Main Concepts from the Book: “Little Windows into Art Therapy” – Part I

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These are notes and main concepts from the book Little Windows into Art Therapy by Deborah Schroeder. This is only meant to be a tool while reading. All intellectual thought and copyright belong to the author.

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Beginning a Relationship using Art

  • My experience with new clients, particularly those who haven’t seen a therapist before, is that their anxieties and fears may almost completely muffle or distort how much they are able to hear or listen to in that first session. They may not take in most of what I say about myself, my way of working or the therapeutic process in general. They seem more worried about what they should say next, what they should or shouldn’t reveal. They may even be trying to decide whether or not to stay in the room at all, as they nervously eye their watch or the door! … This is why I believe that in addition to the written intake and, if needed, a clinical assessment for safety, the first session needs to include an art-making experience that is a mutual sharing of personal information. (Pg 15)
  • My experience is that thoughtful artmaking alongside my clients is an excellent way of sharing myself in the development of the therapeutic relationship. It is, however, a form of disclosure, and mindfulness about the content of the images is important. (Pg 15)
  • By sharing a little about who I am, with even my tiniest clients, the idea of talking to me and doing art while we’re together seems more comfortable. The quirks and struggles of my images often open the door, allowing my tiny clients’ own quirks and struggles to come in and be present. I tried to draw a rabbit hopping around the page once, because I’d had a day when I’d literally been all over the place. My rabbit looked more like a cat with goofy ears and little Beth almost fell off her chair laughing. But she also relax and quit saying that she couldn’t draw. We welcome any image into the session, even confused rabbits. (Pg 17)
  • I help adult clients welcome their own imagery into the room in much the same way. I utilize the same directive, asking that we create images that will help us get to know each other a little. I trust that whatever surfaces will Ada’s in the beginning of our journey together and will at the very least give my clients a taste of what art therapy feels like. Any images welcome and the client is free to talk or respond as they like. We can put the image up and enjoy the colors or we can explore with the client sees within the content of the image. It is simply a small lived moment of art-making and sharing, and it sets the tone for a work together. (Pg 17)
  • So I speak very gently about the process of art-making in art therapy with adults who have struggled with difficult memories or experiences of making art. While trying to call many concerns about the quality of the art or the skill level of the client, I also try to share my belief that whatever image shows up is the image that needs to be there. For example, if I ask someone to create an image that tells me something about who they are and all that shows up on the paper is a big dark tornado, we’ll certainly welcome the tornado and see what it’s about: no rules, no wrong answers, no forbidden image. (Pg 17-18)
  • We have a gift in art therapy that I don’t think we always acknowledged. We have a clear, concrete way of demonstrating acceptance, by accepting the client’s image. If I show you that I can sit with or be present to whatever shows up on the paper, chances are you will also understand that I can be present with your pain, your “ugly” memories, your scary dreams, your deepest fears. (Pg 18)
  • Beyond the warmth and openness of the sharing of our own images, and the acceptance of their images, how else can we help our clients know that therapy will be a safe place for them? I find it important to somehow communicate that I see or hear their good qualities, strengths, hopes. Someone in the therapeutic relationship needs to believe that movement towards health, self-fulfillment and/or happiness can happen, and so I may need to share some of my optimism with them: not a false statement of “everything’s going to be alright” but more of a belief that life can feel better better. (Pg 18-19)
  • * How surprised some clients have been when we see “what’s working” or what’s going well in the image or hear it in their story. What relief to understand that therapy is it going to feel like an agonizing scavenger hunt for pathology. (Pg 19)

The Path to the Issue toward a Plan

  • I use visual timelines as a method of gathering more information in the interest of developing a holistic picture of what my clients life is like. Although a psychosocial intake form will certainly tell me the major dates and issues of a new clients life, it seems to imply that as the therapist I had the power to see the relationships between events or the ability to check the meaning behind patterns of behavior. I probably will have some ideas about how the puzzle pieces fit together, but I’m more interested in how my client understands and visualizes the flow of events, memories or years. If I invite someone to create images of significant memories or incidents, both good and bad, the choice of what is significant is completely determined by the client. (Pg 20)
  • One of my favorite uses of timelines is in Family Therapy. Each family member brings his or her own unique understanding of family life to therapy. It usually becomes clear very quickly that we have a variety of visual interpretations of family history within the images. Children and adults often have very different ideas about what was important or significant in the family’s history. Sometimes the adults may be  the ones who think of the special or good times. Frequently, the children will draw in with enthusiasm huge images of a family vacation or significant holiday. (Pg 23)
  • How quickly one that needs to develop a plan is often largely determined by external factors, including agency policies, accreditation guidelines and insurance companies. Clients themselves, though, are also achtung concerned for a variety of reasons, about how long this will take. Well I don’t like to make predictions about number numbers of sessions, I do understand their concern and find it an afto talk about and to figure out how we’ll know when we finish our work together. Again, we can revisit the image and ask, “What could life look like? What might it look like when we’ve done our work?

Getting to Know the Reluctant Client

  • So the person has decided to come to therapy but even while sitting in the room with the therapist is hatching an “escape plan” in case he or she decides not to do this. The dilemma for the therapist seems to be somehow getting to know the client while holding open the space for the client’s ambivalence. There is an art therapy directive that works well in this moment: Mandala inside-outside art directive. (Pg 31)
  • Virginia Satir was known for her belief and sharing one’s humanness in the therapeutic relationship. This kind of relational risk-taking seems particularly important when inviting a reluctant participant into the therapeutic process. Cutting through any pretentiousness or platitudes in moving to the reality of  “you and me stuck right now in this room together” has been helpful for me to articulate at times. (Pg 33)
  • When I describe clients who are reluctant, I purposely avoid using the term “resistant.” This word carries much power within the mental health community and often has a negative connotation. I don’t view true resistance as anything negative. (Pg 36)
  • Resistance usually seems to me to be a logical response on the part of the client. I trust that my reluctant client has developed a method of moving or stepping back from the therapeutic process in a way that has become a useful response; a response that serves a purpose within the therapeutic process and can be honored by the therapist, if the therapist can be honest about his or her agenda and expectations. (Pg 36)

Welcome to the Living Room

  • In-home therapy is a way of working, however, that seems to be growing in popularity in many communities. Nonprofit agencies, country health and human services department and treatment providers who do work in the area of family preservation all seem very interesting encouraging the delivery of Mental Health Services literally to the doorstep. There are certainly some compelling reasons why. When I’m doing family therapy I’m especially interested in doing whatever I can in order to facilitate all family members’ participation. (Pg 38)
  • Sensitivity to the families Comfort level will be terribly important. An in-home therapist still has the responsibility to welcome and ease his or her clients into the therapeutic relationship. But this is all taking place in the client’s territory so any control that one likes to feel one has over the therapeutic environment has pretty much flown out the window. Suddenly you’re both guest and therapist. This can be a delicate dance. (Pg 39)
  • Given all the complications, one might wonder what are the benefits to in homework. The biggest benefit, without a doubt, is the amazing opportunity to see a little view into what family life is truly like. I got a feel for what it was like to live in that place. (Pg 40)
  • This different kind of therapeutic relationship tests many therapists’ preconceived ideas about boundaries. The involvement with the family is at once intimate and professional. The intimacy develops more quickly than it does in the office because we are privy to so much more personal information. Even the art experiences often take on a deeper sense of poignancy when the art is created around the family table. (Pg 40)
  • It is important to stay mindful of safety issues. There are no colleagues down the hall in-home work, unless you’re fortunate enough to be doing cotherapy. Letting colleagues know where you are and carrying a cellphone are important safety factors. If your intuition tells you that something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to honor that feeling and leave. (Pg 41)
  • For the most part, in homework was meaningful and productive. There were some wonderful moments when a family would be gathered in the kitchen making art together and I felt like the luckiest therapist on the planet to be able to witness those warm, playful interactions.

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