In Britain, trainee art therapists are usually art graduates. In any case, they have extensive practical experience of using art materials and most people have had art education in their school curriculum. This is by no means the case elsewhere. For many years now I have been conducting art therapy groups in various institutions in eastern and western Europe. These institutions have actively sought to introduce art therapy into their training or treatment programmes and the following observations are offered as a result of the experience gained from this work.
In parts of Europe, art education is not in the school curriculum and trainees who undertake art therapy are often psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses who have little or even no practical experience of art. This is not seen as a problem, because art therapy is part of a medical tradition, and therapists are not artists. The concept of ‘lay’, i.e. non-medical, psychotherapists is not always accepted. It is possible that as a result of the European Community and greater movement between eastern and western Europe, the training and background of art therapists will become more ‘harmonised’. Just now, though, we have to accept that there are differences in basic education and that trainees approach art therapy with very varied backgrounds.
It is a strongly held view in Britain and in the USA that art therapists should either have been art trained or have ability in and commitment to the practice of a visual art. This gives confidence in the image-making process, an understanding of the symbolic language of art and its power to communicate. It gives the therapist greater freedom to respond to a patient’s images, and I have mentioned the importance of this in Chapter 4. Without such ‘visual confidence’ there is a tendency for a ‘reductive’ attitude to be taken to the image: that is, a search for equivalence in words and for a judgemental approach to underlie an observation: ‘This is not art. ’
That is not to say that all artists are immune from these attitudes nor that all non-artists will have such a reaction to an image. It is rather that the