much of what they are capable of making in one place. Many seem surprised and pleased. It is often an instant self-esteem boost staring back at them.  Many children we see at the hospital can’t count on anything they make to outlive the moment. It can get lost by careless handling,  thrown out or destroyed by unappreciative family members or handled badly by vengeful brothers and sisters for example or simply destroyed during a child’s temper tantrum.

Keeping their artwork in a folder means, valuing, caring for and keeping safe. It says « I care for your art, therefore I care for you and everything you do. YOU are important ».  To some children it may mean « You are taking what is mine » and constitute a battle ground for control.  A child’s reaction to any aspect of artwork left behind is grist for the therapeutic mill.

Artwork as visual document and mnemonic device

The reasons for keeping a portfolio are manifold. First and foremost we art therapists, see artwork as a therapeutic document, akin to a transcript of an exchange between people. It is a document that provides a slice of therapeutic history with a particular child or family. We keep the ‘bad’ and the ‘good’ and even the ripped, crumpled and messy remnants of various creative tx encounters. They become artifacts, mnemonic devices which in a blink can rekindle what transpired weeks and at times months back. Not all marks and shreds are imbued with meaning, but each  carries a potential trigger to a storyline even if forgotten. Each piece is dated and filed and as such creates a visual timeline.

A portfolio documents the process of therapy in as many pictures and artifacts as there are sessions (give or take a few).

In subsequent postings I will go into more detail about:

Part 2:  Portfolio uses

Part 3: Portfolios and termination

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Catégorisé dans Thérapie.

Publié le 24 jan 2011

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2 commentaires à Portfolios in art therapy part one

  1. fusade sylvie
    Le 3 fév 2011 à 14:25

    bonjour !
    Alors, j’ai beaucoup apprécié lire ton document sur le portfolio même si j’ai à chercher des mots en anglais. Cela va me servir encore dans mes travaux d’université. Aurais-tu des références à ce sujet (le portfolio en art-thérapie ?) – sinon, bien- entendu je te cite ainsi que le blogue. J’ai hâte de lire les prochains.
    Merci !


  2. Francine Lévesque
    Le 3 fév 2011 à 23:21

    Thank you Natalie.