Responsive Art making in Art Therapy

Responsive Art making in Art Therapy

March 7, 2017 0 By Cheryl Childers


“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.”

Pablo Picasso

Responsive art making is one way that therapists can establish a routine of self-care without sacrificing a great deal of time and money. The benefits of responsive art making to the therapist, and to their clients is limitless.

Responsive art making is a term that refers to creating a visual art-based response to something that just occurred. It is a visual response to an event, a conversation, or unspoken emotions, etc. that can clearly document the perspective of the artist. Responsive art making is a means of communicating that which one may not have the words to explain. When we create art, we are sharing a perspective; our perspective, (Leavy, 2015, p. 224). Leavy (2015) continues, “Visual art inherently opens up multiple meanings that are determined not only by the artist but also the viewer and the context of viewing.”

Moon (1998) began the discussion of responsive art making with his case study showcased in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, “The Tears Make Me Paint.” The success of the study described in this article is what sparked the researchers interest in responsive art making in the therapy session. That, along with her own trauma-related recovery and responsive art making in therapy inspired her to seek further knowledge on this subject.

In the above mentioned article, Moon created response art and recorded the powerful responses he received from the adolescents he worked with. Many trauma-related disorders keep the client locked in the age in which the trauma occurred, especially dissociative disorders which are primary in the presentation of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), (Chefetz, 2015). Rubin (2006) states that “trauma often involves and resides in the body… it can occur before a child has language, or can render the victim psychically speechless… For these reasons, and because of the frequent injunction by abusers not to tell, memories of traumatic experiences are often difficult, if not impossible to access with verbal therapy alone, (p. 10).” Responsive art making can be a unique way to communicate and relate to clients of trauma while working in the age locked parts. Because the arts help to express and contain overwhelming emotions due to the shock of the trauma, (Rubin, 2006) it is not a far jump to hypothesize that the arts will aid in the treatment of clients who have experienced trauma.

Responsive art making in session as well as out of session can be an invaluable tool to foster a deeper therapeutic relationship, especially in the treatment of CSA clients. Responsive art making allows for distance between the therapist’s reactions and response to the clients ongoing journey through the trauma. Art making in and of itself can become a mode of communication when words just are not available to the client, (Fish, 2008; Pifalo, 2007) and could serve as a reflective mirror of the therapists validating, non-judgmental response to the client.

Chefetz, R. A. (2014). Intensive Psychotherapy for Persistent Dissociative Processes: The Fear of Feeling Real (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) (Kindle Edition. ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Fish, B. (2008). Formative Evaluation Research of Art-Based Supervision in Art Therapy Training. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 25(2), pp. 70-77.

Leavy, P. (2015). Method Meets Art, Second Edition: Arts-Based Research Practice. Guilford Publications. Kindle Edition.

Moon, B. (1998). The Tears Make Me Paint: The Role of Responsive Artmaking in Adolescent Art Therapy. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 16(2), pp. 78-82.

Pifalo, T. (2002). Pulling Out the Thorns: Art Therapy with Sexually Abused Children and Adolescents. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 19(1), 12-22.

Rubin, J. (2006) Foreword. In Carey, L. (Ed.), Expressive and creative arts methods for trauma survivors (p. 9), (Kindle Edition. ed.). New York, NY: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Copyright 2016 Childers