Bridging words and images

Dimitra Theodoropoulou responds to an article on art therapy.

Psychological therapies and Art Therapy: do they speak the same language, or is Creative Psychology a (new) professional field that can integrate the benefits of both?’

As a BPS member and fan of The Psychologist, I was pleasantly surprised to read Sue Holttum’s article ‘A road to art therapy in six works’ (May 2020). Her words, combined with personal art images, was a brave contribution to start the dialogue between Applied Psychology and Art Therapy within the BPS community.

I am aware of the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) efforts to gather evidence and promote research practice adhering to NICE guidelines (Val Huet and Springham, 2014). Professionals with a Psychology background, like Sue Holttum and others, have brought knowledge and skills to support the art therapy profession. However, I wonder how many invitations Art Therapists have had to contribute to Psychologists’ insight on the value of art making. For example, the evidence-based practice book ‘What Works For whom’ (Roth & Fonagy, 2006) did not include Art Therapy at all, while the newer book ‘Handbook of Mentalising in Mental health Practice’ (Bateman & Fonagy, 2019) includes a chapter on ‘Creative Arts Therapies’ (Havsteen-Franklin, 2019). Maybe the dialogue has already commenced.

My dual training background in Psychology and Art Therapy has led me too to reflect on the possibilities of bridging the two disciplines. Psychological Therapy uses a ‘verbal’ language and Art Therapy speaks a ‘visual’ language. However, they do not have to be polarised and separate. The Psychological Therapist and the Art therapist can learn from each other for the benefit of the client; when the client needs support to develop a ‘verbal’ language or a ‘visual’ language, respectively. Psychological Therapy without Art can be ‘dry’, Art Therapy without psychological elements can be ‘messy’. Maybe they can both meet in the bridging of words and images, exploring metaphors and symbols while bringing the insight back to the client’s life. 

My view is that it is possible for both Psychological Therapies and Arts therapies to be enriched bringing added value into the therapeutic process and the therapeutic relationship. There will be times when the client will benefit from an Art therapist who feels confident in applying a psychological therapy framework or a Psychological therapist who feels confident in applying art therapy techniques. Enabling this dialogue and exchange, I remain curious to see if soon we may have a Creative Psychology representation within the BPS community.

- Dimitra Theodoropoulou is a Professional Doctorate student in Health & Social Care – University of Essex. Her research is on ‘DEMYSTIFYING ART THERAPY: Using grounded theory methodology to conceptualise mechanisms of change through the Art Therapists’ perspectives.’ [email protected]

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