Art therapist Pat Allen wrote: "Art is a way of knowing." In creating art, we are given the opportunity to know ourselves in a deeper way. Our exploration provides insights and guidance that can be profound and illuminating. Psyche reveals hidden unconscious material and inner forces of healing are often awakened.
Art is an extension of self and on the spiritual path engaging our creativity can be a healing and transformative process. My own healing journey has been interwoven with self-exploration through art-making for as long as I can remember. Mask-making has given me insight into my persona and shadow, and creating mandala art has served as a tool for finding presence and self-understanding. Drawing, painting, and making sculptures have allowed me to express inner experiences and connect to the healer within. Collage has helped me get to know different parts of myself and to envision the future that I want to create. For me, art-making has been a powerful tool that has provided guidance for finding more peace and fulfillment.
Carl Jung brought a revolutionary understanding to our perception of the creative process. He recognized that through the process of making art, one can uncover both the personal and the collective unconscious. He saw that the images from within can help us to uncover hidden aspects of the self and can ultimately bring us to wholeness. As a psychotherapist, he was the first to urge his patients to draw the images of their unconscious. The concept that images are communications from the psyche that need to be understood was his great contribution to the field of art therapy.
Art therapy is a healing modality that uses art-making to reach beyond words to the realms of the unconscious. Using drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms, it provides new ways to communicate, express, and process our human experience. In therapeutic settings it has been used to explore feelings, resolve emotional conflict, reduce anxiety, improve communication, and increase self-esteem. With the support of a trained art therapist, art-making can help us work through our deepest challenges so we can awaken to a life of purpose and joy.
Art therapists who work from a Jungian perspective have an understanding that creativity in itself allows for an expression of inner feelings, beliefs, and thoughts that help restore psychological balance. They recognize a human need to give meaningful symbolic form to experience and they preserve an attitude of mind that is open to the uniqueness of each individual and the art they create. Their focus is to reestablish contact with a deeper self, from which emerges a feeling of wholeness.
One example of a Jungian art therapy technique is guided imagery, which takes its inspiration from the practice of active imagination. After the creation of an image, the art therapist facilitates a meditation and serves as a witness supporting the client in making deeper inquiries into the image. A relationship is formed between the image and its maker, and imaginative inquiry and dialogue provide understanding and guidance. Often, images of the shadow may arise during this exercise, and for this reason a trained art therapist is needed to support the participant in processing the experience. Through active imagination or image dialoguing one is able to draw wisdom from inner archetypes, both those that are personal and collective.
Creativity is within all of us and it has healing capacities that can be activated and guided by a trained art therapist. Having the art therapist as a witness to our art-making process allows one to safely delve into the depths of the unconscious within a container that holds the subject matter sacred. The therapeutic relationship is the container for holding unconscious material. It is the vessel within which change can occur. Art therapy takes this to another level by allowing the art to act as an additional container alongside the therapeutic relationship. The art holds the unconscious material and provides a place for the therapist and the client to meet.
When examining art therapy through a Jungian lens, it becomes clear that the healing that occurs in creating art within a therapeutic relationship has a spiritual component. Art making requires, as art therapist Catherine Moon states: “an act of diving into the waters deep, where only faith leads the way.” Art therapy allows for the possibility of a "numinous" experience, one where a deeper connection to soul is established. Psychology stems from the Greek word “psyche” meaning soul, and the related field of art therapy has the potential of allowing understanding self at this level.
In Mimi Farelly-Hansen’s book, Spirituality and Art Therapy: Living the Connection, she emphasizes that spirituality is an important part of healing and that art-making is inherently spiritual. In this collection of essays, Farelly-Hansen links art therapy to major spiritual traditions, and discusses the transformation that occurs during the creative process. She states that both art therapy and transpersonal psychology bring forth:
...a heightened awareness of self and other, a reawakening of the senses and the body, a new ability to inhabit fully the present moment, a sense of awe at the mysterious ways that the images which visit us speak of realities beyond our conscious understanding, a greater sense of acceptance for all aspects of ourselves and others, love, compassion and gratitude for some larger, deeper ineffable presence to which we all belong.
Art Therapists have the opportunity to bring the joy of a deeper connection to self to their clients by engaging them in their inherent creativity. The art therapist Shaun McNiff called art therapy “soul-making” and it truly is an opportunity to delve into the unconscious and allow for healing and transformation at the soul level. Art therapists are aware of the power inherent in creativity and the multiple benefits of the practice of making art both personally and in a therapeutic context. Pat Allen writes: "When working in depth, images will transport you back and forth between the past and the present, the self and other, the personal and the archetypal. You will gain insight into your own life but also, if you look closely, into the greater context of time, place, and politics." The process of engaging others in making art and helping them understand the imagery that emerges not only benefits the individual but has the potential to impact humanity as a whole.
About the Author & Artist: Sylvia Hartowicz has a MA in Art Therapy and a PhD in East West Psychology. She has been a Board Certified Credentialed Art Therapist since 2004 and has provided art therapy services in a variety of settings including schools, group homes, transitional living facilities, hospitals, and in private practice. Her approach to art therapy is one of incorporating transpersonal psychology, depth psychology, including Jungian psychology, and various spiritual practices such as guided meditation, the cultivation of mindfulness and compassion, and nature connection. Sylvia has presented at several national and international conferences about integrating spirituality and art therapy for healing. She continues to engage in her own art-making as part of her personal journey of self-discovery. For information about Sylvia's services visit: www.wisdomhearthealing.com