How We Are Connected- Art Therapy’s Role in Understanding Who We Are



We engage in relationships every day, whether it is relationship to self, family, friends or community. Art therapy can be an entry to deeper understanding of these relationships and lead to happier and more fulfilling lives.


Relationship with Self. This includes self-understanding, self-awareness and insight.  Are you kind to yourself, critical, forgiving, accepting? The relationship with oneself can be seen through the act of creating and the themes that develop.  One of the greatest advantages of expressive art-making, is that what is created by the client provides an opportunity for the artist and therapist to look at a tangible reflection of the self.  The artwork allows distance from sometimes sensitive content so that discussion can flow more freely.


Relationship with Therapist. This unique relationship develops over the course of treatment.  Therapists should be accepting, supportive and nurturing, providing guidance, encouraging exploration of relationships and challenging thoughts and perceptions when appropriate.  Ultimately, the relationship should be a partnership built on trust.  The way a client and a therapist relate can be a model for communication. The relationship with an art therapist can be seen in the client’s willingness to engage in art-making, a felt sense of safety to take risks and to share in discussion, as well as including the art therapist in the creative planning and process.


Relationship with Significant Others. This often is a focus of treatment and can include current or past relationships.  Current relationships with significant others often are influenced by past experiences and attachments.  Memories, to a large extent, are stored visually and therefore the art created in sessions allows access to unresolved conflicts.  By bringing these things to light with guidance, one can find closure.  The resolution of conflicts from past relationships and remembering what has worked well, allows one to improve current relationships.


Relationships with significant others can be seen through inclusion or exclusion of individuals in art pieces.  How they are depicted also is important.  Specific art directives are aimed at developing empathy, improving communication and increasing problem-solving skills to assist a client dealing with relationship issues.


Relationship with Community/Social Activities.  Individuals who are struggling personally usually benefit from expanding their social activities and community engagement. This may even be a goal for treatment.  For those who already have a strong tie and investment in the community, the focus might be to utilize these networks to receive support and feedback about changes.


Art Therapy group-work can be very powerful for reflecting on oneself in a social context. Groups encourage teamwork and building communication skills.  Membership in an art therapy group can be a source of inspiration.  Participants are bonded by their creative energy and the cause or purpose that brings them together.


When individuals improve their relationship with self, others and their community, their world view tends to change for the positive. Artwork themes tend to shift as clients feel stronger and more confident.  The subject of artwork may become lighter and more optimistic which translates into a sense of hope for all people and greater possibilities.

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