Drawing Out The Self


Building the relationship between client and therapist

(8 pages, no drawings)

This short chapter addresses basic issues such as to how to put the client at ease and the professional presentation of the therapist.  We explain how to create an atmosphere in each session that will help the client feel safe, and so more able to draw and talk about themselves.

Pacing is discussed: when to introduce more emotionally challenging drawing assignments, and how many sessions may be useful.

As people are often worried about their limited ability to draw,  we explain how to reassure a client that  artistic skill is not necessary for this kind of therapy.


Pacing and Timing

Any therapy session requires appropriate pacing, a vital part of the safety aspect of the work.  It is up to the therapist to set boundaries, and pacing is part of establishing these boundaries.

The key to pacing is guiding clients to disclose personal material in manageable bits, allowing time for the feelings and memories to be recognised, explored, and expressed sufficiently.  Therapists must be aware of a client’s financial situation, and take it into account, at the beginning of therapy, in terms of the length of time we will work together. People often have limited amounts of money and, therefore, cannot afford a year of therapy — a point, therapists should not forget.  Perhaps four weeks is a client’s only affordable option. Whether in private practice, agency, or institutional work, the trend is toward limiting time and money spent on clients.  Often, beginning art therapists equate successful therapy with disclosure and, therefore, tend to press for too much information from the client.  Disclosure is highly seductive, and can lead to a kind of disclosure gluttony.  Sharing information is one thing. Processing it is another.
Distinctive in this method of pacing is the art assignment itself.  Assigning a subject for the client to draw can contain and limit the amount of personal material the client and therapist have to explore.  A certain kind of assurance is given when only a particular area becomes the focus of the session.  Very often we will agree, at the end of the session, what the drawing assignment of the next session will be. However, things happen over a week or two and, sometimes, we may decide to change what we need to work on, when the client comes in. Providing the client with a title for the drawing they are to create, such as “My self with my sister,” ensures such a focus, and reassures the client by giving them a sense of what to expect. I am hopeful that my client, through drawing, will relax some personal defences, but that this happens in a limited, supported and contained manner.  Such an approach to pacing provides a framework for each session, giving the student of art therapy a built-in aid to understanding pacing and boundaries within the therapeutic hour.

The artwork provides a source of success and remains as a permanent record.  The client has actually done something during the session, and can leave with some sense of triumph.  With the Objective Approach, we have the uniquely useful combination of the drawing, plus the client’s verbal responses to the drawing written directly on the paper. (See Chapter 7, “The Objective Approach: Detailed explanation,” for a larger discussion about why we write on the drawing.)  This reflects the completeness of the session, and in itself is part of the closure for each meeting.