Reference: Provencal, A. & Gabora, L. (2007). A compelling overview of art therapy techniques and outcomes: Review of ‘Art Therapy has Many Faces’. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 1(4), 255-256.
A Compelling Overview of Art Therapy Techniques and Outcomes
Art Therapy Has Many Faces
by Judith Aron Rubin
A DVD published in 2004 by Expressive Media, Pittsburgh PA.
Reviewed by Amanda Provencal and Liane Gabora
Address for correspondence:
University of British Columbia
Okanagan Campus, SCI 263, 3333 University Way
Kelowna, BC V1V 1V7, CANADA
Phone: (250) 807-9849
Fax: (250) 470-6001
Art Therapy Has Many Faces is an enlightening film that richly illustrates the significance and impact of art as a therapeutic tool in human lives. As the film states, there is a “magic power of the image” that serves to reaffirm the age-old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Indeed, one becomes convinced that no amount of talk could have unearthed some of the feelings and events portrayed in the art produced in art therapy programs depicted in this film.
The film begins with a discussion of the history and diversity of the practice of art therapy. It claims that art has acted as both a means of self-expression and a powerful medicine for centuries, dating back to the cave paintings of Lascaux, the sculptures of Easter Island, Native American sand paintings, and Navajo dream catchers. The stage was set for the marriage of art and therapy in the twentieth century, with the work of Freud and Jung’s insights into the power of the unconscious, and the Expressionist and Surrealist movements. Although in the later part of the twentieth century art therapy was primarily restricted to the clinic, it has since branched out immensely. People are becoming engaged in art therapy through a variety of venues including community programs and shops that offer classes. It has also become widespread in shelters as a means of providing support and relief to women and children who have incurred domestic violence.
The film suggests that all art is therapeutic, but the therapeutic effects can be enhanced when the art is created in the presence of a trained therapist, and shows what happens in a typical art therapy situation. There may be just one client or a whole classroom full. The therapist offers art materials, and clients are warmly encouraged to the to use them in whatever way they desire. The film goes into considerable deal about the various art materials used and what kinds of environments are particularly conducive to the release of unconscious material. Once the clients’ creative work is complete, the therapist encourages clients to reflect on their work, and to probe its significance and meaning, with questions such as “what does the person in your drawing want to say to you”? The film also briefly discusses the training necessary to engage in this work.
The film is rich in concrete examples of different kinds of art therapy in use all over the world, and depicts clients of all ages from an array of different backgrounds. For example, an individual with schizophrenia acknowledges that for him, creating art is like “hitting a punching bag” in an effort to rid himself of negative emotions. A teenage girl paints scenes of sexual abuse (such as her mother walking into the room when her father had undressed her) that catalyze discussion with her therapist of the events depicted. We meet a cancer patient who uses art to draw her disease and thereby develop a deeper understanding of it and relationship to it, and individuals who served time in concentration camps, for whom art is means of surfacing and dispelling memories of years lived in terror. An elderly woman’s lifelong depression was conquered when she began painting. Prison inmates were shown how to use art as a constructive way of dealing with their emotions as opposed to physically taking out their anger or emotions. A particularly noteworthy example of the power of art to allow emotions out was one woman who could not tell people her thoughts for fear of ‘losing herself’. Painting vibrant pictures using an assortment of colors, she felt a sense of relief, and realized that it was possible to rid herself of bottled up anger without losing her identity.
For one reviewer some sections of the film were slightly repetitive, or seemed to linger on longer than necessary. The other reviewer felt that the film offered a tantalizing but slightly superficial glimpse into what art has meant in the lives of numerous individuals, but did not spend enough time on any particular case to go into it in any depth. Since neither of us is a trained art therapist, this review cannot comment on the coverage of or extent to which the examples shown in the film depict typical art therapy situations, or compelling success stories. But we both think the film provides an excellent introduction to the topic, richly illustrating the importance and feasibility of art therapy. The movie gives convincing evidence of the relationship between the creation of art and the therapeutic transformation of the self, showing how art can help painful memories to surface to a place where they can be faced and released, and provide a means of dealing with personal issues, be they devastating crises or everyday occurrences. It demonstrated convincingly that art is a universal language, and that people engage in art naturally; the capacity and desire to engage in some form of art or another is almost intrinsically built into every individual. As stated in the film, “art is a way of telling without talking.”