The 8 Essential Processes

“The creative process starts within a contained world or "kingdom" - the world of science, say, or the world of a particular art form. We experience bondage in this kingdom - the limitations of its world view. And then, after a struggle for autonomy, we experience liberation - the breakdown of old ways of viewing things. Liberation also has a frightening aspect, represented by the Israelites' initially futile wandering in the wilderness. This is a time of despair. But it is followed by revelation - a whole new way of seeing. And after revelation comes the long process of integrating the new perception, which is analogous to the forty years following Sinai that the Israelites spent in the wilderness. The Song of Songs states the same thing in different language. We begin in the narrowness of self-love. We are let out through attraction. But although we are attracted, we also experience fear and resistance and the recognition of impending loss. So we need to risk letting go of contraints and opening up to what can surprise and transform us. Creativity is based on the process of emptying the self, abdicating the ego, and giving oneself over for the sake of one's creation. It takes courage to face the void out of which creation emerges. The discipline of a devoted routine can provide the individual with a foundaiton for creativity out of which a profound sense of spirituality emerges.”

~ Ochs, C. & Olitzky, K. M. (1997). Jewish spiritual guidance: Finding our way to God. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, pps. 128-129.

According to the International Expressive Art Therapy Association, the practice of expresive art therapy embodies artful expression that fosters psychological, physical and spiritual wellness. Yet, how that process works best is still disputed. The founding mothers of art therapy never agreed on what is important. One, Edith Kramer, an immigrant from Austria, who worked with refugee children, believed that "doing" art was most important in the healing process. Margaret Naumburg, the founder of the Walden School and a psychoanalyst, believed that the "insight" gained from the process of creating art was the primary focus. Rather than resolving itself over time, this split has become more complicated since art therapy can be practiced from within a myriad of therapeutic contexts and models.

It is, at least in part, for this reason that there is no all- encompassing theory that defines art therapy. Judith Rubin has stated that such a theory will be born out of the practice of art therapy and will include many aspects of different theoretical practices.

Here is a very succinct, distilled, set of eight processes that are essential in the practice of art therapy and other expressive therapies. These processes can be used to structure one session or as the basis for a long-term treatment plan.

Authenticity - art is used to identify, explore and express emotions with integrity. Art therapy provides a safe ground for processing painful affect with color, line, texture, form and shape. As individuals develop integrity and congruency with their emotions and thoughts, they experience empowerment.

Catharsis - finding a symbol with an art form that closely represents the person's inner world. Finding and portraying this symbol provides relief. Catharsis includes the purging process of recapitulation (as defined by shamanistic practice). This is a review of the person's history with attention to what is, "me" or "not me." Autobiographical art work often produces the assertion, "I am," or "I exist."

Projection - the art piece is used as a mirror of the self. The use of projection as an art therapy technique helps people bypass cognitive distortions and gain insight.

Sublimation - an older definition of sublimation would be to "transform primitive urges". Another definition would be to "provide a safe place for the person to channel negative energies into a creative process instead of against the self." This is a form of reframing or redirection. While sublimation is not a curative process (in my opinion) it does provide a safe period of time for the person to engage in processes that are curative. It also models a creative, rather than destructive, process for discharging negative energies.

Balancing Locus of Control ~ Martin Luther King, Jr., said that life was a combination of fate and choice and that “freedom is the act of deliberating, deciding, and responding within our destined nature” (King, 1969, p. 90). We have a choice in how we respond to our fate and, thereby, shape our destiny. Whether or not one believes in fate, attention to locus of control helps us determine what we are able to control and what we need to accept.

“Locus of control (LOC), a psychological construct developed by Rotter (1966), refers to the manner in which an individual perceives reinforcements or rewards. Reinforcement is seen as contingent either upon one’s own behaviors, actions, efforts and skills or upon the actions of powerful others, luck, fate and chance. A LOC continuum is thus formed with rewards being externally dependent at one end and internally dependent at the other end.” (Rosal, 1993, p. 231).

Balancing LOC is a bi-directional process, in that some may need to internalize and others externalize more, thereby helping the individual modify his or her own level of accountability or actions.

Developmental Ego-States - identifying and honoring the normative ego-states within all of us. For whatever reason an adult enters therapy, especially if in a crisis, there is often a bridge to a younger self that experienced a similar precipitating event (at an earlier age). Due to the nature of art therapy this bridge is made and both dimensions of self have the opportunity to heal. These multiple selves are revealed in the variety of maturational stages of art produced by the person in therapy. This experience of multiple selves (& roles or archetypes) and the linking bridge needs to be consciously identified and addressed by the therapist.

Integration - identifying disparate parts of self such as, young and old, hopeful or depressed, rigid or wild, and integrating them. Another way to describe this process would be to integrate polarized energies which can be done through the use of color, a vibration, or as a form of energetic psychology. Accomplishing integration is an ultimate task in developing maturity, balance and wholeness.

Transcendence - the ability to transform self, others or situations through a spiritual connection to a higher source. It is well documented that while producing art many experience altered states of consciousness (or hypnotic states) (May, 1975). In this state, the experience of intentionality (as described by phenomenologists) can be realized. This is the ability to investigate the full experience of things without preconceived notions or reductionistic models of mankind (Betensky, in Rubin). This trance state provides a liminal space or threshold for crossing into realms of what can be referred to as, the cosmos, the collective unconscious, the inner self or God, depending upon the person's religious orientation. It is here that we transcend the limitations of humanness and embrace multiple possibilities and greater potentialities, i.e. miracles.

Finally, it is through the process of making art that the artist/patient, embraces the cyclic process of creation, preservation, dissolution, and recreation. Rollo May said that "every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction" (p. 63). This process helps the artist accept the world in non-dualistic terms and gain acceptance of even the most difficult situations.

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