Whilst working with primary school aged children a theme of powerful mythical dragons or big and strong dinosaurs kept appearing. Both have fierce protective plates and are feared by mankind. Another other theme that would pop up is that of boxes, making three dimensional boxes, houses, or containers for safe keeping or climbing into.
Jung (1978) discusses the difference between signs and symbols, symbols can portray something vague, hidden, or unknown to us whereas signs can be abbreviations such as KFC, symbols can go deeper and across cultures, the cross for example. He looks at the role of natural symbols derived from the unconscious contents of the psyche and how they can be traced back to their archaic roots in primitive societies. Whereas cultural symbols have been used to express 'eternal truths' still used today but may have undergone many transformations.
A comparison can be made between how feelings can become embodied in a symbol and how the art in art therapy can replicate that. Once feeling is embodied in the artwork it becomes dynamic, powerful and at times magical, they can become a piece of life itself, connected to an individual by their emotions. Jung would say that the self is often symbolised an animal and the square a symbol of earthbound matter of the body and reality. So, what can it mean to be a dinosaur, to build a box big enough to be contained within it?
Containment and Protection
The artist Robert Morris use of boxes stemmed from their ability to do 'varied and contradictory things,' (Laliberté & Mogelon, 1970), they can reveal and conceal, clarify, and obscure. The box is a powerful metaphor for the dialect of the inside verses out (Bachelard, 1964) and be used as a powerful therapeutic tool. Boxes form small, intimate wooden containers to large-scale cardboard cartons are commonly used for art making in art therapy.
Farrel-Kirk (2001) discusses how boxes create inner spaces that provide limiting frames within which problems can seem more manageable; box structures are symbolic of the dialectic of internal and external; and boxes have a presence in art history, which can validate their role in healing.
Figure 2: Box with the Sound of Its Own Making
Containment as the basis for secure attachments
John Bowlby (1969) is considered the founder in attachment theory, he believed that successful parenting was the key principle to the good mental health of future generations. He would describe an important feature of attachment theory irrespective of age is the emotion behind it aroused depending on how the relationship between the individual and the attachment figure pans out. If well it brings security and if not, so well there can be jealousy, anxiety, and anger. If it is broken there is grief and depression.
In 1946 Melanie Klein introduced the term projective identification where parts of the self are split and projected into an external object. The goal is in this theory is security, containment in a caring space in a good enough way, making mistakes but repairing them along the way. The safe space also includes the materials to ensure a psychological safe space. Bion (1959) based on Klein's, (1946) theory of an infant being soothed by its loving mother, the child internalising these feeling and then being able to regulate their own feelings in a rational and contained way took this a step further. He looks at the function of containing, where therapist contains the client’s mood and disclosures, digests it then feeds back to client in a more manageable form. Boxes can symbolise this safe containing space and could be a good ending to therapeutic work to help contain and regulate feelings on an ongoing basis.
Safe Play: Including safe materials and space to promote mentalization
Offering time and space in the beginning of a relationship, helping clients adapt so they can apply their learning outside the therapy room, then being able to