Quotes from "An Introduction to Art Therapy," by Margaret Naumberg

March 15, 2019

These quotes are part of a continuing research project, but I thought they may be of interest to those of you working with children.


Direct expression of feeling and action without recourse to words are of special value with young children. 


...the varying role that art has played in relation to both classification and treatment of mental disorders; its function has ranged from the formal limitations of test requirements to the spontaneous release through "free" expression.


The trend of Occupational Therapy has been towards group or class instruction rater than to an individualized psychotherapy. Its emphasis has been on the mastering of the special technique and practice of a craft related to an ordered sequence of models and designs. Achievement of technical proficiency in the handling of craft material, rather than the goal of original creative expression, has largely motivated the activities of this branch of therapy. Graded training in the process of making specific products has also been regarded by such therapists as an important means of controlling, as well as disciplining, the wayward impulses of disturbed patients. The theory and practice of Occupational Therapy is directed to handling the conscious level of the patient's performance. Its avowed purpose, therefore, differs fro those projective techniques that seek to probe the unconscious depths of personality, by encouraging the development of forms of "free" expression. 


While full credit must be given to Occupational Therapy for what it has accomplished with mental patients, there remains an important area in the development of spontaneous creativity as a means of diagnosis and therapy which it has not entered. This field includes original work in the practical as well as the fine arts. For when emphasis is placed on the expression of the patient's personality through his art, and not on any technical proficiency attained, it serves a different therapeutic purpose. For the patient, it helps to release unexpected capacities which bring confidence and provide satisfaction; and to the psychiatrist, it offers a revealing projective technique for both diagnosis and therapy. When the patient has been helped to overcome his inhibitions and is able to express his deepest fears, wishes and phantasies on paper or in clay, he is tapping the unconscious in the symbolic language of images, which will often bring to the surface what he dare not or can not say in words. 


This method of supplementing the psychiatric interview with the use of 'free' art expression as a projective technique, demands some reconsideration of the role of imagination and phantasy in the course of treatment. as soon as original art work is encouraged, instead of dependence on models or specific techniques, the focus of a patient's art activity is modified. He will begin to draw on his own inner resources and this will inevitably lead to some expression of the conflicts within the personality, which may reseal aspects of the pattern of his mental disease as well as the specific insecurities or traumatic experiences of the patient. Such release, drawn from both the conscious and unconscious levels, may in itself have a distinctly therapeutic effect on the patient, which it offers to the psychiatrist another avenue of approach in the treatment. 


When a patient is encouraged to express imaginatively and freely over whatever interest him, the themes choses are likely to range over many subjects; such work my deal with the actual happenings of the personal life, treated as either inner or outer events; or it may recreate either factual or phantasy experiences of childhood; or dramatize wishes and daydreams about the present or the future. Dreams also are likely to be included I some of these spontaneous art forms. 


Since the language of images is the speech of the unconscious, it serves as a more primitive and direct mode of personal expression than words. Such personality patterns as are revealed through spontaneous art, have been more thoroughly studied with psychotic than neurotic patients. Further cultivation of 'free' expression as a projective technique may become increasingly useful as a supplement to the psychiatric interview. Research in this field will probably develop more rapidly in the future as an aspect of the psychosomatic study of personality. 


In the use of art as such a projective technique with behavior problem children, there are certain obstructions which may interfere with the fulfillment of expression that is genuinely 'free.' Conventional standards of behavior imposed by home and school act as an early barrier. Bit it is far more difficult to obtain spontaneous art expression from a child already conditioned by formal school requirements than from one of pre-school age. When behavior problem children are subjected to formal school recitations and conventional art lessons their natural responses to life are more severely affected than those of normal children. Early symptoms of childhood maladjustments can disguise themselves behind formal school procedures. A dangerously recessive child can easily pass unnoticed beneath the passive obedience of what the teacher regards as a 'good' pupil. Another child with tendencies to compulsive behavior may all too easily conform to those stereotyped responses that satisfy school requirements but limit the child's more balanced development. Tendencies to hyperkinetic or pre delinquent behavior are likely to increase under the requirements of silence and immobility in classroom procedure. Evidence of obstructive responses are more easily detected by the teacher than any of the less obvious, bit equally serious, compulsive or recessive types of behavior. 

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