The art therapy department consisted of three rooms: one in which patients could use a wide variety of materials—paint, clay, mosaic and glass, and various other 3-D materials such as wood, cardboard boxes, ‘junk’. One small room contained a kiln which was in constant use, and the other an easy chair and a couch, to which a patient could retire if feeling particularly emotionally drained or in need of privacy. The large room operated as a studio and patients could come and go as they wished during the time it was open. There were two part-time art therapists working on different days, and they were joined by a trainee who had expertise in pottery.
It was usual practice for the art therapists to make their own artwork. Nowadays, art therapists differ on this issue: some feel that if the therapist is engaged in their own image-making, they will not be ‘available’ for the group, others that the therapist can make statements visually about the group process as well as verbally. I have already explained that attempts to introduce more ‘formal’ groups into the art therapy department structure had not been popular but that more attention was being paid to interaction. The trainee, Jill, was persuaded by some of the male patients (who predominated in the centre and in the art department) to show them how to make moulds, out of which they could cast ‘useful’ objects. I had mixed feelings about this, fearing a ‘production line’ ethos developing in the art department which would be safer for the patients of course, as they would not risk being surprised or overwhelmed by unconscious material arising out of their image-making. It was a time of great insecurity in the centre as it had been threatened with closure once again and there were many disagreements among staff as to treatment policy. It was not surprising, then, that patients felt vulnerable and wanted to engage in a ‘safe’ activity. The group were divided into those who wanted to make moulds and do slip casting and those who wanted to continue with their own image-making.
I was absent from the centre for two weeks, but Jill had continued to use the art room with our colleague. When I returned I found the room full of plaster eggs, which had been cast from balloons—that is, a balloon is inflated and fine liquid plaster or slip is poured into it and allowed to set,