Drawing Out The Self


Memory Retrieval

Drawing as a mnemonic

(30 pages including 3 client drawings)

This chapter describes how drawing the place in which important events occurred (e.g. the family home, the childhood bedroom) can help recall memories that may have been forgotten or under-valued.  It begins with Irene Dewdney`s description of her own memories of  being a child in  the 1930s,  and how emotional experiences become clearer as she  draws details of  the house where she grew up. The chapter then provides instructions and examples of how the drawing process can help clients to retrieve anecdotal and emotional memory about their own family dynamics and personal experience.

Variations are offered on the "My Childhood Home" assignment.  A special section addresses the issue of "Uncovering Traumatic Memories."

 Memory retrieval drawings may be used in different ways for different groups, for example:  seniors with memory loss, adult children of alcoholics, people who have been sexually abused, students in training as art therapists. Specialized refinements are suggested for each group.           

 The key point in this chapter is that the process of drawing a remembered place, (rather than the resulting drawing) is what`s most useful for the client.


Uncovering Traumatic Memory

One of the aspects of the Memory Retrieval drawing that must be clarified is its potential to reveal, without conscious intention by the client/artist, painful and traumatic events from childhood.  Difficult circumstances happen to us within a context.  The context where the event happened becomes the container where the memory and feelings are stored.  The therapist needs to undertake this work fully aware of the possibility that these feelings and memories may be revealed.  As a consequence, safeguards and explanations need to be put in place, before the drawing is done. If a traumatic memory is evoked, it is quite likely that the client will need to undertake more work. This help should be made available, as required, for those who need it.

Though generalization about the meaning of a client’s art is not encouraged, there are times when some aspects of a drawing might be significant, and need to be noted. Areas that have been heavily worked, or which immediately pull the eye, demand attention.  The therapist may want to steer the client to look more closely at such areas of a drawing. (See Chapter 7 on the Objective Approach, for details on how to address this.)

In Figure 23, the door on the left has been filled in darkly with the pencil, so that it looks like a gaping black space. It has not been drawn as an enticing entryway. In fact, if I had to walk through that door, I would very reasonably be anxious.

This was true for the artist of Figure 23, who had had several bad experiences in that room. She had not, she informed me, intended to make such a visual statement, but she was immediately aware of what it meant for her. The abuse, which she had experienced in that room had not been forgotten, it had simply been denied. A verbal description of the room would quite likely have evaded this detail about the door. It would have remained unsaid.  It was as though the drawing of the door insisted on being dark.

Figure 23 - “My Childhood Bedroom”
Note the heavily blackened door.
This drawing facilitated the recovery of a traumatic memory of sexual abuse.