It is very important to recognize the differences and similarities between a therapeutic image and another image hat is created in a museum or from an artist. The first image is created in a specific environment, the art therapy room, with clear boundaries and goals. The therapeutic image extracts from the triangular relationship (therapist-patient-image) and it holds a secret and a magical quality which provides us with two elements. First, it reflects the therapeutic relationship and second it provides us a safe way to explore, through dialogue, along with the person in therapy about his/her thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

The second image is considered as an equally important image that can be of a paramount importance in the life of the creator, but it is not created under the specific context of art therapy resulting a lack of dialogue between the therapist, patient, and image. Then we could say that this image has a different purpose than the therapeutic image. The similarities between the two images are that both are contain within qualities such us beauty, aesthetics and soul.

In this particular article I will wonder about the role of the therapeutic image created in an art therapy setting and how this picture can be an alternative channel of expression of the creative imagination result of an interactive configuration of consciousness.

In order to understand better the function of art therapy we will draw our attention to the basic psychoanalytic concept of transference. Transference according with the Vocabulary of Psychoanalysis (Kedros publ. 1986) is ‘the processes through which unconscious desires reactivated and acquire status of a timely event’.  It is the repetition of prototypes relationships of child life, which re enacted in a specific relational context, with first and foremost that of the psychoanalytic relationship. For example, feelings of an early positive or negative relationship with the parent of the patient can be transferred in to the relationship with the therapist.

Now, having in mind the triadic relationship (therapist-patient-image) we could say that the therapeutic image compromises means of transferring data. So transference in art therapy can be seen in both the therapist and in the therapeutic image. Moreover, the therapeutic image stands as an external object which contains and holds the internal world of the patient, which is identified from both the patient and the therapist.

The image that appears in the art therapy room can be seen as a living organism that contains the patient’s experiences and it is clear that it cannot breathe without the therapeutic relationship. So we can say that a successful treatment (if we can use this term) is based to a large extend on therapist’s personal ability for sensitivity clarity and understanding. This leads us to co-create an intersubjective environment along with the patient in order to analyse and have a better understanding of the therapeutic image.

But what is the best way to analyse and observe a therapeutic image?

There is no need that the image created in art therapy to be aesthetically acceptable or beautiful. The point is not whether an image is good or bad, beautiful or ugly. Usually there is a human interpretation that something is beautiful is good and something ugly is bad. I guess that something is considered beautiful or ugly regarding whom, where and when it sees it. For example, Goya’s paintings may seem dark, with portraits that cause confusion, for the period that he created them, however nowadays there are few cases where someone will call them ‘bad’ or ‘ugly’. Our role as therapists is not to correct or change the therapeutic image, but to explore together, through imagination and dialogue, the nature and cause of the image. To wonder, what emotional or mental situations influence the patient in that precise moment that he/she created the image, and what he/she wants to tell us through the image.

In order to discover the cause of the image we should create and facilitate a safe and playful dialogue between the image and the patient. The development in art therapy comes when we manage to allow the objects in the image to speak and communicate with each other. The Jungian psychoanalyst James Hillman argues that dialogue is not only succeeds between the speaker and a listener but also between a words and images. The ideas of Anton Ehrenzweig and David Maclagan’s suggest that the practical involvement of painting will bring a physical change in the patient’s cognition. This change continues as the patient comes to a cognitive emotional contact with the image that creates.

Every art therapist knows very well that the process of creation, as well as to observe an image from a distance holds a revealing process, which is usually unknown to both, the therapist and the patient. We must always hold in mind that everything in a therapeutic process is information that helps in research and understanding of the patient. The therapist presupposes to have clarity, sensitivity and an open mind, as Rumi beautiful states to ‘welcome every guest’.



Panos Kourtis



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