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Two art therapy articles


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Here are some helpful articles for Lani's spring Art Therapy workshops.

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Two art therapy articles

  1. 1. Non-Required but Very Useful Reading Lani Gerity February 28, 2011Josie, Winnicott, and the Hungry GhostsAll rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the American Art Therapy Association, Inc.(AATA).Originally published inArt Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.Gerity, L.(2001).Josie, Winnicott, and the Hungry Ghosts.Art Therapy: Journal of the American ArtTherapy Association, 18(1).Lani Alaine GerityNew York UniversityDA, ATRJosie, Winnicott and the Hungry GhostsAbstract:This paper is a further examination of Kramer (1997) et. al.ʼs discussion of the “seductiveenvironment”, the extremely compelling, virtual environment of popular culture in which the humanmind is seduced and turned into a “hungry ghost”. This paper will present the problem as seen in acreative, artistically gifted, urban North American child, Josie, who lives a carefully orchestrated,circumscribed life in which television and video play a large part. This paper will also examine someideas about possible solutions that we as art therapists have the ability to employ. The paper will lookat ways art can reach out to people, stimulate their thinking, and provide inner satisfaction. It willreview the value of art and deep pleasure, of contemplation, the value of “flow” experiences, and ofWinnicottʼs ideas of play.Josie, Winnicott and the Hungry GhostsThis paper revisits some of the ideas from Kramer (1997) et. al.ʼs discussion of the “seductiveenvironment” which was based on a panel discussion given in 1995 at the AATA Annual Conference.It also considers some of the ideas from the three panel discussions that followed it in the ensuingyears, 1996-1998. The underlying premise of these discussions was that advertising and theelectronic media have created a larger than life, extremely compelling, virtual environment in whichthe human mind is seduced, our ability to create imagery is diminished, and we are left with agnawing feeling of poverty. The impact of this can be seen in the art room in an increasedrestlessness, in passive demands to be entertained, and threats to devalue any activity not a virtualone with that terrible insult: “this is boring”. In the art room some of us have also observed a povertyof image, a lack of investment, or what seems like an inability to push through initial disappointmentin dissimilarity between intent and outcome of a piece, an unwillingness to get to their “secondwind”, a feeling familiar to athletes and artists if they are willing to push beyond disappointment orLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 1
  2. 2. exhaustion and continue to work to completion. (For a clear discussion of this phenomenon, seeKramer, 1998 a, pg. 167)In New Yorker article “Buried Alive; Our Children and the Avalanche of Crud” Denby (1996)compellingly described the impact of the “seductive environment” on his own children. He felt theirworld was a degraded one, a shadow world of virtual reality. He noted with helplessness theirincreased addictions to the electronic media as seen in a willingness to forgo meals for their warstrategy games. Denby said he hated what he saw as the bullying, conformist, shabbiness of popculture and the way it consumed his children. He described the media as “three dimensional,inescapable, omnivorous and self-referring -- a closed system that seems, for many kids, toanswer all their questions.”(p. 51)Denby explained childrenʼs restlessness and demand to be entertained as a kind of channel surfing ofthe mind and emotions, going from one craving to another just as their speech can go from one ideato another. Parallel to the internal clutter of craving and emotion, is an external “avalanche of crud”,little plastic toys, which although were at one time considered to be absolutely essential for existence,are now forgotten, broken remnants scattered about the house.But this isnʼt just a childrenʼs problem. How easy is it for us to concentrate, to stick with somethinguntil we get our “second wind”? Donʼt we channel surf our minds and emotions, and arenʼt our livesfilled with scattered remnants of things that we had once thought essential? Epstein (1995) describedthis phenomena when he likened the Western psyche to the Hungry Ghost in Buddhist teachings. TheBuddhist wheel of life has six realms, one of which is populated with Hungry Ghosts.(Figs. 1 and 2, from the 12th century Japanese hand scrolls from the Kyoto National Museum)Fascinating to look at but horrifying to imagine being, these creatures have withered limbs, bloatedbellies of the malnourished, and long thin necks. They wander helplessly in the world of humans, butare unseen, unacknowledged, unreal, tormented by unfulfilled cravings and insatiable demands. Theyare never satisfied because their bodies are unable to digest food. They represent a fusion of rage andLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 2
  3. 3. desire. Epstein noticed an increase in individuals embodying similar kind of rage and desire in hispsychiatric practice. People complaining of low self esteem, unfulfilled lives, feeling unreal andunacknowledged by others. He suggested it is a broader problem than simply the few Borderlinepatients that come to see him. He suggests that we are all increasingly vulnerable to feelings ofalienation, longing, and emptiness, those emotions that characterize the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts.So how can we define the problem? Epsteinʼs patients and most of the rest of us, for that matter, arebeing taught with great skill by the seductive environment to live in this Hungry Ghost Realm, toembody the rage and desire of these pitiful creatures, collecting more and more stuff which neitherconsoles nor satisfies.But why would we choose to live in a Realm that leaves us feeling so undernourished? Does it haveanything to do with early relationships to the seductive environment? If we can find out how it beginswould we be able to disentangle ourselves from this relationship or exert a little more choice in ourlives? Would we be more effective art therapists, creating environments where individuals wouldhave more choice and be able to create freely and with satisfaction?To look for an answer to these questions I spent time with Josie in her environment (an informantbased research methodology) which is at least as plastic and media filled as Denbyʼs childrenʼs. Josieis a lively, creative kindergartner in New York City, living a very carefully orchestrated, coordinated,circumscribed life in which television and video play a large part. While visiting her parents, I hadmany opportunities to observe the patterns of Josieʼs life and interactions. Early morning consisted ofa little unstructured play time with Mommy, before anyone was quite awake. This time would beshort lived, however, because both her parents had to prepare for work, so Josie would be depositedin the living room, in front of the television with some brightly colored, sugar coated breakfastcereal, where for the next few hours she would sit in spell bound inactivity.The baby sitter would arrive and the parents would leave, but there would be little attention paid tothis transition, the television serving to smooth over any separation anxiety. The day would beLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 3
  4. 4. scheduled with activities and play dateswhere she was free to create and playwith her friends. It was the results ofthese activities and the brief earlymorning play which gave me the clueas to her creative ability andimagination. In the evening, after allscheduled play dates and activities, thebaby sitter would leave and Josieʼsfather would take over, fixing herdinner while she would again be placedin front of the television to watch theNickelodeon channel. When Josieʼsmother would return, Josie could put amovie of her choice into the VCR sothat the adults can have their owndinner and some adult conversation.In her few years, Josie had logged onmore TV/video viewing hours than Ihad in my entire life. She is veryexperienced in this seductiveenvironment and is my best informanton its impact on the young mind. Shecan explain in fairly sophisticatedterms how she needs things for herhappiness. These things included yetanother Barbie to add to the pile shealready has. How many Barbies wouldbe enough, I asked. Just this last(Fig. 3)one, she assured me. But her bedroomis so crowded, now, with the creationsof the toy industry that her own pale,little cardboard and paper creations aresqueezed out by these brightly colored,exaggerated “supernormal objects” asdescribed in Kramer (1997, pg. 109) et. al.Josie also explained to me that she needs special bath products, LʼOreal for Kids and that they werereally the best. What criteria is this based on? Although I found Josieʼs needs puzzling, I shouldnʼthave. The main goal of Josieʼs seductive environment is to create a market for products. Althoughshe may not be earning money, she certainly has an influence on how money is spent in thehousehold.Mander (1977, p. 130-1) explained the advertising industryʼs seduction in the following way.Through external imagery our inner life is accessed and our feelings are manipulated, reprocessed,and sold back to us. When Josie is sitting quietly in front of the television with its fast paced,attention getting imagery, the psychologist or social scientist who is paid by the advertising industryLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 4
  5. 5. is entering her inner wilderness, pulling up her feelings, displaying them, and selling them back toher. “See these excited little girls?” they say to her. “They have the newest and best Barbie. Shemakes them feel excited and happy. If you had this Barbie, then you would be able to feel your happyfeelings. But you donʼt. As soon as you get your parents to buy you this new Barbie, then you will beable to feel happy again.” In this way the personal, internal feeling of happiness is attached to anexternal product, where it is held hostage until the product is purchased. What chance does Josie haveof considering looking toward her own inner world for satisfaction with this kind of confusion ofinternal feelings with external products going on? Mander said, “Like miners seeking new deposits ofcoal in the mountains, these social scientists attempt to mine the internal wilderness of humanbeings” (p.129). So Josieʼs bedroom is crammed from floor to ceiling with hard plastic stuff.In studying the early relationship to the seductive environment we saw that Josie is being taught tolive in this Hungry Ghost Realm, when she uses this environment to assuage anxiety, when herparents use it to gain a little peace, and when advertisers use it to create a market for their products.So perhaps Josie is not choosing to live in a realm that leaves her feeling needy. How can Josie, orany of us for that matter, begin to disentangle herself and give herself more choices? Kramer (1998b), while writing about the bombardment of our perceptual apparatus by the advertising industry,suggested we learn to disregard this stimuli. Not fully happy with this suggestion, though, shewarned that disregarding stimuli may cause an ever-increasing incapacity for emotional response toperception. Yet my observations of Josie, who eagerly accepts the stimuli of the advertising industry,would indicate that acceptance of bombardment also leads to a kind of incapacitation of emotion,intellectual thought and creativity.Perhaps there might be other solutions. One that immediately comes to mind is to turn off or avoidthe seductive environment. I can hear objections to this idea, so I would suggest an experimentalapproach. Examine the differences between times spent within the electronic environment, and timesspent beyond its reach. We are bombarded often and mercilessly from all sides, but perhaps there aretimes when we have a choice between the seductive environment and opportunities for a stilling ofthe chaos, opportunities that would help us reconnect with our inner landscape, where we may findourselves restored. My suggestion would be when we come up to one of these opportunities forstillness, we accept it, and examine the resulting state of mind. During such an experiment theelectronic environment will keep, it will wait for us, eager to tell us about the newest Barbie or bathproduct upon our return.Wanting a more active solution, however, I wondered if there was some way for art to counter thenumbing effects of this virtual environment. Zipes (1997) said that it is the job of art to find newways to “reach out to people, to stimulate their thinking, and to provide deep pleasure” (p. 131).Perhaps we need to be reminded of the value of art and deep pleasure, of contemplation, the value ofwhat Csikszentmihalyi (1990) called flow, and of what Ackerman (1999) called deep play.Susan Deri (1978), in an essay on play and the work of D. W. Winnicott, described a childʼs need toplay in the presence of the mother. She wrote that in order for the child to find satisfaction in play, themotherʼs main task is to create a play space where the child can play by herself but in the security ofthe motherʼs presence. In this potential space, which both joins and separates mother and the playingchild, the child feels “unpressured by instinctual needs and unchallenged by the demands of theenvironment”(p.55). The mother can leave possible objects for creative play around without forcingthem on the child. She will find and use what she needs. “Finding them will be as much a creative actas the discovery of objets trouvés for the artist, or driftwood for the beach comber.”(p.56) During thisprocess the mother watches the child play, her eyes and face function as a warm, friendly, mirror,“reflecting the loved image of the child to the child.”(p.56-7) This description is very like the tooLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 5
  6. 6. short time Josie has in the morning with her mother before her day unfolds, before the demands ofthe electronic environment begin their assault.Winnicott (1986) described the healthy individual as one who feels real. Feeling real may besomething we lose track of when we spend a lot of time in a virtual reality. He saw healthy people asmoving easily between three realms. One, the realm of the world, is where interpersonal relationshipsare key. The second is the realm of the personʼs inner reality or inner wilderness. The third is therealm of cultural experience. This realm starts as play, leads on to the whole area of “arts, the mythsof history, the slow march of philosophical thought and the mysteries of mathematics, and ...ofreligion.”(p.36) Winnicott felt that play and humor come into this realm as well as the accumulatedculture of the past ten thousand years, all a by-product of health.So here is a suggestion of a solution: to create quiet, interesting transitional spaces, where childrencan move easily between these three realms, where they are able to play and create, and where theycan feel real.This can easily be applied to our work in art therapy. In re-examining work done in a large daytreatment center, it seemed that the pottery room provided the closest thing to a Winnicottiantransitional space. Many of the most difficult Borderline patients, individuals who embodied theHungry Ghostsʼ rage and desire in other groups, seemed transformed in pottery. Here they appearedto find a quiet space, an environment where they could interact with marked gentleness, where theycould explore their own inner reality and where they could play and create form with the clay. Clay isa very nurturing, pliable material. Perhaps it reminded some of a positive, early, maternalenvironment while for others it provided such an environment for the first time. During one sessionone of the more toxic Borderline patients noticed, while cutting and reattaching a hand in a sculptureof a father and son for the hundredth time, “clay is very forgiving, you can cut off an arm and attachit many times and it will always forgive you” (Gerity, 1997, p. 93) (fig. 4&5).Another patient described creating a sculpture of someone very special to her. She said somethingmagical happened internally. She felt a deep connection to a buried part of herself. She could puteverything into the clay--love, anger, fears-- and create a thing of beauty. She felt validated by thissculpture, a deep sense of self worth, and even something like self-love. When she finished creatingthis head, she said- “wow, I can do this. I didnʼt think I could. Maybe there are other things I cando.” (Gerity, 1999, p.14)Lani Gerity Required Reading, Page 6
  7. 7. In this womanʼs description of her experience we can hear that the creation reflected back to her thatthis is good. The ability to create becomes a kind of positive mirror in which she sees her ownstrengths reflected back. This patient clearly gained a sense of integration, a sense of feeling real,when she was able to look within herself for satisfaction. This is something which can be encouragedwithin our art rooms.Another example of a Winnicottian play space occurred at Sagamore, the old great camp of theVanderbuilts, in the Adirondack mountains of New York, where grandparents and grandchildrencome for intergenerational summer camps. It is an idyllic, magical place, where the only buildings onthe lake are historic, rustic structures. The lake itself is the home of loons, river otter, a great blueheron, and ducks. For an art making space we have a little cottage which we shared one summer witha family of ermine. I couldnʼt think of a more wonder filled place to create art.Having the time constraint of week-long workshops, we create puppets. This is an art form thatengages children and their grandparents in a lively playful way, and yet allows for a certain amountof introspection. It is tactile, three dimensional with some of the qualities of working with clay. It isboth visual and with a narrative component. It is completely interactive. We use papier mâché andcloth, incorporating small objects from the environment into the puppet. The results are delightfullyunique creatures that mysteriously enchant the puppeteer (figs. 6 & 7). By animating these puppetsthe whole world suddenly becomes a new, curious, and exciting place where driftwood, animalfootprints, and objets trouvés can be discovered. “I never knew the world was so big,” gasped onelittle boy as he took his puppet for a walk.These grandparents and grandchildren, cut off from the seductive environment for one week periods,nurtured their curiosity about the world they live in and confirmed a love of life. They found a kindof deep pleasure in this place and in their own ability to create and play together. Phillips (1998)wrote about how essential curiosity and love of life is for us, how if we donʼt nurture this curiosityLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 7
  8. 8. we can lose our ability to look forward to things, or our ability to create things that help us lookforward. He said” is imagination that makes lives livable... And, as children take for granted, livesare only livable if they give pleasure: that is, if we can renew our pleasures, remember theirintensities. And so be delighted by hope...” (p. xxii)If we are increasingly dependent upon our virtual environment for our imaginative life, feelingunable to create things to look forward to or to sustain us, we are left feeling undernourished, withoutpleasure or hope. My experience in the Adirondacks and in the pottery room has taught me that thiscuriosity and love of life can be nurtured in a creative play space if the space is free of demands ofthe electronic environment. In trying to encourage a group of Taos students to think creatively andadventurously about their lives, Goldberg (1993) advised them to find something they love and tolove it completely. Perhaps we need to trust in what we love, in what we animate and in whatanimates us, we need to follow this thing with curiosity, and let it take us on an adventure.And what about Josie and her relationship to the seductive environment? After each visit, I am leftwith a vague disquiet, a wish for Josie to have more time in her transitional space, where she couldplay freely and create her little cardboard and paper people in their complex if pale cardboard worlds,with out being squeezed out by somebody elseʼs “supernormal” imagery. She is a creative child, ifshe is out of range of the seductive environment. If she could find something to love that would leadher on adventures, and if she could be allowed to develop a curiosity in the real world much like thegrandparents and grandchildren in the Adirondacks, I think maybe she would have a chance.Josie did have an adventure this summer, to my relief. She went with her parents and grandparentswent to Nigeria. They spent a great deal of time in a remote area where life somehow goes on outsidethe reach of the electronic, virtual environment. She got to see where her father was raised, where hergrandparents and great grandparents worked. She got to experience the joy of an uncircumscribedday filled with curiosities and treasures: flocks of little goats herded by children, rising with the sunand the rooster, and playing in the dirt, making art and song without schedule or plan. Upon returninghome her stated vocational and life goals included living in a hut in Nigeria where she, too, couldraise little goats. She may never fulfill this goal but at the very least she has now experiencedsomething which has broadened her ideas about the real world, she has been to a place where imagesand stories thread their way between the generations within her family. In her mind real images ofgoats, huts, family and friends are linked together to create her very own narrative. She can play withthis story within her inner wilderness, or she can retell it with her parents, connecting it to the familyhistory. Eventually, out of these seeds of experiences, additional images, new possibilities, and newhopes will germinate, and happily these things will be a part of Josieʼs inner life, not a part of theseductive environment.In conclusion, I would say that Winnicott has some very usable principles for the art room, forourselves and for Josie. We need a certain amount of freedom to make choices, we need a certainamount of protection from the bombardment of virtual reality in order to access our innerenvironment and to feel real in the world, and we need to learn that we can nurture our hungersourselves with our own creative efforts. We need to help Josie and ourselves keep curiosity and loveof life alive when ever and where ever possible.I would like to end this paper with a quote from Rachel Carson (1998).“ If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder ..., he needs the companionship of at least oneadult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we livein” (pg. 54-5).As art therapists, I believe that we have the ability and responsibility to be that adult, rediscoveringand mirroring the mystery of the world.Lani Gerity Required Reading, Page 8
  9. 9. REFERENCE LISTAckerman, D. (1999). Deep play. New York: Random House.Benjamin, W. (1968, original German 1955) Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow; The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper andRow.Carson, R. (1998) (original text copyrighted in 1956) The Sense of Wonder. New York:HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Denby, D. (1996). “Buried alive; Our children and the avalanche of crud.” The New Yorker, July 15,1996.Deri, S. (1978). “Vicissitudes of Symbolization and Creativity” in Between reality and fantasy editedby Grolnick, S. A. And Barkin, L. North Vale, N. J.: Jason Aronson Inc.Epstein, M. (1995). Thoughts Without a Thinker. Basic Books: A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers.Gerity, L. (1999). Creativity and the dissociative patient; Puppets, narrative and art in the treatmentof survivors of childhood trauma. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.Goldberg, N. (1993), Long Quiet Highway. New York: Bantam Books.Kramer, E. (1998 a). Childhood and art therapy. Chicago, Magnolia Street Publishers.Kramer, E. (1998 b). “New feature: Art therapists who are artists.” American Journal of Art TherapyVol. 36, May.Kramer, E., Williams, K., Henley, D., and Gerity, L. (1997). “Art, art therapy, and the seductiveenvironment.” American Journal of Art Therapy, 35 (4), 106.Mander J. (1978). Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. New York, William Morrowand Company, Inc.Lani Gerity Required Reading, Page 9
  10. 10. Phillips, A. (1998). The Beast in the Nursery: On Curiosity and Other Appetites. New York: PantheonBooks.Winnicott, D. W. (1986). Home is where we start from. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.Zipes, J. (1997). Happily ever after; Fairy tales, children, and the culture industry. New York andLondon: Routledge.The Subversive Art Therapist:EmbracingCultural Diversity in the Art RoomAll rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the American Art Therapy Association, Inc.(AATA).Originally published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.Gerity, L.(2000).The Subversive Art Therapist: Embracing Cultural Diversity in the Art Room. ArtTherapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 17(3).Lani Alaine GerityNew York UniversityDA, ATRThe Subversive Art Therapist; Embracing Cultural Diversity in the Art Room.Abstract:This paper examines and compares assimilation and multiculturalism. Although we as art therapistsmight be more inclined to embrace multiculturalism, still when it comes to its practice in our artrooms, we find difficulties. This paper will clarify some of these difficulties, these foundations ofcultural conflict, so that we may better understand and begin dismantling the blocks which hinder ourability to embrace variety and differences in the art room. Finally, this paper makes the suggestionthat we go beyond removing that which hinders us and actively use our very natures as artists to helpus embrace diversity. As artists we understand the value of a variety of tools and mediums, the joy ofmixing varied textures, colors, shades and line quality in our work. This is the lesson to be found inevery art room and it is within reach of everyone who enters that space.The Subversive Art Therapist; Embracing Cultural Diversity in the Art Room.Selma Ciornai (1983) has suggested that art therapists are agents of social change. This paper willlook at the idea of the subversive art therapist, agent of social change, while delving into the richnessof textures, the variety of experience available to all of us who are willing to explore and supportcultural diversity in the art therapy studio. It will also examine the poverty and rigidity that is woveninto the experience of assimilation. The foundations of cultural conflict, i.e. inequities of power,cultural biases, prejudice and suffering, will be examined here, in order to understand what it is thatprevents us from embracing variety and differences in the art room. Finally, the suggestion that thesolutions lie in our very natures as artists will be put forward. The ability to value the mingling ofvarious textures, colors, shades and line quality is within reach of every art therapist.Why would assimilation be considered an impoverishment of experience? The answer can be seenover and over in the history of North America, in the dominant cultureʼs demand for conformity fromnon-dominant cultures. One story can be found in the Innu people of Labrador, Canada. ThroughLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 10
  11. 11. what can be seen as attempts at reprogramming a culture, a gradual process of residential schoolingand relocation, these people have been cut off from their history, values, land, and context.Dissociated from everything that gives life meaning, they further separate from community, families,from their very selves, undergoing a slow self-destruction through solvent abuse. 75% of the peopleof one community, that is both adults and children, inhale gasoline fumes as their substance of choice(figures from Nechi Institute on Alcohol and Drug Education). They are so defeated and despondentthat there is very little concept of protecting the younger members of the community from their ownfate. Many communities of non-dominant cultures across North America suffer in similar ways,perhaps not always with the extraordinarily destructive action of gasoline fume abuse of the Innu, butstill the stories of pain caused by demands of assimilation on this continent are innumerable.Successful models for recovery seem to all have at their core an embracing the richness of the cultureof origin, the history, traditions and rituals, leading to a restored value of the sense of self. Oneexample is the Rediscovery program (Henley, 1996) that began in British Columbia, twenty someyears ago on the shores of HaidaGwaii. Challenged by a multitude of social ills, the local communities created the first Rediscoverycamp. The goals of this camp were simple, to rediscover and appreciate the wonder of the innerworld, the variety of cultural worlds between people, and the marvels of the non-human world.Through art making, story telling, creative wilderness activities, a blending of rituals and rites ofpassage, the participants search for and find self reliance, self-worth, and friendship. In objectrelations terms, they begin to internalize good object relations, which provides them with the strengthand integrity of a positive sense of self. This camp was so successful that in the twenty years thatfollowed 21 more camps were set up in British Columbia as well as across western Canada, the U.S.,Thailand, and Hong Kong.In our art rooms, a similar process can be observed when patients over time begin to be able to workwith images, history, and narratives, from their own culture, when they can begin to feel a strengthwithin themselves and a willingness to protect this individuating self. It is seen most clearly whenpatients of a non-dominant culture initially create body image representations that appear to berepresentations of the dominant culture. Over time, if the art room is a safe place, individuals canexplore cultural histories and traditions, as described in Kramerʼs (1977) discussion of AfricanAmerican boys first painting Indian Chiefs before they could finally paint African Kings. We observea process of gradual self acceptance, body image representations grow to more resemble the creator,and with this we can observe a developing sense of pride.Often, though, in large agencies, the belief in assimilation is widely held by therapists and patientsalike. I worked in such an agency in New York City for more than a decade. I observed patientsattempting to deny their own history and illness in order to fit into the dominant culture of thehealthy, predominantly white, female, rehabilitation-counseling staff. There was often a focus on theexternal trappings of that culture, rather than the inner life of the individual. The therapists trained orrehabilitated the patients to better negotiate a place in the dominant culture. One such AfricanAmerican patient, Jenny, described in full elsewhere (Gerity,1999), had many beloved whitecounselors and therapists. Her creation in the art room of representation of her ego-ideal reflected herbelief that healthy people were like her white therapists, and that unhealthy people were like herabusive mother and her self. In her view the color of skin was tied to a sense of worth.This focus on the external appearance of acculturation denies the validity of the patientsʼ inner life,of their fears, dreams, terrors and longings. If the art therapist concerns herself with the inner lives ofpatients in a large agency she may find discussions of fiscal constraints and bottom line discouragingLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 11
  12. 12. her efforts. Patients reflecting on their hopes and fears might be considered subversive to thedominant cultureʼs mores and social values.In my observations this kind of assimilation, which neccessitates a denial of self and the inner life,does not promote mental health in any sense. Mental health seems to come rather from an increasedrespect for personal and cultural differences, whether we are considering the mental health of ourpatients, our peers, our students, or ourselves. So why is it so difficult to promote feelings ofacceptance, respect, and appreciation when working with cultural differences? Perhaps the answer tothat lies in our own feelings or traumatic memories of feeling “different” or not being a part of thedominant culture. Perhaps early on we came to believe that “different” was not a good thing.In the year that I took the board certification exam for registered art therapists there was a questionwhich went something like: “How do you best work with clients of cultures different from yourown?”. The choices for possible answers were something like what follows: You should...A. Encourage clients to assimilate into the dominant culture.B. Encourage clients to return to their own culture and world view.C. Ignore the differences.D. Learn more about your own culture of origin and attitudes towards differences.The correct answer was, of course, in learning about and accepting your own background andtraditions, your own feelings about differences, you will be more equipped to work with people fromcultures different from your own. This is very easy to say, to write, to believe, but it is not so easy topractice. How do we begin to look at the traditions of our individual cultures for strength? How canwe utilize our collective traditions as colorful and eccentric artists for the good training that thatprovides us?When teaching a course on intercultural concerns of the art therapist at NYU, I suggested to thestudents to find a cultural figure from their own background which they could identify with, a sort ofexternalization of an internalized good object from their own cultural or ethnic background. Thefigure could be a folk hero, an historic figure, or even a family member. The idea behind this was towork on accepting culture of origin and to begin to examine feelings about differences. They studiedHammerschlagʼs (1988) delightful foray into dancing with and accepting cultural distinctions, FirstNationsʼ and his own. The example of the destruction of culture through assimilation and recoverythrough the exploration of heritage was discussed. Everyone expressed understanding the value ofcreating an externalization of an internalized good object for members of disenfranchisedcommunities, and for patients they might be working with. Some had great fun creating warriorgrandmothers (fig. 1), wise elders, monks, hedgehog-gypsy queens and an Asian-American artist (fig.2) but some found it very difficult or even impossible to embrace their own cultural background orhistory.One student, a young woman from a conservative East Asian culture, said she understood that herminority patients needed to be respected for their own cultural differences, and that she alwaysapproached them with positive regard, because she also was a minority in the dominant culture of theUnited States. She said she wanted to help them discover their own uniqueness and encourage areconnection to their roots.When examining her feelings about her own culture, in an attempt to reconnect with her own roots,she said her generation is fully “westernized”, so much so that Asian traditions seem exotic, alien andperhaps a little tiresome. She and her generation grew up with American television programming,movies, pop songs, and even McDonaldʼs hamburgers. She described modern Western popularculture as something “cool and exciting” while her own culture of origin was seen as dull incomparison. She described a belief in the myth that the U.S. is full of opportunity and adventures, theLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 12
  13. 13. exported seductive myth used to sell Coca Cola and hamburgers (consume these goods so that you too will have opportunities and adventures). She said that Asians lived at the center of their world for thousands of years, but that this point of view wasforcibly “corrected” by the West. They now reluctantly agree that Western culture is more advancedthan their own, and therefore take comfort in the belief that some other cultures are less developedand therefore seen as inferior to Asian cultures.When it came to examining her cultural or family history for a character that some how resonatedenough to create an externalized good object, she said she couldnʼt find any figures from her ownculture, not one heroine from an entire cultural history that she could identify with, that would helpher see the value of her Asian heritage. Instead she chose to create a blonde, blue eyesexternalization, although she said it made her sad to do it. I was reminded of Jenny and her whiteego-ideals.I wondered how the student would help her patients discover their own uniqueness and encouragethem to reconnect to their roots if she couldnʼt do it for herself. I began to consider the need for agreater understanding of assimilation or inculturation, how dominant cultures overwhelm non-dominant cultures. Why do we give up our cultural heritage? Does it have something to do withidentification with the aggressor? If we can begin to understand the mechanisms at work here, thenperhaps we can see below the surface of the dominant Western Culture, to begin to respect andappreciate our own individuality as well as that of others.To understand culture and its influence on us, we should start with a useful definition. Geert Hofstede(1992) describes culture as “the software of the mind,” an image concerned with intellect. Althoughthe cognitive approach to understanding is important, it is not quite the whole picture. French writerAlexis de Tocqueville (1835) described culture as “habits of the heart”, in Democracy in America(pg. 310). Perhaps we could combine these two ideas, “the habits of the heart and mind” and aculture would be a group which would share these habits as a common ground.If we belong to a non-dominant group, within the larger dominant culture, what is the dominantcultureʼs impact on us? We may find we feel constrained in relationship to members of the dominantculture. Partly this may be due to a clash of value orientations, a perception that there is a dominantLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 13
  14. 14. orientation attempting to change familiar habits of heart and of mind, which often result inresentment and anger towards those responsible for these attempts.Bem (1970) has suggested that value orientations are the cognitive and affective categories that guideour assumptions about life. We rely heavily on them. They form the core of a cultureʼs and anindividualʼs habits. He believes they are programmed early in our lives, so we are rarely aware ofthem. They are either taken for granted, seen as grounded in experience, or accepted from someexternal authority. Our value orientations are linked to our concepts of self, relationships, activity,creativity, and even time.If these value orientations are at odds with someone elseʼs value orientations and if we, as therapists,assume our way of seeing the world is the right way, the result will be conflict. When two culturesmeet one may be dominant, more powerful, (or, perhaps more seductive and exciting as in traditionalAsian culture vs. Western pop culture), creating a conflict between contrasting concepts of self. Theseconflicts can be particularly destructive to the non dominant culture. If we ignore these conflicts, theyoften lead to self-concepts of deficiency and alienation, or in art therapy terms the body imagerepresentation will be that of another culture, indicating a discomfort in the core of oneʼs own being.How do we deal with conflict that emerges from an awareness of alienation, wrongs, and sufferingthat have occurred to members of the individualʼs culture throughout history? This question isaddressed by feminist and narrative family therapists Tamasese and Waldegrave (1993) who describethe stories of individuals belonging to a dominated culture as “stories of pain”. These stories of painare personal but they are also collective and historical. Tamasese and Waldegrave have observed thatmembers of the dominant culture tend to individualize these stories rather than seeing them withintheir cultural context, which of course adds to the pain. As therapists we have been trained to look atthe details of the individual context and the psychological pain, not seeing the broader historicallessons or collective pain. But as artists in search of an expansive view, we might step back from thispsychodynamic perspective and consider the pressures of history and collective pain as well. Boththe personal perspective and the cultural perspective need to be understood in order for these storiesof pain to be understood.Having the freedom to talk about these stories of pain in a therapeutic setting would be healing, butTamasese and Waldegrave have found that instead of freedom there is often constraint and fear,particularly if the therapist is a member of the dominant culture and the patient part of the dominatedculture. The APA (1991) differentiates paranoia and the culturally appropriate stance of “adaptivesuspicion” by a member of the dominated culture. According to the APA this stance is maintained forthe individualʼs own protection. But this creates a bind. How does a patient of a dominated culturefeel safe with a therapist of the dominant culture? The patient/therapist relationship itself is one thatreflects an inequity in power, since the therapist is in the position of perhaps having something whichthe patient needs. If the patient is from a non dominant culture and the therapist is seen as belongingto the dominant culture, we will come up against additional binds.Lobovits and Freeman (1993) are narrative therapists, so they suggest thinking of the patient/therapist relationship as being a collaborative relationship in which a new narrative is created. We areart therapists so we can use the tools and materials we possess between us, our history and culturalbackground to create an integrated and unified art piece. Lobovits and Freeman suggest that part ofthis collaborative effort can include a discussion of cultural backgrounds and how these backgroundsgive us our particular point of view, our particular stories of pain, stance of suspicion, our habits ofmind and heart. The idea, according to Lobovits and Freeman, is that if we are able to talk about theemotionally difficult concepts of dominant culture and dominated culture, and all the entailed pain,we will better see where these things come into play in our day to day lives. In the art room, thisLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 14
  15. 15. feeling of egalitarianism of view point can be achieved by creating a still life in the center of thetable, which could be seen as objective reality. Each individual has their own view, not a better orworse view, just different, and if we share our various views we might get a more complete picture ofthe still life, a better understanding of reality, and a common ground on which to stand and appreciatethe difference.When the therapist or supervisor raises issues of difference in a collaborative way, in a kind of “letʼs-see-how-this-still-life-works-here” way, this constraint, the feeling of defensiveness or stance ofsuspicion is lessened and it becomes easier to examine the differences and their meanings. If we areinterested and supportive of differences, and provide a permissive environment in which it is possiblefor others to be interested as well, if we see diversity and differences as potentially enriching andexciting, a source of strength and creativity, then I suspect constraints will be lessened.What I enjoy about teaching “intercultural concerns of the art therapist” is the tremendous variety ofstories, history, and cultures found in the class room. Thereʼs a richness of metaphor, a delightfulsharing of strength when students present their own story through the diminuative figures of theirpuppets. There are stories of pain but when we can empathize with the narrator (sharing affectiveinformation), as the narrator empathizes with herself through her creation, these stories of pain aretransformed into stories of strength and survival. I have seen this same development of strengh andsense of worth when patients in the large mental health agency were allowed to validate their innerlives; their dreams, hopes, terrors and longings, through their art work. Through the making of artthey were able to transform their need to identify with the aggressor into self acceptance and innerstrength. In becoming less dependent on external approval from the counselors and staff, anddeveloping their own ability to find satisfaction within, these patients were able to bring about socialchange within the agency. One patient said that he felt a lot better when he was able to create freelywith his peers and this, he said, was subversive.This paper is proposing examining our value orientations for their usefulness in working with peopleof other cultures. As artists do we value accommodation, inclusiveness, and flexibility in our artwork? Could we learn to value these things in our relationships with others? I think so. Can weconsider the value of an artistʼs approach in stepping back from an art piece and looking at it in thebroader view, looking at cultural influences and value orientations, and then moving close to see thedetails clearly, looking at psychodynamic influences? Can we look for information that is affective aswell as cognitive?As artists we have strengths as well. The artistʼs wish to expand her vision can be a strength. Weunderstand the value of looking at things from different angles, from changing perspectives. The factthat we appreciate subtleties, variety, and the relationship of parts to the whole is a strength. Oursearch for greater clarity, sharper detail, subtler nuance, and an overall integrity in our work is astrength. The ability to create something new out of the materials at hand is something artists are alsoknown for. Donʼt these strengths provide us with the needed flexibility to work and teach inintercultural settings? Arenʼt these also strengths that we can discuss with our students?There is a Zen tradition, handed down from the 13th century Japanese Zen master Dogen, of usingwhat is in the kitchen to cook a meal, rather than worrying about what you donʼt have or how muchbetter the meal would be if you only had the perfect ingredients (Glassman and Fields, 1996). Ratherthan waiting for the perfect tools for working with others whose cultures are different from our own,why not work with the materials at hand? If we think of the artistsʼ studio as our Zen kitchen, we canconsider exploring the materials and tools we have in this studio. If we think of our interactions withothers in the studio as collaborative rather than as hierarchical, as often flawed and human rather thanneeding to be perfect, I suspect we will begin to see the value of the diverse strengths and styles ofLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 15
  16. 16. individuals who are different from ourselves. I suspect we will begin to create better art, bettertherapeutic work and better collaboration.ReferencesAmerican Psychological Association. (1991). Guidelines for Providers of Psychological Services toEthnic, Linguistic, and Culturally Diverse Populations.Bem, D. J. (1970). Beliefs, attitudes, and human affairs. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.Ciornai, S. (1983). “Art therapy with working class Latino women.” The Arts in Psychotherapy 10, 2,63-76.Gerity, L. (1999). Creativity and the dissociative patient; Puppets, narrative, and art in the treatmentof survivors of childhood trauma. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.Glassman, B. & Fields, R. (1996). Instructions to the cook; A Zen masterʼs lessons in living a life thatmatters. New York: Bell Tower.Hammerschlag, C. A. (1988). The dancing healers: A doctorʼs journey of healing with NativeAmericans. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers.Henley, T. (1996). Rediscovery; ancient pathways, new directions. Vancouver, B. C.: Lone PinePublishing.Hofstede, Geert. (1980). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. London: McGraw Hill.Kramer, E. (1977). Art therapy in a childrenʼs community. New York: Schocken Books.Lobovits, D. & Freeman, J. C. (1993). Toward collaboration and accountability: Alternatives to thedominant discourse for understanding sexual exploitation by professionals. Dulwich CentreNewsletter, 3&4, 33-44.Tamasese, K. & Waldegrave, C. (1993). Cultural and gender accountability in the “Just Therapy”approach. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 5(2), 29-45.Tocqueville, A. De (1945) Democracy in America; Vol. I New York: Vintage BooksLani Gerity Required Reading, Page 16