Internal Household of the Mind:An Art Therapy Directive
If you missed it earlier, I’ve returned to school to get an Art Therapy Degree.(Mercyhurst University, Professor Robert Tavani originated this directive). Sometimes I feel crazy going back to school to get , yes, my first degree. I will have to go on to get a Master’s degree to be licensed. To go into such debt at this stage of the game seems, illogical from some angles, but if I don’t do it now --when? One of the assignments was to do an “internal household of the mind” We had to do at least 4 rooms, one being the “art therapy room”, one being the “unconscious room”. We were to represent people with objects, mine being represented by milkweed pods, a walnut, a shell, and an acorn.
First let me say that I dislike working with cardboard, but considering I used worn sand blasted items found at Presque Isle on Lake Erie, the whitewash on cardboard-- fit. Secondly, let me say I was wishing I had the dexterity of an 18 year old (like most of my fellow students) when it came to constructing the hammock with the shell in it and working in tiny spaces.
By doing directives, that we as future art therapists may give as an exploratory assignment to a client, we have first hand experience in the complexity of the project and what emotions may surface because of it. The directive can be modified and simplified to fit the needs of the client. The following photos are my internal household.
The inspiration for my house came while taking a stroll at Presque Isle. I’ve always been happiest when I am near water. I enjoy beach combing, especially, at the beginning of the season before the park machines move away all the debris, and there is a plethora of driftwood and other beach treasures. I chose to make my house a triangle shape, all sides equal, because it has long been a symbol for me. It represents the sacred trinity, and it is half of the star of David. It points upward toward the higher realms, and the triangle configured in different ways creates many other shapes.
I chose to make the art therapy room on the bottom floor. I represented the people in that room with milkweed pods. I chose to show a sand mandala, because of its meditative quality. I show the end of the process where the mandala is wiped away. This is a great exercise I would think, in detachment. I am too attached to my artworks, and I would like to be that free from the creations I make, by being able to “let go” of it at the end. I made a ladder in a spiral DNA-like shape that connects all the rooms. The spiral is another sacred shape and a recurring theme in my work. You can see it in nature as the foundation of architecture in shells, pine cones, and sunflowers to name a few.
Interestingly, I chose to put the unconscious at the top. If the unconscious and the subconscious are the same, each of the words brings a different image to me. In the past, when I have done Gestalt work on my dreams I would find my subconscious in the basement. Maybe because of the prefix “sub” that means under. But today, the unconscious is on the top and in a way, more easily accessible. I depicted this room to be small, but also a triangle because the unconscious is connected to the collective unconscious which is connected to the creator. Inside I dangled sequins to show sparks of light or insight into the unconscious. The whole room is covered in purple sand, giving it a velvety feel.
It is surrounded by milkweed seeds because they’re visually fragile and ethereal, but also they are seeds, which represent insight as in a “seed of an idea or thought”. What does this say about me? The unconscious, though still a mystery in many ways, is accessible and more strongly connected to my conscious mind than it has been before.
The next room is the intellectual room. You can climb the stairs to get there or go up the DNA ladder. The person there is the walnut. With all its crevices, it made a nice brain representation. This area is bigger too, than the other two rooms, because the intellect is one that is used and accepted in our society and world as the foundation for interaction, education and civilization. It’s what separates us from the animals, or so it is commonly thought. To the left is a hammock, with a person represented as a shell. This is the rest area. Again the spiral symbolism takes shape in the shell and the decor on the back wall. The next room is small and not as dark, but only able to enter through the DNA ladder. This is the contemplation room and the person is represented as a nut with a cross on it.
Arrangement of characters: I arranged three of the characters in the art therapy room, because there is usually at least two, the client and the counselor. The third one can represent either group therapy or observation of therapy. There is only one in the intellectual, contemplative, and sleep areas because I sleep alone, I read alone and I pray alone. These things you can do in your mind and your body is still involved to a certain degree. There are no people in the unconscious room, because I see that purely as a spiritual, intuitive connection that doesn’t involve the body.
What the unconscious room says about me: The triangle once again is mimicked in the posture of a meditative pose. Sitting cross-legged with arms relaxed our bodies are in a triangle. Though it may look enclosed it represents to me a wide-open place with many possibilities. It is also very private and individual at first, and at the same time, all-inclusive.
One recalls Marwencol when thinking of this experience in a therapeutic way. “Playing house” is a natural imaginative game for children. Certainly for girls and there are many toys to encourage this imaginary game. Building a house and using one’s own symbols as character representations is an exemplary exploratory project. Historically as an art project, miniature architecture and towns are used in professional depictions to communicate a vision of a commercial building, home or subdivision. Hobbyists enjoy making miniature environments when playing with miniature railroads and surrounding neighborhoods, or making their dream house with miniature furniture and accessories.
Therapeutically this project can reveal much to the client and counselor. It can show how one interacts with others, how one knows oneself, how parts of the conscious and unconscious are connected, and the structure of the id or ego in the construction of the house. This project also demands a great deal of decision making and physical dexterity. I could see that this project would be much too complex for many people—namely geriatrics, people with mental retardation, or limited motor skills, and to children. It may help adults with bipolar, schizophrenia, or any displacement or severe mental disorder, to see how the client compartmentalizes or connects events or parts of themselves. One may simplify the project for clients, by supplying a pre-made box, or limiting the project to one room. For children and geriatrics, other elements would be provided, and the counselor could do the project with the client. For instance, ask the client what object would represent a family member, friend or someone else in their life. Then ask where they would place the object and what other “people” are in the house. Another way to simplify the project is by drawing the house and its components. If the project needed to be even more simplistic, for mentally challenged individuals or really small children, the house could be pre-drawn. Still another way to do it is to have pre-drawn household elements like shapes for rooms, with different objects that could represent décor in the room or people. The client could then put together the elements like a puzzle or blocks.
Over all I am enjoying the process of learning about art therapy, I wish I could do it everyday and get my degree a lot quicker. I hope you have enjoyed a little peak into art therapy.
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mystical canvas prints