Painting the Counter-Transference

Many of these images were painted by an art therapist facilitating a weekly art therapy group in a therapeutic community. The residents had various mental health issues including personality disorders, psychosis, depression and other psychologically debilitating conditions. The group were encouraged to paint images that communicated or expressed some of the inner world struggles they were experiencing. The residents would also talk about the interpersonal struggles they were having while living in a therapeutic community.

In many art therapy groups the role of the art therapist is to observe the clients and ‘hold the space’. With some clients this can feel persecutory and threatening so the art therapist may join in with the art-making part of the group. In this therapeutic community, all members join in the activities, both clinical and recreational, thus the art therapist from the outset joined the residents in image-making.

The role of the art therapist was to stimulate and encourage the creative process for each resident and at the same time, attempt to pictorially capture some of the themes that were being tackled by the group. During the discussion time, the art therapist would be able to reflect back to the group via her paintings, some of the underlying themes that were occurring. Picking up on the feelings of the group as well as the individuals, art therapist Hephzibah Kaplan painted over 500 of these paintings during her 6 years working at the Arbours Crisis Centre.

 In showing these images, it is hoped that the viewer gets a sense of the powerful projections and counter-transference processes that the art therapist is required to negotiate as part of the art therapy work.