Art Therapy and Christmas
After studying theology for 10 years, you would think I know a thing or two about Christmas. To be honest, the more I have learned over the years, the less I feel I actually know. I have way more questions than answers in theology and art therapy alike.
I am still full of wonder when I put up the tree with my kids and see the reflection of the lights in their eyes. But then they end up in an argument about a glass ball or the lights.
What is this season all about? About forgiveness, about miracles, about love and connection beyond misery and despair? About challenges that we face, many of us daily. About the birth of Jesus in a place where hope was low, and suffering was endemic. About God and what is good in us and in this world after all? Is it about religion at all or more about what is human in us and what separates us from our clever gadgets and machines?
I remember thinking after I had submitted my master’s thesis in theology—about “How to Experience God in Visual Art”—I hope they don’t catch me making this all up. How do you assess an academic piece of paper about a belief? What is the science in theology? What is the science in art therapy and psychology? When I studied psychology in Australia, they told me that we were to follow the scientist-practitioner model. I understand why this is so important for so many, but after 25 years of practicing psychotherapy and counselling, I often find that it is far more art than science, more heart than head.
The time before Christmas, Advent, is a magical time in the year in many countries where symbols take over our rational thoughts and we are entranced by coloured lights, the amazing scent of pine trees and cookies fresh from the oven, music centred on hope, innocence and a brighter future where God is guiding us and saving our souls. A bit cheesy, perhaps, but don’t we all desire that somewhere deep inside of us? Some critical thinkers believe that this is the main reason we created religion. If there is a God out there, I am sure he/she understands and cares deeply no matter what thoughts go through our mind and wants us all to be well, every one of us, everywhere.
COVID-19 changed the face of the world. Many things could be said about how people are struggling to survive in the aftermath, but hope has not gone.
Art Therapy and Christmas
How does art therapy fit into all of this? Working with the unconscious brings up all the hurt of the past that seeks to find rest and healing. It also brings up all the hope and trust that there is someone out there who genuinely loves us, regardless of our shortcomings. Love beyond all. A forgiving heavenly father/mother earth, a loving dad and mum, who are there for you unconditionally. No judgment, just pure affection and acceptance.
Art often trumps words, as the latter frequently fails to describe what we really feel, why we are bothered about so many things and why we keep mulling over the same things—perhaps tormenting thoughts of self-doubt, regret and shame. Art draws it out, releases it, exposes it. And art therapy can put it into a safe place, if you have a well-trained art therapist guiding you along. It is much harder and self-defeating to keep suppressing painful events rather than integrating them, especially in art therapy, which can be such a playful and expressive activity.
Healing happens in art therapy on deep levels. A student of mine recently asked me, “Isn’t what comes out of the unconscious a bit like the work of the Holy Spirit?”
There are a lot of mysterious things happening in this world, not just around Christmas, and you sometimes wonder if it is the work of the Holy Spirit, or if we humans have a shared unconsciousness that interconnects us and drives us forward in our evolution, two steps forward and one step backwards. You can tell, I am an optimist.
In this magical season, I hope you experience the working of the Holy Spirit, or the working of your personal or collective unconscious that aims for healing and integration, in a way that drives you two steps forward. Where you or your loved ones find work again, meaningful employment that makes a difference to people on this planet, where your relationships that might have been challenging this year will blossom or change for the better, and where you’ll find real connections again beyond the well-meant but often-not-enough How you going mate? … Good and you? short dialogue.
I hope that God out there and within you creates a miracle that heals your world. And if you don’t believe in him or her, that you’ll find the miracle within you and around you. There are so many traces of it. Be open minded and open hearted for coincidences in the next couple of days and weeks, so you can tune in with this world, more than ever.
Sending you all my warmest thoughts and merry Christmas wishes,
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).