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).