On Our Mind: Thoughts from Mark & Michelle Dean

Using Art in Psychotherapy

by Michelle Dean 22-07-2014 | 7:53PDT | Comments (6)


mad girl cookingArt in a psychotherapy practice is so much more than a series of directives and ingredients rattled off like a recipe in a cookbook.  Although recipes may get the cook in the kitchen, what separates the novice from a chef is a discerning appreciation of the individual ingredients and their synergetic effects.  Likewise, the ability to transform the application of art and imagery into attentive and skillful interventions in a psychotherapy practice requires competent mental health providers who are able to capitalize on the transformative synergistic effects of imagery and the art process.

Understanding the essential history and contextual importance of art throughout history and the underpinnings for its application in psychotherapy practice is imperative for clinicians who wish to use art in their practice.  Using art in therapy does not replace the need for specific education and training in psychotherapy processes and an understanding of art making, nor is it meant to be used as a replacement for professional help and mental health services.  Art psychotherapy however, gives a glimpse into the rich and transformative use of art, and the art making process, as a means of understanding human creativity and its role in healing and transformation.

My work, and upcoming book publication (Routledge), jettisons the idea of reductionist formulaic “cookbook” of activities but instead provides authentic relational and transmutative opportunities and an integrated and contextual understanding of the origins of commonly used art forms as well as an insight into its applications in mental health healing practices.  It is my hope, and opinion, that by understanding the inherent nature and function of the art media, therapists will find more meaningful and personal applications of art making in a psychotherapeutic process.  Clinicians and student clinicians should not have to reach haphazardly into a “bag of tricks,” grab for worksheets, or rattle off activities to keep clients busy.  Instead, art-based interventions need to come from psychologically minded and clinically astute choices informed with depth and integrity that honors the client and the wisdom of the therapeutic relationship and its synergy.



© 2014, All rights reserved, The Center for Psyche & the Arts, LLC; written by Michelle L. Dean, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, CGP, HLM (DVATA)

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6 Responses to Using Art in Psychotherapy

Stephanie Wise says: July 23, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I agree with you 100% and strive to help my students develop to do this work without the safety net of formulaic recipes. I find CBT Tobe a particular culprit in this arena. There are, of course, others. I try to help my students understand the high value of attunement and relational contexts to inform the work.
Thank you for your clarity and wisdom. Stephanie


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