On Our Mind: Thoughts from Mark & Michelle Dean

Creating Meaning through Relationships

by Michelle Dean 28-04-2014 | 3:30PDT | Comments (0)


HermesIn terms of relationships and the ability to bridge at least two terrains, I personally like Hermes as a possible mascot for art therapy.  All humor aside, Hermes was most commonly described as a Greek Olympian god of boundaries and travelers who cross them.  He was a translator and messenger from the gods (the spiritual realm) to the humans (an earthly realm). He was a psychopomp, meaning he was a conductor of the soul, on of his responsibilities included bringing newly dead souls (akin to those struck by symbolic illnesses in response to personal conflict or cultural affliction) from the Underworld or Hades (metaphorically – a dark underworld, a shadow world) and was attributed to bringing dreams to the living. Hermes gives us our word hermeneutics, the art of interpreting hidden meaning.

Art therapy is very much about creating meaning, although too often meaning making is confused with interpretation. Art therapy involves both the creative emergence of meaning and the revealing of existing but veiled meanings. At its best, art therapy is a co-created experience, one in which mutual admiration and respect is given to the art making process and to the symbolic material of the individual, family or group.  It is a therapeutic experience in which art materials are used to facilitate insight, process and integrate experiences. It need not be a set of coveted techniques although they are spoken of frequently as interventions but instead covers an orientation and attitude towards everything that is creative in life. For it is the nature of imagery and creativity, like Hermes, to transcend boundaries, to dissolve them, recreate, and redefine them. Hence art therapy shares this distinctive quality of defying easy definition.

Many graduate art therapy programs teach from a psychodynamic or depth psychology theoretical orientation.  Perhaps this is due to the close affinity to symbols and images, which are found in archetypes, active imagination, dreams, free associations, and artwork. Certainly the function of art transcends current psychological theories, which typically explore one aspect of development or function. It is often the liminal, the changing, the “just forming” terrain of psychic life and this is its virtue. So defining succinctly the profession and modality of art therapy is challenging.

The American Art Therapy Association provides the following definition for the profession:

Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.


Originally posted to The Americans for the Arts ARTSBlog June 15, 2010

© 2010, 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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