Integrative Counselling – Art Therapy included

Sometimes you have to drag yourself to therapy. There will be thoughts like “I don’t want to go today. I had such a bad day. I’m so exhausted. I don’t want to talk about my emotions. I don’t want to talk at all. I want to lay down and forget all my problems and everything that was bothering me all day long. I want to be alone. I don’t want to see anybody and at least my counsellor.”

Then it’s necessary that I, as your therapist, understand your mood and accept you unconditionally without assumptions, judgement or questionning.

And then drawing is a wonderful way for you to arrive, to calm down and to let go all the negativity of the day. Drawing might be less threatening after a stressful day and provide you with a sense of safety and comfort.

Everybody can draw and there are no failures. Sometimes I have to remind my clients to forget their “adult concerns” and just start drawing as they did when they were children, not thinking about their skills or the quality of the pictures, telling their parents that this scribble overthere is a tractor (“can’t you see, Daddy?”).

Art therapy for traumatized clients provides a way to externalize emotions and events that may otherwise be too painful to disclose verbally during the initial sessions. Peterson & Hardin explained drawing as a therapeutic vehicle called “telling without really telling”. Drawing supplies alternative symbolic meanings to the client’s experiences. Through drawing inner pains, tension and confusion become less intensive and the clients discovers new coping methods, the possibilities of change and choice and a sense of belonging. Drawing improves awareness and gives insights. Drawing enables the client to look at a problem from a different perspective.

Neither in dream work nor in art work would I ever dare to interprete a drawing. It’s the client him/herself who makes I-statements regarding his/her drawing (for example “I was drawing myself in a cage because I feel like a bird who is not allowed to fly”). When we’re talking about drawings in a group I won’t allow anybody to start a sentence with “I assume…”; I rather want my group members to tell me: “When I look at this picture I feel sad/tense/angry.” or “I never noticed before that I don’t like this colour at all, but now when I’m thinking about it I can see my aunt wearing a dress with that colour and yelling at me.” Through drawing unconscious material can be revealed and help the client in healing again.


Art can be another important avenue of communication and expression, especially when words fail. The spatial character of pictures can describe many aspects of experience simultaneously. Art faciliates creativity and is useful in working with fantasy and unconscious. Art is enjoyable and relaxing and can lead to shared pleasure in a group. Everyone can join in at the same time, at their own level. The process of activity is the most important factor and a scribble can be as much of a contribution as a finished painting.


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