Clinical Placement

One aspect of my course that I’ve neglected to mention through thus far is my clinical placement; partly out of fear of disclosing something about someone I’m working with and how this could detrimentally effect my position on the MA course. However having given it some thought; and in taking responsibility for my own risks, I feel that it is something that I would like to talk about even if I have to be mindful of what I say. So here it goes….

I’ve been on my placement since about November 2012 and I’m based at a day centre working with adults with learning disabilities. The placement has been an excellent opportunity to put into practice what I’ve been learning about on the course and to see the effects of art in therapy firsthand. Evidently ‘containment’ is extremely important when working with this particular client group as any form of new intervention (or change in routine) may incite anxiety and agitation in the individual receiving support. Hence it’s been essential to identify a working environment that will enable the client to feel safe and emotionally contained whilst also having space for self reflection – whether that’s mediated through discussion or through the experiential use of different art materials.

Fortunately the day centre have been very gracious in offering me a disused office space which I’ve appropriated into my own private art therapy room (see opposite). They’ve also given me a budget for art materials and helped me to acquire a number of filing cabinets (from another office) which I’ve been able to use to store clients art work in.

Consequently in starting work with adults with learning disabilities some interesting questions have arisen. For instance, how does one go about striking up a rapport with someone who cannot speak? And what way is there of knowing whether art therapy can be of benefit if the client cannot tell you themselves? As such questions regarding the effectives of art therapy and how its benefits can be measured have been recurrently on my mind. On a personal level, there is a sense that I want to prove my worth as a placement student and more importantly I want show that art therapy works! Perhaps this is tied to my own need for validation or self-approval, something I’ve mentioned before. On the other hand, I need to be aware that I’m working in an environment where there is no precedent for this type of work and that my placement is only 30 days long! Maybe I need to consider what is achievable in this time or how I can start to lay a foundation for other placement students based there after me.

Helping me through the placement is my clinical supervisor; an experienced art therapist himself, who I meet with every 2 -3 weeks to discuss my caseload and any concerns I have regarding the placement. These meetings are invaluable because they keep me grounded and help me to differentiate between what belongs to me and what belongs to my clients. Incidentally clinical supervision is mandatory even for fully qualified art therapists.

In addition I’ve also found the following the following books incredibly helpful although my overall feeling is that literature on art therapy that relates to adults with learning disabilities seems somewhat limited.

Use resources:

Drawing on Difference: Art Therapy with People who have Learning Difficulties by Mair Rees

Art Therapy and Learning Disabilities: “Don’t guess my happiness” edited by Stephanie Bull and Kevin O’Farrell


Highligthed in an email by Andrew Martyn Sugars, I find myself returning to worries about confidentiality and safeguarding the thoughts and opinions of myself, others on my course and those I work with in a clinical capacity through my placement. There is a lot more that I’d liked to say though often what gets posted is often a skewed version of my actual activities as an MA Art Psychotherapy student. On the other hand the blog has been extremely useful to me personally in terms of being able to organise my thoughts and drawing out connections between my position as an artist and as a developing art therapist. As such it might worth reviewing what this blog means to me and how it’s aims can be refined so as to be more accessible to others. Incidentally I’ve been really encouraged by other people’s feedback so far as there seems to be a lot interest about what art psychotherapy is (particularly from individuals who might also be interested in applying for the course). Perhaps this needs to become more of a focus.

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In previous weeks I have spoken of the way in which the body is likeable to a container and how this idea has taken on a resonance within my own art making. Initially I had been preoccupied with feelings of being contained or self-containment and turned my attention to showing this in a series of images I made by photocopying my face and then developing these images in Photoshop (please see previous post). However I have since wanted to work with these ideas in a 3 dimensional way spurred by thoughts about the container as a physical object. Consequently I’ve started to re-purpose these images into a series of paper models or machetes (see images opposite). These works have a certain dynamic quality as close-ups of the face are stetched widthways, leading the eye around the form.

During this time I have been strongly influenced by the work of artist Gary Hill with a particular interest in his video installation, Inasmuch as it Always Already Taking Place (see opposite). Within the work, ‘sixteen, various sized, stripped down television screens transmit images of the fragmented body of the artist. A foot, an eye, a curved section of the spine and other anatomical parts are composed like elements in a still-life painting’ (Phaidon, 1999: 202)

As such, the theme of containment seems to be becoming an umbrella term for lots of different ideas relating not only to the body, but also the studio as a sort of housing where these thoughts and feelings can become manifest.


Phaidon Press, (1999), The 20th-century Art Book, London: Phaidon Press Ltd