Talking in Art Therapy
Should we be talking during the drawing process? Is talking in art therapy a smart move? Good question.
The answer? It depends on the client.
Some children with trauma history find it helpful, especially to help diffuse their powerful and overwhelming feelings. Others become extremely involved with their art making and find it disrupting.
Talking after the art process, however, is important for several reasons:
- It helps to externalise thoughts, feelings and experiences through story telling.
- It helps the therapist to better understand the client in order to provide the best possible intervention.
- It helps children who are very shy or averse to sharing to open up.
Art expression is the way to facilitate communication which begs the question: how do we help a client talk about what they have drawn? How do we encourage verbal communication?
Encouraging Talking in Art Therapy
Here are some practical questions that a client can be asked to encourage talking in art therapy.
- What title should you give this picture? Tell me about your drawing. What is going on in this picture?
These are general, open-ended questions that give the child or adult the opportunity to respond creatively. They also prevent the art therapist from imposing their own ideas on the person.
- How do the people or animals in this picture feel?
One of the goals in any therapeutic relationship with children is to help them to express their feelings. One way to get this process started is to enquire about the feelings of the figures in their drawing (rather than starting with their own feelings).
This gives the client or child the opportunity to project or relate their feelings through the pictures they have drawn. You can even ask about inanimate objects by suggesting that we pretend that the house or car they’ve drawn has feelings. If the drawing is non-figurative or abstract, you can ask: “How does this shape, line, colour or the whole picture feel?”.
- How do the figures in the drawing feel about one another? If they could speak, what would they say to each other?
These questions are related to expressions of emotions, but they may assist the client in developing a story about the drawing. The therapist might pretend to be the voice of one of the figures, animals or objects in the drawing and ask a child to speak for another figure in the picture.
This approach is similar to that used in play therapy, where toys or sandplay figures engage in a dialogue with each other.
- Can I ask the little girl (or little boy, dog, cat, house, etc.) something?
Through this type of enquiry, the child is encouraged to answer for the figure in the drawing, in our case, the little girl. Again, this encourages the child to personalise the figure, allowing him or her to vocalise their feelings.
Most questions encourage generating a story and are used in a third-person approach rather than direct confrontation.
For a lot of children a direct approach is fine. However, for some—especially for children with serious trauma or disturbance—a more indirect approach is helpful. It creates a degree of safety and distance while at the same time allowing children to feel in control of the world they’ve defined through their drawing.
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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).