Body, Mind and Spirit: Art Therapy with Neurological and Physical Conditions

Body, Mind and Spirit: Art Therapy with Neurological and Physical Conditions

By Hephzibah Kaplan

150623_2015-06-22 19.07.20 copy_sm11London Art Therapy Centre decided to put on an exhibition to celebrate the launch of two new important art therapy books edited by art therapists Marian Liebmann OBE and Sally Weston.

(See photos of this event in our Galleries section.)

We invited artist and art therapist David Little to curate the show and he in turn invited the art therapy book authors (all 30+ of them), art therapy clients, art therapy trainees and artists to submit artworks related to the themes of the books.

There were over 70 visitors on Saturday 20th June. Our guest speaker Dr. Brian Kaplan, a whole-person medicine physician spoke about the concept of wellness within or alongside illness. Referring to both Steven Hawking as well as reading from Franz Rosenzweig, Brian reflected on the schism and unity of body, mind and spirit and how the creative soul can still be so active within restricted physical conditions. It was heart-warming to hear a medical doctor value art therapy so highly as well as insist that all neurologists should read this book! As he said, neurologists can know a fortune but in actuality do very little, yet art therapy seems to touch the parts other medical interventions cannot reach.

Regarding the exhibition, David Little put together a fine collection of interesting and engaging artworks, each accompanied by a personal testimony from the artist who often collaborated directly with the art therapist. Our thanks go to him for his thoughtful preparations and sensitive hanging of the collection. The show is up till 10th July 2015.

Many of the artworks contain a narrative of a dyadic relationship, including the symmetry and pairings inside the human body. There are pieces on eyes (blindness owing to Type 1 diabetes); on ears; on fallopian tubes (polycystic fibrosis); on DNA; as well as two selfies, two pieces on youth and old age, and the relationship of the landscape to the sky and more. Pairings connect to the idea of health being in balance/out of balance in the body. When one side, or one organ of a pair gets unwell, what happens to the body, mind and spirit?

It was also interesting to see how many couplings or pairings as visitors there were at the exhibition. Many of the artists’ credits were the name of artist ‘with’ the name of the art therapist. Hence at the show there were several art therapy clients together with their art therapist, which elicits all sorts of thoughts about extra analytic contact, dual roles and boundaries.

Art therapists are always so careful to protect boundaries and yet there was something so caring about art therapists accompanying or meeting their clients at the show. For the clients this has been a growth opportunity to be seen and valued. For the art therapists it may be that working with this particular client group means that, of necessity, boundaries become elastic, (rather than permeable), allowing the dyad to find a suitable balance and comfortable place together.

I remember in my early days as an art therapist I was asked to work with a lady with multiple sclerosis who was immobile from her neck down and could only move a finger to control her electric chair. She did however enjoy painting and I would apply a chosen colour to a paintbrush, put it gently in her mouth, she would paint on an architect’s drafting table and then I would take out the brush, wash it, apply another colour and so on. This work was slow, intimate and profound. It taught me that art therapy can happen in a variety of contexts and that it is not always possible to have the same non-contact boundaries as is convention in art therapy and psychotherapy.

These two new art therapy books together with the exhibition are an example of the need for art therapists to attend to and hold aspects of the client that perhaps extend beyond the usual boundaries but are however extremely worthy and valuable contributions in art therapy.