Theoretical Advances of Art Therapy

TAoAT 2000 conference papers

When words are not enough

Sarah Bennet

Sarah Bennett, psychologist, presented the preliminary findings of a qualitative research project looking into the benefits of art therapy identified by patients who had completed a course of art therapy within one mental health unit. Bennett first outlined the qualitative, as compared to quantitative approach, with its focus on gaining an understanding of the unique experience of the individual. She aimed to identify how each patient construed the process of change and their understanding of how any benefits they identified had occurred. Bennett used a grounded theory approach to interpret preliminary findings. Some of the core themes which emerged in the patients' descriptions of their experience of art therapy were:

  • the intensity of the experience
  • total absorption in the process
  • the importance of trust, safety and respect in relating the therapist
  • increased self awareness
  • greater insight
  • depth of feeling in the process
  • power of the creative medium

Bennett quoted from numerous patients on their positive experience of art therapy including "so different to anything else I had ever done - like a steel door being opened” and "I needed to speak a language that I did not understand".

Although this was a small study focused on a particular unit, and factors such as the experience and skill of the two therapists involved may well have influenced the results, it was heartening to hear these validations of the benefits of art therapy. It sounds like it will he a useful research project to quote from when challenged on the evidence for art therapy.

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Index of presenters

Malcolm Learmonth

Dr Paola Luzzatto

Sarah Bennet

Pauline Mottram

Joy Schaverien

Marian Liebmann