Theories of Art Therapy and Counseling


In the above paper I explore therapeutic modalities that interest me and the psychologists and art therapists who have helped formulate these theories.  Recurrent in my papers, research, and artwork, are humanistic, psychoanalytic, and mindfulness methodologies. I am drawn to Margaret Naumburg, a founder of art therapy who utilizes the psychodynamic approach, and believed that art therapy releases the unconscious by the act of spontaneous expression, which helps one to access and communicate painful emotions that might otherwise be difficult to express. Bruce Moon, also from the psychodynamic approach, writes that “making art is to participate in soul  and that our client’s artwork is a confrontation with realities that they can either contend with, internalize or work through in order to self-transcend (Moon, 2017).  Art therapist Edith Kramer believes that art making allows the client to sublimate, which is to use the art material and surface to work out conflict that may otherwise present as outward or inward aggression to the self or others. 

Spirituality and mindfulness have become increasingly important to me and will inform my practice as an art therapist. Methods that have been useful to me as I have grown in my spiritual practice will be beneficial in my work with clients to help them find tools for establishing their inner knowing. Below I have included a presentation I gave on Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which includes a combination of behavior therapy and mindfulness practices to aid clients recovering from substance addiction. Having relied on sources outside of the self in order to self soothe, it is of utmost importance that one finds an inner resource to replace the constant need to reach outside of one's self for comfort. 

Humanistic approaches to art therapy have similarly been resonant with me as they are interpersonal approaches in which the client is guided to make their own meaning of life. From the humanistic perspective, there is an awareness that the therapeutic relationship has the capacity to change both the therapist and the client. Humanistic modalities aid the client in facing traumas and existential emptiness directly, and by doing so transcending to a deeper understanding of the self, life, death and their relationship to the world around them. 


Dialectical Behavior Therapy & Addiction Presentation

Addiction is a condition in which one feels incapable of tolerating discomfort and looks outside of one's self in order to self-soothe. Recovery in DBT therapy involves learning to tolerate regular happiness and unhappiness. It is integral to the therapeutic relationship that we understand the importance of gradually working toward root problems with our clients, it is impossible to do hard work when one is in a destabilized place. Goals of DBT are to help the client establish ways of achieving safety, create self-care strategies, develop an emotional language and become equipped with the necessary tools for engaging with internal and external stressors.


"INCONGRUENT SELF" ink and watercolor on paper

The Incongruent Self  drawing above illustrates a person before encountering humanist Gestalt therapy. This person is a jumble of limbs and different body parts wielding masks, phony selves that they present to the world as coping mechanisms. Gestalt therapy encourages the client to be authentic and rooted in the present moment.  The art making process helps the client to synthesize the internal with the external and to view themselves as a complete and whole being. Once the client gains awareness of these patterns, they are then able to incite change and move towards integration of parts into the whole self


The Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC) is a system devised to aid art therapists in deciding which tools will be best for their clients based on what we know of our clients developmental level. Everyone processes information differently and can land anywhere on this continuum, depending on their life circumstances and ability to process their current circumstances. Having knowledge of where certain materials fall on the continuum aids art therapists in deciding what would work for the client in their current processing level. For example, someone who has an eating disorder tends to desire control, so giving them a fluid affective material like watercolor would push them further out of control which could be dysregulating. They would do much better with a restrictive and cognitive material to begin with, like colored pencils on a small piece of paper. A person who is dealing with a lot of rage and anger may not have the cognitive abilities needed for using a material such an ink pen, and would do better to handle a sensorimotor material like clay that can be smashed and prodded in order to sublimate some of that anger. Click here to read my full paper on the Expressive Therapies Continuum and see my art response to that paper. 

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