When my client, a 10-year-old boy came into my office the other day, he shuffled around the room, pushing and poking at random objects. He made it clear that he was not interested in talking and he seemed frustrated in my questions to him. Knowing that he had been getting into trouble at school for angry outbursts at his teacher and other students, it was my impression that he was storing strong emotions in regards to his parents’ impending divorce and custody situation. When he sat at the art table and began to cut paper with scissors, I asked him whether he would like to sit on the floor with me and rip large pieces of paper. He sat beside me and timidly began to rip, each time looking at me for assurance. With a nod, I indicated to him that it was all right and with earnest he began to rip the paper.
What started as a small invitation for the boy to express his anger became a huge breakthrough for him and for our therapeutic relationship. He ripped with enthusiasm and sometimes aggression and I ripped the paper along side of him. We then created a piece of art, sticking the pieces of paper together to form collages and images.
Creating art not only gave the boy a vehicle to express his strong emotions, but it also provided a metaphorical container to hold them. At school, his feelings erupted and affected those around him since his teacher and peers were targets of his unfocused anger. However, the art created boundaries in which he could safely release his emotions and he did not have to worry about harming anyone including him or me.
The art as a container, in which he poured his strongest feelings, also provided a means in which I could relate to him. Had he showed me his rage by wildly punching or putting us in danger, then my role would be more to limit him than to relate to him. But by ripping the paper with him, I could share in the experience of his anger and give him an opportunity to release the feelings he had pent up inside. Using art as a container to create boundaries does not constrain expression of emotions but rather provides freedom to release them since a sense of safety has been established. And once the feelings have been released and processed, clients can create some distance from them so that they can continue to move forward with their healing.
Nalini Iype, MC:AT, CCC is an art therapist and counsellor in private practice in Toronto. For more information visit www.ArtTherapySolutions.com or email her at [email protected]
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA