Developing the Language of Metaphor

One cannot explore consciousness, or self-awareness, without asking how we arrive at such a state. It is widely believed that the portion of our personality that dictates our thoughts, memories, feelings, impulses, and desires is built upon a sequence of phases. As infants we respond on a pri-

mary level of consciousness, which mainly encompasses sensations, instincts, and movement. As adults we become increasingly free to experience memory, language, and symbolization. All told, as humans, we must master specific developmental tasks. Regardless of whether you subscribe to a psychosocial model, a psychosexual model, or a model that encompasses intellectual development, the stages of human life must be solved. Thus, the emerging personality forms our identity. Do we trust? Are we self-absorbed? Impulsive? Generous? Do we thrive in our daydreams? Have past humiliations produced shame and guilt? Each answer produces who we are, the sum of ourselves. It is in this manner that we experience our external world.

It is this personality that grapples with outside pressures, copes with crisis, interacts in social situations, and builds memories that can be accessed through the conscious and unconscious. Jay Haley (1976) states, "The psy-chodynamic therapist as well as the behavior therapist is interested in metaphors about the past because of an assumption that past traumas lead to present difficulties" (p. 98).

An adolescent male whose identity is overwhelmed by memories of sexual abuse spontaneously drew an image of flames (Figure I.5) after a visit with his family.

Sexual Metaphor Art
I.5 Flames of Passion

In an individual session he completed Figure I.6. In this drawing he retreats from the home where the abuse occurred while the sky looms dark and foreboding. The flames reappear underneath his feet, and, unlike the beacon of light he heads toward, these flames offer no illumination, only engulfment.

Figure I.7 is a self-portrait drawn by a middle-aged male. At the time of this rendering he had been hospitalized numerous times for schizophrenia.

Expression in the language of metaphor does not require that a client

Art Representation Schizophrenia
I.7 The Winds of the Sun

speak in logical or even rational ways. Of course, in reality, fire does not engulf from below the sidewalk, yet in Figure I.6 the flames occupy a third of the page with their force. How can someone describe schizophrenia when they themselves are schizophrenic? Figure I.7 clearly demonstrates the feeling behind the disease without the use of words. Jay Haley (1976) characterizes this type of communication as analogic. He states, "In an analogic language each message refers to a context of other messages. . . . Included in this style of communication are 'play' and 'ritual,' as well as all forms of art" (p. 92).

It is this process that the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo utilized. The traumatic experiences of her childhood and young womanhood were expressed through her self-portraits, masks, and paintings. Each image explored her pain and trauma. She is not alone: Numerous artists have utilized the safety of creativity to express their fears and thoughts. Things were felt before they were spoken, and it is through art that all manner of client can communicate.

From family mural drawings to polarities, art therapy directives offer an analogic portrait of an individual's life. These portraits become artistic metaphors, examples of the here-and-now.

When symptoms are seen as metaphors, the question is whether the metaphor has changed. One might use projective tests before and after therapy to determine changes in metaphors, but the reliability of these tests is doubtful. A clinician would not stake his or her reputation on the outcome of a projective test, partly because the influence of the tester enters into performance. . . . For example, a woman is likely to give a different response to an inkblot if she is talking to a tester than if her mother is administering the test. (Haley, 1976, pp. 104-105)

However, if a blank piece of paper is offered and the "tester" is removed from the process, much as in art projective testing, then the aforementioned concern is significantly diminished. This allows the clinician to look within the mind of the client without the test developers' preconceived ideas, theories, or beliefs coming into play.

The use of projective drawings, especially the House-Tree-Person assessment, has been in practice for many years. From Florence Good-enough's Draw-a-Man assessments to Leopold Caligor's sorely neglected Eight-Card Redrawing Test (8CRT), interpretation of artwork has been refined and evaluated and, as such, has become an established procedure for many practitioners in their assessment interviews. Camara, Nathan, and Puente (2000) have stated that projective testing assessments are some of the tests most frequently administered by clinical psychologists. Karen Machover (1949) states, "The figure is, in a way, an introduction to the individual who is drawing" (p. 35). She further states:

Again we repeat the basic assumption, verified repeatedly in clinical experience, that the human figure drawn by an individual who is directed to "draw a person" relates intimately to the impulses, anxieties, conflicts, and compensations characteristic of that individual. In some sense, the figure drawn is the person, and the paper corresponds to the environment. This may be a crude formulation, but serves well as a working hypothesis. The process of drawing the human figure is for the subject, whether he realizes it or not, a problem not only in graphic skill, but one of projecting himself in all of the body meanings and attitudes that have come to be represented in his body image. (p. 35)

In short, when we draw, we do not reproduce one particular characteristic (e.g., a body image or facial expression) but a composite derived from many occasions, impressions, and memories. Therefore, the focus of art therapy is first on the experience and then on the understanding. In this manner the discovery becomes less intellectual and increasingly personal. Children, unlike adults, have an innate ability to symbolize their problems through play. In time, their displaced symbols become regrouped into themes of mastery and provide relief. As adults, play is frowned upon, so our outlet is often dreams (both nocturnal and daydreams); however, these are not often remembered or easily discussed. So how can this vast store of knowledge, locked deep in the dungeons of our mind, be released?

Through art.

Art transcends all ages, all cultures, and all beliefs. All we have to do is listen to its message.

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  • asmara
    How do art therapist use metaphors to describe people?
    26 days ago

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