"Creating together" is not so much a specific art therapy intervention, but is simply the therapeutic use of art making within group formats. There is a distinctive kind of creative energy generated when people work together to create art. Call it synergy or collective flow. But whatever ever you call it, it's an experience that has the potential to change our perceptions of who we are and shows us how to get by with a little creative help from our friends. While art making is often defined as a solitary pursuit, creating with others or in the presence of others taps the curative factors beyond those that can be found within oneself. That is why this popular art therapy approach is Cool Art Therapy Intervention #7.
Group art therapy is one form of "creating together." It generally focuses on the dynamics between participants, transference reactions among group members, and the developmental stages of group formation. It is sometimes called "group interactive art therapy" and is based on social psychiatry, in particular the theories of Harry Stack Sullivan, Irving Yalom, and others. In brief, individuals come together in the same space to create art individually or collectively; participants may pursue their own art making or may work toward a common goal through a group painting, mural, or other creative endeavor. In this type of approach, you might be asked to work with others to "draw an island" or "create a world using magazine photo collage" with the goal of deciding what to include on that island or world as a group. It's sort of a group mural, but the intent is to experience group dynamics and gain insight. Group members have to communicate, negotiate, collaborate, and compromise to come to a consensus [usually with the help of the therapist] and create something together.
But here's the real deal. Group interactive art therapy is an effective way to make "group process visible." However, the curative potential of "creating together" is amplified when the stigma of the treatment environment is removed and group art making occurs in a normalizing setting that approximates the traditional art studio. When extended beyond the walls of traditional therapy and into community art studios, recovery programs, homeless shelters, and store-front, walk-in therapeutic art spaces, the proverbial healing powers of art flourish. In order to give you a glimpse into what this approach looks like, take a few minutes to watch these two short films. The first showcases the Art Therapy Studio in Cleveland, OH, one of the oldest expressive arts therapy programs of its kind in the US, and Raw Art Works, founded by art and expressive therapists for disadvantaged youth in Lynn, MA.
Creating together capitalizes not only on the collective energy of groups, but also on the curative and resilience factors found in good old social support. When individuals share life's challenges of loss, disability, illness, or trauma through art with each other within a community [studio, shelter, or store-front street program], it's a deceptively simple, yet profoundly powerful intervention. Creating together in this way allows us to see that we are more similar than different, to be witnessed and valued by others, and, best of all, transcend ourselves by becoming part of a greater whole.
*If you missed the introduction to this series, I recommend that you read it to get the background for this post and learn more about the criteria for why this intervention is "cool."
@ 2010 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC
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