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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 let them go is an example of holding (Winnicott 1957,1960). Holding can be understood as part of the containing function of the mother and one that can be replicated in the therapeutic space.

Boxes have been described as limiting and in in this context enter art as frame in which helps create the space in which the object exists (Langer as cited in Kaufman 1996). In art therapy this restricts issues to within the space within the box, providing distance for the client, making problems more manageable. This safe space could be a powerful tool in therapy, Fryrear and Corbit 1994 discuss how clients can find the freedom and security to explore and conquer their fears in a symbolic manner, the inside of the box is the seat of the safe space. Playfulness, games etc can open possibilities by helping clients to wonder and think (Fonagy et al., 2000) describe this as mentalisation. Fonagy's mentalisation based therapy approach aims to provide the relationship in which the effects of trauma can be addressed.

The core conditions of unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence help create good attachment styles. They help a client feel safe, with me, the therapy space and then hopefully externally. "The more genuine and congruent the therapist in the relationship; the more probability there is that change in personality in the client will occur." (Rogers, 2011).

Containment and protection for my client group using boxes

Shared decision making with clients is part of a pluralistic approach, asking clients what they want from therapy and how we might get there together, guided by the core principles of trauma informed care.

Schaverien, Joy (1999) In her book The Revealing Image explores the concept of the embodied image it is an extension of transference where the artist puts emotion into the artwork. Once emotion is involved the art takes on a mystical or magical quality where anything is possible. She describes how the embodied image usually fills the paper and a sense of self begins to emerge in relation to the image and a connection is established. What might it be like to take an embodied image and transform it into a three-dimensional form that my clients could wear? Kramer (1996) describes how art and crafts can transform an object not into something useful but into something symbolic.

Rita Simon would say that acting is an art form that allows children to express their feelings through the activity of their bodies (Simon, 1997). She would also say that although art therapy is a serious matter it functions as a form of play that can also be shared and Winnicott (1971:38) would say 'psychotherapy takes place in the overlap of two areas of playing, that of the patient and the therapist. Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together.' (Playing and reality). I wondered what it might be like to become the dinosaur or dragon, taking the art a stage further again.

Catherine Hyland Moon Discusses how there is a difference between performing art and the performing arts. It's not concerned with creating a discrete object but rather is about incorporating a variety of elements such as movement, spoken word, visual symbols, actions, lighting, environment, ritual to create a heightened experience(Moon, 2010). McNiff (1992) addresses the use of performance art in art therapy and would say it is a means to interact and explore the visual art made within therapy (Art as medicine, 1994). This could potentially create new and exciting dialogues with clients in a fully embodied way.

Taking art outside and into nature transcends into ecopsychology which ‘concerns itself with the foundations of human nature and behaviour. Unlike other mainstream schools of psychology that limit themselves to the intrapsychic mechanisms or to a narrow social range that may not look beyond the family, ecopsychology proceeds from the assumption that at its deepest level the psyche remains sympathetically bonded to the Earth.' (Roszak, 1992, p. 5). C. A. Meier (1985) stated “Excessive interference with outer nature creates of necessity disorder of the inner nature, for the two are intimately connected” (p. 2). With all this in mind I created a 'costume' made from boxes to replicate a dinosaur.


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Fryrear, J., & Corbit, I. (1992.). Photo Art Therapy. Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publisher, LTD.

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