Theoretical Advances of Art Therapy

TAoAT 2000 conference papers

Towards a Rationale for Art Therapy

Malcolm LearmonthMalcolm Learmonth addressing the TAoAT 2000 conference

Introducing Malcolm Learmonth Christine Lyle jokingly commented that he had begged to give the first paper but on being granted his wish had responded with alarm. However, any nerves were not apparent in his confident address. Learmonth first recounted a recent dream in which a small girl threw around beefy men in a martial arts class. He suggested this was a fitting image for the real power of art therapy in contrast to its lowly status in the medical world. Learmonth proposes that it is possible and necessary to present “a coherent, thought out account of what we are doing” in art therapy without relying so heavily on the language of psychotherapy. In concentrating so much on this language he suggested we lose sight of the uniqueness of art therapy. He proposed we look to other fields: palaeontology, archaeology and evolution theory, for evidence of the central role of art making in human life. Learmonth presented examples of the way in, which man's evolutionary development went hand in hand with the beginnings of imagination, symbolisation and empathy.

He asserted that the key healing factors of art therapy, such as creating a safe space for art making and witnessing the creative process, are not well represented by psychotherapy theory and that he feared that 'psychotherapy is a ghetto which misses the importance of art'. He highlighted the success in attracting publicity and revenue of the establishment backed 'Arts for Health' organisation in contrast to art therapies public profile. Arts for Health places artists in hospital based projects and is backed by the likes of Lord Attenborough. Learmonth suggested that their focus on art in its own right is the key to their success. He concluded by putting forward the need for art therapy to find a way of bridging the credibility gap between the medical model and organisations such as Arts for Health.

He suggested that art therapy as a profession could benefit front closer links with the art world rather than solely aligning itself with psychotherapy. Learmonth referred to the very different viewpoint which would he presented later in the day by Joy Schaverien introducing a note of challenge and debate early on in the conference.

Dr Chris WoodChristine Wood commented that art therapy was 'by its nature subversive' and would never be as palatable to the mainstream as organisations such as Arts for Health. One patient's response to the term 'art psychotherapy' compared to 'art therapy' was quoted "would have had a better idea of what I was coming to but would have been less likely to come."



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Index of presenters

Malcolm Learmonth

Dr Paola Luzzatto

Sarah Bennet

Pauline Mottram

Joy Schaverien

Marian Liebmann