Family Art Therapy
Family therapy and family art therapy has been around since the 1940s. From the mid-1980s to the present, the field has been marked by a diversity of approaches. While each approach tends to reflect the original schools, they also draw on other theories and methods.
There was a strong influence on family therapy and family art therapy by the feminist movement in Milan in Italy. In the 70s and 80s, family therapy, especially the Milan approach, became extremely popular around the world.
In both cognitive behavioural therapy and psychodynamic therapy, thinking of causality is treated generally in a linear way; that is, cause and effect (outcome). For instance, a father gets angry, the mother becomes anxious and thus, the child refuses to go to school.
In contrast, family therapy works in systems; it’s not linear but occurs in a circular way. Therefore, we find not one cause, not one person to blame, but we find that most problems in families are circular in nature. In other words, everyone contributes to the problem!
Family Art Therapy Techniques
Some interesting techniques I frequently use in family art therapy are:
1. Bring an Object
Bring an object, an item, a photo that reminds you of your family of origin. Each family member may tell a different story about their family of origin through their object. The object is symbolic, and each family member may have a different projection to it. The art therapist can help to uncover those and explore the narratives.
2. Draw your Family Origin
Each member draws or paints a family image where each family member needs to be positioned somewhere in the image doing a typical activity.
The art therapist could ask questions like: “Tell us about your picture, how do you feel in the picture, how do you describe yourself and other members, who are you closer to, what are you doing in the picture, what are they doing? If the tree would be able to talk, what would it say to your mum or dad etc.?”
Allow your client to explore their own picture, the relationship of the members and such like.
3. Draw a Picture of a Family Member
The client draws a picture of a family member with whom they experience conflict.
The art therapist suggests, “Draw an abstract picture or painting of you and your relationship to this family member.” And then asks, “What does the family member project into this relationship?”
Analysis is required of colours, forms, space, movement, the overall impression and feelings on part of the picture.
Remember, what the client thinks is important may not also be the most pressing issue. The meaning is normally in the picture, what she or he sees. This is how we work with projections in the picture here and now.
Family therapy is messy like life itself and tomorrow might be different to today, so it helps to be open minded and flexible throughout the process. Let go of any preconceived assumptions and take each situation on its merits, as each family has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, their own story, and their own challenges and opportunities for healing and growth.
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).