Working with Person -Centred Art therapy in a group environment.

Working with Person-Centred Art Therapy at a Drop-in for recovering mentally ill patients.

I have been practising in Person-Centred Art therapy skills now for about two years. I gained the certificate from a course run by Janice Morris (BA,DipAT,Rath, Dip.Coun.,Adv.Cert. P-CAT.) This article is a record of some of the work I have done with clients in a drop-in centre for recovering mentally ill, using the methods learnt on my course with Janice Morris.

First please let me introduce myself. What has involvement in therapy meant for me ?

It has helped me explore choices about my life and has helped me to grow by gaining insights about myself that I never thought would be possible. This growth has enriched my life.

In the 1970s and 1980s I studied in the Humanities when my three children were all in school, I had a special interest in art history and film studies. I then went on to work in film production in the Civil Service, where I gained the CAM certificate in marketing. Later I worked in a charity that supported homeless young single parents and older people living in the community.  I gave up this job to study with Janice. During this period from my early years with the children until now, I also undertook a variety of art and art/craft related subjects and have always taken part in voluntary work, from helping with handicapped children to being a treasurer for an organisation. I found because of my experiences in life that art classes were therapeutic for me.  At one point I started a small business selling my craft designs.

While studying with Janice Morris, I also studied for and hold a certificate in Psychoanalytic Psychology (Merit) with Birkbeck College part of theUniversity of London and hope to gain the Diploma in 2002.

I spent three hours at the drop-in, once per week, this continued for six months. For the first hour I offered one to one or group work in the small art room. I then extended the work by introducing the topic of the week during the lunch time period (i.e. while waiting for the meal to arrive) with the rest of the group. I then offered craftwork after lunch for those that may be interested. Throughout the period of three hours I would use the Person Centred approach to reflect and empower the clients.

However the one to one work and small group therapy work in the art room was very successful. I made it clear that the art room space was a "safe space" and was only for this kind of one to one therapy at an allotted time. The ground rules were made very clear each time there was a group of people, i.e. confidentiality, respect and listening to each other.

One of the clients Barry was a young Asian man, who was an immigrant from Uganda in the1980Â?s. His interests were in the sciences and when asked for image work would very often want to copy from still life or from another image brought in as an aid.

We worked for several sessions using model animals as a focus. Barry had drawn a lion and a horse by copying model animals. An interesting development came when the whole group in the Drop-in celebrated Diwali. This was a time of light and new beginnings for the Asian members, there was a large multi cultural client base. Barry had previously mentioned a favourite uncle on many occasions in his therapy work with me. This uncle had departed to India for a long visit.

We had already done a lot of work about feelings of separation from this uncle that resulted in the image of his uncleÂ?s car. Barry had reworked this image twice. We then started to work with his image of the horse.

I asked the standard P-Cat question, "What would you like to do with this image now?" at the end of the session. Barry answered, "I would like to send it to my Uncle for Diwali." I then showed Barry how he could fold paper so that it could become a greetings card. Barry then wrote a message of greeting to his uncle inside the folded paper. Barry decided to flesh out the outline of the horse that he had drawn and give the horse an environment but because of time constraints he was not able to finish the painting that day. I hoped that following week we could continue to work together

Unfortunately this did not happen, the taxi came for Barry he went back to his hostel and the hostel decided during the ensuing week to send him to another drop-in. I found that my problem was keeping flexibility to fit in with the structure of the NHS and coping with the feelings of loss when I client suddenly disappeared without warning. This was the type of issue I would take to supervision. To my surprise six or seven weeks later, I found Barry waiting for me outside the drop-in. He immediately asked me about his image of the horse, I replied that I had kept it and would he like to finish it, he was delighted that I had kept it and took time to finish the painting mixing the colours to match the previous work. It happened to be MotherÂ?s Day and we were celebrating by producing cards which were to be the focus for the "art-room therapy time". Barry continued to paint the horse image and afterwards a vase of flowers for his Mother. Barry chose to leave both of these images again at the Drop-in for safekeeping.

For other members of the Centre, other processes were going on. Several group paintings had been achieved. In this process, small contributions were noticed, reflected and added to the empowerment of the whole group. A gardening group was formed and photographic records of celebration days were put into a scrapbook. A newsletter was initiated and clients wrote poems, and images were scanned as contributions. All the creative related activities were client led. One abstract painting was produced by us each having a brush and a different colour and making intertwined lines on the same piece of paper.

The most successful craft session was ceramic painting. Several clients and some staff took part. As the facilitator I regarded myself as a companion along the way to self-discovery, therefore, there was equality in craft work undertaken and comments kept to a minimum. However, there was one client for whom this session was very important. Pamela has severe dementia and had had dentistry the previous day and by patient reflective repetition of her own account of the pain of that event, and through empathic listening she decided for the first time to trust me enough to take part in one of the craft sessions and produced her own mug for future use.

With all the craft work I kept costs to a minimum and am constantly on the look out for white ceramics or old silk blouses for silk painting in Oxfam, things for the garden from skips etc and the boxes in our garage mounted up. My record keeping skills were utilised to the full.

During the six months there has been all kinds of creative activity, painting, drawing, singing, garden design, poetry, newsletters. Each one helped the other, the sleeve cover of a audio tape could be the basis for empathic response.

It has been a wonderful privilege to work at the Centre. The creative processes that I have described and many more that I have been unable to have the space to record have enriched my life. I found that in the manner of Carl Rogers teaching, I too have grown and found my life empowered by the quality and quantity of creative activity undertaken by the clients. I will record my thanks to them here. As therapists we are aware of the role of the "significant other" that we can sometimes represent and also the energy that goes into a human beingÂ?s strivings for expression. Being a part of this at the Centre was indeed, for me, a creative experience

About the author:

Article written by Zoe Ainsworth-Grigg


Author: Zoe Ainsworth-Grigg
Copyright © 2023 Zoe Ainsworth-Grigg. All rights reserved

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