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It’s been a lengthy summer of being away on holiday and reading.  I’ve stumbled upon a few books which have reverted my attention back to the blog.

As a supplement to ideas of the body as a container, I’ve become interested in the notion of the body as a boundary, as described by Antonio Damasio in his book The Feelings of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness. Within the book, he suggests that consciousness can be thought of in terms of two players, the ‘organism’ and the ‘object’, and in terms of how they relate to one another (2000: 133). In this instance, the organism, whether made up of one cell or billions of cells, is defined by its boundary, its separation from ‘what is in and what is out’ (135). In humans this can take many forms – for instance, the skin covering most of our bodies; the cornea that covers the part of the eyeball that admits light; the mucosae that covers the mouth. Damasio goes to great lengths to illustrate the differences. Although, as he points out, ‘if there is no boundary, there is no body, and if there is no body, there is no organism. Life needs a boundary’ (137).

Subsequently, as I read more about the distinctions between one’s internal and external environment I was encouraged to think about the inner-workings of my own body and the internal processes keeping me alive, whether I’m conscious of them or not. The aim of one’s internal milieu: the environment inside an organism, is to maintain equilibrium (or homeostasis), even though one’s external environment is prone to change in dramatic or unpredictable ways. In thinking about the body in these terms I was reminded of a case study I’d read in Art Therapy and Neuroscience concerning an individual called ‘Dillon’ who’d contracted Aids and had received art therapy as a way of conceptualising or making sense of his condition. Within these sessions, Dillon drew a large jellyfish (shown below).  He warns us that if you get too close ‘it will sting you’ (Hass-Cohen & Carr, 2008: 275). Within the image, the outside contour of the jellyfish is blue, which Dillon describes as being peaceful.  In contrast, the inside contour is black and contains black dots which he describes as being “shitty”, perhaps akin to the deadly virus swimming inside his body (275).

Dillon’s imagery is a profound illustration of how one’s physical boundary might become susceptible to external diseases, which in turn affects one’s inner world. The permeability of the jellyfish feels like an implicit representation of his failing immune system whilst also echoing potential anxieties about losing bodily control and an inability to regulate what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’. This illustration also calls into question my own understanding of the body within my own imagery, juxtaposed between something that is strong and self-sufficient and something that is fragile and delicately balanced – like a jar of clay.


Damasio, A., (1999), The Feelings of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, London: Vintage

Hass-Cohen, N. & R. Carr, (2008), Art Therapy and Neuroscience, London: Jessica Kingsley


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).



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.



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


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?


The Art of Carl Jung

Having been off during the Christmas period I was able to catch up on some of the recorded programs I missed in the months of October and November. I’m particularly fond of the Imagine series hosted by Alan Yentob and an episode devoted to Outsider Art, Turning the Art World Inside Out. Unfortunately this episode is no longer available on BBC iPlayer although extracts of the show is available on YouTube (see below). Part of the show draws attention to the work Carl Jung, sometimes credited as the first Art Psychotherapist. ‘Jung was a direct influence on many of the early art therapists in Britain. His interest in the process of image making was derived from his experience of making pictures as a part of his own self-analysis’ (Schaverien, 1999: 80). Interestingly, a compilation of some of Jung’s art work has been released in the form of an illustrated manuscript called the Red Book.

Jung also made a clear distinction between spontaneous production of imagery for therapeutic purposes and pictures created with artistic intelligence as ‘art’. Outsider Art would seem to be to belong to the former; art as primarily a therapeutic activity, although the show highlights how the genre of ‘outsider’ is becoming harder to define as these works become highly sought after within the mainstream art world. Well worth a watch!


Schaverien, J., (1999), The Revealing Image: Analytical Art Psychotherapy in Theory and Practice, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Rogers, J., (2013), Imagine: Turning the Art World Inside Out, [YouTube], Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=see1VY7LjCY (accessed: 14.01.14)

Howard, P., (2010), Psychotherapy and the System of Care, Available at: http://percy3.wordpress.com/category/psychotherapy-and-the-system-of-care/ (accessed: 14.01.13)