In the 1940’s, Margaret Naumberg was one of the first to distinguish art therapy as a form of psychotherapy. Naumberg believed art therapy to be an effective way to “manifest unconscious imagery,” and to allow for a non-threatening process of self-reflection. At Walden, Director of Expressive Therapies, Terri Eaton, encourages the notion that “there is no right and wrong, rather a space to explore feelings in a new way,” to her patients.
The use of art therapy is most effective when timing, pacing and the readiness of each individual is considered. While those in lower levels of care may receive more abstract prompts like “draw delight,” clients in a higher level of care may be asked to “draw your eating disorder,” an easier concept to cognitively grasp. Being able to see their eating disorder can be a very powerful and self-affirming process for those who have been struggling with an eating disorder. This “being” has controlled their lives so heavily, and drawing it makes it more tangible. Terri describes this process as “bringing unconscious imagery up to the surface in order to explore new learning through metaphor.” Creating this image on paper helps them to understand that their eating disorder is a force separate from their core self; a very powerful acknowledgement.
Types of Art Therapy Include:
Expressive therapists are also cognizant of specific art supplies introduced during art therapy sessions. Examples of this would be static and controlled materials that do not change after application, such as magazine clippings, pencils and markers as a recommendation for clients with specific diagnosis. For other diagnoses it might be more effective to use more fluid and unpredictable materials like paint and clay. When a client has done more recovery work, they are understood to have a greater sense of self, and therefore are ready to experiment with these uncontrolled art supplies that that encourage entrance into the unconscious mind.
An underlying part of art therapy treatment is the notion that, with creating, there will be inevitable mistakes. It is what is learned from these mistakes, and the learned ability to start over that is extremely important in the healing process–art therapy nurtures this idea in a safe environment.
Another really special part of the art therapy process is the group sharing segment. With the idea that expressing oneself is harder for this population. When asked about this, Terri said that expressive therapy can often be easier for those with eating disorders than sharing feelings through verbal exchange. This is because it is easier to explore and share metaphor in order to search for understanding. Other members from the group including the therapist can support the patient in finding their story, and even then encourage them to change their narrative in a way that fosters emotional health and development.