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Having returned to my practice after lengthy stint away I find myself returning to the theme of containment. Although as I consider what containment is, particularly in the context of this blog, I find that there are several distinct strands forming. For clarity, I thought it would be useful to re-explain what containment has to do with therapy and how these ideas are in turn informing my art making.

The Therapeutic Space: Setting Limits Enables Anxiety to be Contained

In starting out on the MA Art Psychotherapy Course, I was first introduced to the term containment through the writings of Marion Milner (1950) who identified the therapeutic frame as a metaphorical description for a safe and facilitating environment in which therapeutic work could take place. This figurative model incorporates different contextual frameworks that are used to structure the therapeutic relationship. The outer frame, for instance, provides the fundamental principles, standards and guidelines for good practice.   By contrast the inner frame can be defined by the particularities of the therapy itself, such as the time and place of meeting and the number of sessions.  In the context of art therapy this might also mean making sure there is proper ventilation, adequate lighting and access to a water supply to facilitate art making. To summarize, ‘The essence of the therapeutic frame is that it provides a physical and mental space where feelings can be held in order to facilitate creativity and emotional growth. Setting limits enables anxiety to be contained’ (Edwards, 2004:47) which in turn enables the individual to feel less inhibited about what to do or say within the space.

 

The Therapeutic Relationship

Something else that I’m interested in within therapy is its restorative power; to work with an individual’s difficult or harmful feelings that to neutralise them in some way. These ideas are echoed in previous posts where, in my own art making, I became inspired to cast bowls representative of the stomach/ bowels, thinking about containment in terms of digestive processes and bodily functions (see https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/art-as-therapy/page/4)

Similarly within the therapeutic relationship, Wilfred Bion describes the client actively projecting feelings onto the therapist which are then contained, detoxified and given back to the client in a more manageable form (Edwards, 2004). Being able to contain one’s experiences within an image may also provide a degree of mastery over painful thoughts and feelings that have otherwise felt too overwhelming or difficult to articulate. Bion conceives of this process through art-making as being comprised of three phases: projection, digestion and re-introjection. ‘Material is projected and represented in the image. It is then digested within the process of art making and discussion’ (Skaife & Huet, 1998:6).


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Jars of Clay: The Body as a Container

Perhaps my biggest creative interests thus far has been the notion of body as a container, an idea that has been in-part inspired by my training as an art therapist, though is not exclusive to it.

Most recently, I have become interested in the religious notion of the bodies as a container for the spirit as in the Bible it describes how our bodies are like fragile jars of clay containing a great treasure (2 Corinthians 4: 7). Within this description, I’m particularly drawn to the perceived vulnerability or frailness of the body and can make tangible links to the individual who enters therapy feeling equally vulnerable or susceptible to falling apart. On the other hand, clay (when wet) is a malleable material with an infinite potential to be shaped, moulded or worked on.

In my own art making, my interest in clay is more to do with its malleability. A series of works I’ve started recently, whilst not made of clay, nonetheless resemble the dynamic qualities of clay being shaped on the potter’s wheel (see below). The image of clay being manipulated in this way is linked to my own understanding of therapy as a similarly transformative, yet hazardous, process.

 

In overview, whilst I have tried to say that these facets of containment are different, there is definitely room for crossover and a cross pollination of ideas. I’m particularly drawn to Bion’s concept of the therapeutic relationship as an anecdote for parts of the self that have become toxic and in need of neutralisation. In addition, I have become fond of the idea that one might reshape or reframe their way of thinking through the rigour of therapeutic intervention, something I know all too well from my own therapy.

The work I’m making now feels both similar and different from my previous body of work which was all about the relationship between physical actions and transcendence. On first glance, containment feels like a very different preoccupation to base one’s work around as it feels like the antithesis of movement and exceeding boundaries. Indeed, containment may have connotations to restriction or entrapment. However, containment, in a therapeutic context, is associated with safety and ensuring an environment to perpetuate a different sort of movement; a movement of the mind.

 

References:

Bible Gateway, (No Date), 2 Corinthians 4: 7 (New Living Translation), Available at: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Corinthians%204:7&version=NLT (accessed: 27.7.14)

Edwards, D., (2004), Art Therapy, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Milner, M., (2010), On Not Being Able to Paint, , East Sussex: Routledge (first published: 1950)

Skaife, S. & V, Huet, (1998), Art Psychotherapy Groups: Between Pictures and Words, Sussex: Routledge


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Wow, it’s been a long time coming since my last blog entry back at the start of the year. I’ve been chomping at the bit to start posting up new material, although a number of changes in my personal life: moving to London, getting married, and changing jobs…., has meant that the blog had to be shelved until I was in a position to do it properly and regularly. Apologies to anyone who had tried to contact me via Projects Unedited; I’ve missed the interaction with other artists and bloggers. I hope that being back online will provide opportunities to reignite these dialogues concerning not only my own art practice, but my continuing training to become an Art Therapist.  I’m going to continue exploring how these two strands might be related to one another. Does having a better understanding of my own innermost self – my drives, fears, motivations – through personal therapy, afford a more in-depth appreciation of my own art work and art making?

Most probably.

As I approach my third and final year of the MA Art Psychotherapy course, how does this training also prepare me for employment? What are my prospects as a newly qualified art therapist and where are the jobs?


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