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Clinical Meeting: Keeping up appearances?

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Image by Mirella Isaias

February 2012’s clinical meeting was called “The clients, their clothes; the therapists, our clothes: a clinical meeting to reflect on image, fashion and clothes in the therapeutic encounter” and was facilitated by Hephzibah Kaplan, the Art Therapy Centre’s director and co-founder. We were invited to wear something we would never normally wear to a therapy session, or might have wanted to wear but never dared to.

This immediately brought into the room the prevailing issue of trying to “dress up as a therapist“:

    • How feminine can a young female therapist be without encouraging erotic transference?
    • How comfortable can we allow ourselves to be in our clothes without appearing careless?
    • What messages do we send out to our clients if we put make up on, or if we intentionally choose not to put any on?
    • How consistent must we be in our appearance and style?
    • What can you do if your children clients think you look too “severe” in your favourite pair of glasses??

 In the art-making part of the session we were asked to make work which related to an item of clothing we were wearing, and this led to some interesting personal and therapy-related stories and explorations. More questions emerged:

      • What do you do if you feel your client’s appearance or way of dressing is holding them back?
      • What about personal hygiene and self-care?
      • What to do if you hate your therapist’s perfume?
      • Who is copying whom in the sessions, the client or the therapist?
      • How much do we reveal of ourselves through our appearance, and who is looking at whom?

When reflecting on the two-way gaze, from therapist to client and from client to therapist, it became clear that much more is communicated through the choice of clothes and external appearance in the therapeutic encounter than first meets the eye.

Posted by Nili Sigal, art therapist &
clinical meetings coordinator

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