the land of art therapy-an imperfect metaphor

I realise that what I do as a profession can be really confusing. To help the sense making process I weighed a number of ways I could communicate how my profession feels from the inside. I decided on using a human geography metaphor to situate my storytelling.  I hope you find this story enlightening. 

I want you to picture the following in your mind: a long narrow discontinuous strip of land bordered by a large country to the North and a republic of many allied countries (think EU) in the South. The visual arts and hand-crafts, is the southern  land. It is a land of many cultures, whose people live in various sub regions. Inhabitants of these regions converse in different tongues and dialects. In fact certain seem to only be understood by their immediate neighbors.  To the north  you find the land of psychology and psychiatry. Lets call this country Psych land. Though there are differences in their shared language, they can converse with each other with some ease and appear to be a pretty cohesive group. After all they share a thick linguistic  dictionnary called the DSM-IV (soon to be updated). Arts and Crafts inhabitants can be at odds with each other sometimes, their differences often topics of contention that create animosity between sub-groups. Culturally Psych land is less public about their differences, banking instead on their similarities which makes outsiders think they are a cohesive group. Not so on closer look however; though the language is shared, there are many sub-cultures inside their ranks.

In between these two large countries is the land of art therapy; a long narrow country that shares borders with a number of sub-regions on the South side (the Arts) and one continuous border to the North (Psych land). Moreover a few art-tx inlets dot the landscape disconnected from the main land. They are isolated and somewhat overpowered by the cultural influences of their surrounding neighbors; some having even lost the ability to speak art-tx. Bill 101 needed here! 

Inhabitants of art therapy land tend to be culturally influenced by who they live closest to; a fact obvious in their art-tx dialect and habits. With  few exceptions, their allies tend to share borders. Art tx on the northern side speak a psych informed dialect and so their relationships with their neighbors to the South (Arts-land) can at times be complicated. The problem lies in their particular use of language that makes art look calculated, cold and even at times pathological. Attempts to convey that art is a broad reaching tool in their psych tool box, but to many of the Arts people it sounds instrumental, and a betrayal of what art is all about.

Inhabitants in the South tend to be influenced by the arts region closest to them.  And so the problem is reversed when Southerners attempt to speak to Psych people. No matter how they try to explain the therapeutic benefits of an arts based therapy it is interpreted as artsy fartsy or feel good work and too often dismissed as not very serious.  And to make matters even more complicated, verbal defense of what they do is not an art they are very skilled at. 

Those who live in the central part of the country are for the most part bilingual in that they speak some psych and some art in varying combinations with a certain fluency. These middle residents you would think have it made, since they are comfortable adjusting their language to the person they are speaking to. That’s usually the case; they are pretty good linguistic gymnasts. However a problem arises when such conversations are broadcasted to both countries without the right filters sometimes with disastrous results.  Arts people take offence that art feels reduced to a diagnostic language and conversely Psych people rapidly dismiss the arts as pseudo-therapeutic work.

So how does it feel to live in the small land of art therapy? The truth? Though practice is stimulating and fascinating, the world of art therapy feels precarious and often hazardous.  Borders are often shifting with both neighbors claiming parts of this land strip as their own. At times there are outright expropriations when neighbors decide to simply move in claiming the territory for themselves. Coveted and disparaged, envied by some and dismissed by others, art therapists are professional Métis who live in a small land of wonder, beauty, horror and pain (the work we do) that intermingle and merge into a very special region we call home. Art-therapists are neither psychologists nor professional artists first; their expertise is in the blending of the two; in using the arts as a tool for transformation and using psychology to translate art mediums and creative processes into pathways towards increased wellness.  Our expertise is in the combined skills of translation and facilitation. Can you guess which region I call home?

Classé dans , , , , , .

Catégorisé dans Arts, Société, santé mentale.

Publié le 11 fév 2011

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2 commentaires à the land of art therapy-an imperfect metaphor

  1. Christine
    Le 15 fév 2011 à 16:52

    You`re located in the near-perfectly bilingual sector aren`t you?
    Like the metaphor, as it highlights the fact that there`s a whole lotta politics and « nationalism » going on in the domains of art and psych. ATs sort of double their fun by rooting themselves in some combination of the two.

    • Francine Lévesque
      Le 17 fév 2011 à 15:43

      Hi Christine, I think art therapists are masochists, damned if they do and damned if they don’t. However we are also blessed if we ‘do’ no matter what; a reward that comes to those who paint the colors of a profession that is oh so full of applications. It fuels my passion and is never never boring.