As art therapistI perceive myself as a specialist who combines the general qualifications of being a competent artist with specialized capacities in the field of psychotherapy and education.
The theoretical framework of my understanding of child psychology is based in the main on Freudian psychoanalytic thought. The emphasis, however, is on the idea of art as therapy rather than on psychotherapy which uses art as a tool. My therapeutic medium is as old as mankind. Since human society has existed the arts have helped man to reconcile the eternal conflict between the individual's instinctual urges and the demands of society. Thus, all art is therapeutic in the broadest sense of the word. The artist who applies modern psychology in the field of art has to adapt his methods to the medium so that the therapeutic value of art is heightened by the introduction of therapeutic thinking, not destroyed or weakened by the introduction of concepts and methods that might be incompatible with the inner laws of artistic creation.
It is not always easy for the art therapist to reconcile the therapist's approach with her function as an artist and teacher. In her function as a teacher who introduces disturbed children or adults into the realms of art, she has to be ready to accept the limitations of the individuals in her care. She has to be interested in progress on any level. She has to be flexible enough to accept and understand a diversity of styles and to find ways of helping each person according to his individual needs. As therapist she has to accept the unbeautiful manifestations of sexual and aggressive impulses in the raw, along with the results of confusions and incomplete sublimation. But this attitude of acceptance, which is essential in all therapy, must not dull the artist's capacity for discrimination. The teacher has to preserve her integrity genuine, between blocks and limitations, regressions and progress, superficial pretense and genuine communication.
Even though my therapeutic approach includes awareness of psychic processes that may remain unconscious, the therapeutic maneuvers I am apt to employ seldom include uncovering unconscious material or the interpretation of unconscious meaning.
Art therapy is conceived primarily as a means of supporting the ego. It harnesses the power of art to the task of fostering a psychic organization that is sufficiently resilient to function under pressure without breakdown or the need to resort to stultifying defensive measures. Thus conceived, art therapy constitutes an element of the therapeutic milieu that complements or supports psychotherapy but does not replace it.
While art therapists encourage unconventional form and content in the art of their patients they are also intent on fostering artistic eloquence. The spoken words in psychotherapy and the play and talk in clinical therapy are typically formless and fluid. Content rather than form is essential. In art therapy form and content are equally important and the order and structure with which artistic creation endows experience constitutes a powerful aid in sorting out and mastering experience. To quote of art Susan Langer (1962): 'The primary function of art is to objectify experience so that we can contemplate and understand it' (p.90).
Kramer, E. (1971) Art as Therapy with Children. New York: Schocken Books.
Kramer, E. (1977) Art Therapy in a Children's Community. New York: Schocken Books.
Langer, S. (1962) Philosophical Sketches. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.