Art Therapy and a Diagnostic Approach
Does a diagnostic approach marry well with art therapy? That’s a good question.
When psychologists use drawings and paintings in their counselling of children, they might be tempted to lean on a diagnostic approach. However, there are several risk factors to consider.
The first problem occurs should the therapist look too hard for ‘evidence’ in terms of what might be revealed through the drawing or art process. This distorted perception will compromise the outcome of the process.
Secondly, because the child may quickly become aware of scrutiny, the approach may in fact compromise the process itself. Why? The counselling process is best served when the child feels free to express aspects of their inner world within the safe, non-judgemental space created by an authentic client-therapist relationship. A diagnostic approach often makes it difficult to foster such an environment.
Art Therapy vs. A Diagnostic Approach
In practice, the inner world and the outer world often overlap. A mixture of reality and fantasy often occur in children’s drawings. This makes it extremely difficult to assess a child’s drawings as merely literal statements. For example, the experience of art therapists working with child abuse cases find that it is far more likely that the abuse will be expressed through ‘making a mess’ rather than through a drawing depicting who did what to whom or one providing specific details.
In short, a diagnostic approach doesn’t marry well with art therapy and should be used with caution.
Robert GrayDirector and Senior Lecturer at CECAT
Registered Art Therapist and Psychologist
MA A. Th., AThR; B. Soc. Sc. (Psych.) (Hons.), MAPS.; BA. Theol. (Hons), MA Theol.
A highly regarded art therapy lecturer from Germany, Robert Gray has become a much sought-after art therapy lecturer and practising art therapist in Australia. His unique approach spanning psychodynamic, humanistic, spiritual and cognitive behavioural frameworks has distinguished him as a thought leader who is frequently invited to present at conferences in Australia and abroad.
Trained overseas and multilingual, German-born Robert shares the benefits of his international affiliations and access to cutting-edge research published in various languages with his students and readers. Robert is a professional member of the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association (ANZATA) and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).