Group Interactive Art Therapy: Its Use in Training and Treatment

By Diane Waller | Go to book overview

Case example 9

Expressing anger symbolically

A group of seven women, all with eating disorders, had been meeting for over a year in a once-weekly group, for one and a half hours. There had been many problems in attendance and punctuality with excuses usually being that the woman had to attend to someone else (e.g. husband, children, mother) at the time of the group. The group was therefore somewhat fragmented and characterised by angry, envious feelings towards the therapist alternating with compliant, timid behaviour. The women found it difficult to confront each other verbally but did so through their artwork. A recurring complaint was of not being able to do what they really wanted, of being victims of circumstances outside their control. The word ‘It’ kept cropping up: ‘It’s not possible’; ‘It won’t happen’; ‘I can’t do It’; ‘It’s making me fat’; and so on.

The group noticed this word recurring over and over again in one session and decided to try to visualise exactly what ‘It’ was. The illustration (Figure 27) shows how ‘It’ looked to one group member, using torn up pieces of paper layered on top of each other. Another member drew an angry little devil on her shoulder. His claws are digging into her savagely (see Figure 28). Another drew a bomb exploding, and another a boulder rushing down a cliff. The feeling of these paintings was of tremendous energy being let loose, which the women felt was anger. They experienced anger as very dangerous, tended to dam it up and then to stuff themselves or alternatively starve themselves as a way of coping with it—or, indeed, with any strong and potentially creative feelings. The woman who drew the devil said she quite liked him after all but he should sit on her shoulder rather than claw her. Gradually, as the women got more familiar with the ‘It’ in each of them, they began to see that ‘It’ could be useful to them in providing them with more energy and vitality: which would be preferable to depression and stuffing or starving themselves (see also Levens, 1990 for an account of an interactive art therapy group with eating disordered clients).

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