When Delaine Due entered art school years ago, she had no idea that it would lead her to a career in art therapy. As an art student, she was accustomed to having her work evaluated and needing to conform to a particular set of skills and methods. When she took her first art therapy course as an undergrad, she was amazed and relieved to find an art form that couldn’t be measured or valued in the same way. “I realized for the first time that I could absolutely rebel,” says Delaine. “I could be completely honest and no one could give me a bad grade!” It was then that Delaine found her calling and fell in love with this type of art expression because it was valid in and of itself. After completing her Master’s Degree in Psychology and Art Therapy, which essentially requires the equivalent of a double major, combining both extensive art and psychotherapy training, Delaine opened her own private practice and has been seeing clients individually and in groups for over 14 years.
How did you get here Delaine? What helped you choose art therapy as a profession originally?
I grew up on organic farms in the Midwest and made the leap to an art college in Detroit after I graduated from high school. While working on my BFA degree, I took my first art therapy class. I was hooked right away. Art school is fantastic and also an exercise in constant feedback on work that comes from the creative soul. Exhausting! In art therapy, I could make the image match how I was thinking, feeling and sensing with no critique or grade attached to how it looked. I also realized that a career in art therapy would give me a connection with other people. This is important for an introverted, internal processor who can get lost in the art process. Applying for the art therapy minor program was an obvious choice and I knew I would also pursue my Masters Degree.
Yes, that is an assumption that makes sense because children speak so much in play and there are art therapists who specialize in working with children. I specialize in working with adolescents and adults. When people seek psychotherapy counseling, they are doing so as the result of pain. Life experiences, thoughts and feelings are often the ones that are the most difficult to describe in words. For example, describing anger in color, line and shape communicates in much more depth than the words, “I’m mad.”
An art therapist provides a safe container for expression of intense, explosive and overwhelming situations; the images and the art therapist then support an expansion of skills, awareness and perspective. The containment, expression and expansion are part of the bridge to healing.
This person usually came into group upbeat and helpful with a good sense of humor. This day, he came in with an air of Eeyore combined with Pigpen, slumping in a chair. Once the group got started I went to him and found out he was steaming angry. I chose art materials that would give him some resistance for his mood and invited him to “let the paper have it.” He dove into this image, pushing the oil pastels into the paper, safely expressing rage and frustration. When he felt completed with this, he sat straight up in his chair. We looked at the image together to acknowledge his feelings. Then I gave him another piece of paper and asked him to make an image of what he was aware of now that he had, “let the paper have it.”
The second image obviously appears more organized and compartmentalized. He used his own internal resources to regulate his mood and re-organize his internal structure. In this image he could make clear choices about next steps in addressing the situation causing his frustration. He helped clean up after the group, made a healthy joke, and left with his head held high.
What is the difference between using art to express and contain feelings versus the discipline of art therapy in and of itself?
We as humans think in images, dream in images and remember in images so using imagery to express intense or complicated feelings is a natural match. And playing with paint, scribbling, smooshing clay, making a collage, and learning an art skill are usually fun and soothing activities. During the creative process our parasympathetic nervous system responds: heart and respiratory rate slows, appetite is suppressed, time disappears, and you feel an active relaxation. So, any art expression can feel good or cathartic. The discipline of art therapy might look the same as your watercolor class on the surface, but there are very different guiding principles being used. The art therapist’s primary task is to support the mental health goals of the client. Materials and image-making directives may be specifically catered to the client, their needs at the time, and their goals.
For example, if I am working with someone who experiences having very little control in their life, I will intentionally provide them with art materials to work with that support their sense of control (ie: oil pastels or collage, but not finger paint). And, I will invite them to make an image that relates to their current issue or experience, perhaps an image of fear or loss or safety. Lastly, in art therapy, the image becomes a concrete third “person” in the room. One of my clients actually explained this so beautifully, “Art therapy is like making a mirror image of who I am on the inside.”
In art therapy, the client makes their own images to identify problems and resolve them. And, the image-maker always gets to speak about the image before anyone else does. Generally, in private sessions or groups, there is an agreement about the focus of the imagery being made. This may be offered by the client if they are clear about what they want to address in the session, or it may be directed by the art therapist, based on what they have described about their experience. I have worked with individuals who use my suggestion of focus to make imagery for 10 minutes and then we spend the majority of the session using the image to inform our verbal work. On the other end of the spectrum, I have worked with people who come in knowing exactly what art materials they need. They spend 45 minutes making imagery and then we work verbally for 15 minutes. Most art therapy sessions also involve making changes or subsequent images that reflect some resolution or investigate an issue more in depth.
Another wonderful aspect of art therapy is that a quickly made personal image may communicate so much more than words. A simple, monochromatic line can communicate tone, mood, time, thinking, and relationship immediately and on a physical level. Think about your gut response to images like The Scream by Edvard Munch or La Guernica by Picasso. Now think about your gut response to Monet’s Garden at Giverny or Georgia O’Keefe’s Poppy.
Who is your typical client? Do you find that art therapy can be useful to anyone?
I have a history of working with clients who are outside the bell curve, as well as with beautifully normal people having a painful experience with grief, anxiety, trauma or life changes. I have worked with adolescent and young adult men in the prison system at the Oregon Youth Authority facility in Grants Pass, Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility; adolescent residential treatment; chronically mentally ill hospital programs; and adults with severe developmental disabilities. I have also worked as the mental health counselor on high school campuses, with queer youth groups, crisis response teams, and sexual assault services.
In my private practice, I specialize in working with adolescents and adults with issues of anxiety, trauma, sexuality and gender identity. Most recently, I began providing a group for elders with mild cognitive decline at the Rogue Valley Manor and I will be working with cancer patients at Providence Hospital in Medford this fall with the support of a grant from the Haines Philanthropic Foundation. I’ve also enjoyed teaching art therapy topics and providing an art therapy group for elders at the Ashland Art Center.
When I was working in an outpatient hospital program for chronically mentally ill people, I took an image from one of the patients to the treatment team meeting. This woman was chronically depressed and everyone knew that she experienced great sadness. But, when I shared her own image of what that sadness was like for her, the team was silent for a few moments before someone declared, “I knew she was sad, but I didn’t know she was THAT sad.” Images are powerful and all around us. In art therapy, dark and taboo subjects can be expressed more easily and safely in images. Addressing trauma does not require a verbal retelling of the whole awful event. Images are a gentle and powerful way to communicate.
You mentioned that trauma is a great example of an experience that is dealt with using art therapy. Help us understand why this is true.
Yes. One reason for this is the ability to address dark and taboo subjects without having to use words. Trauma is also something we experience with our right brain and our lizard brain in order to survive. This is a good defense. It would not work well to be stuck on the details of whether or not I can lift a very heavy object off of my child when the need arises. Better to go with the adrenaline and lift now, think later. Those parts of our brains communicate with images, sounds, textures and smells. That means trauma memories are stored in a sensory way, not a verbal way. Art therapy is naturally sensory and gives the unconscious a way to communicate and become conscious. Many times, I’ve seen the simple act of scribbling evoke a strong emotion. The person gets angry or starts crying or laughing. This is a cue that the lizard brain has successfully passed the information to the emotional brain. Next is the verbal part of the brain where the story can be told, hindsight can be incorporated and changes in behavior can be made.
Is the artwork that is generated usually displayed as art in and of itself or does it tend to be more personal for those who have created it?
That’s a fantastic question. The images made in art therapy are a confidential part of the treatment process just like all the words spoken in the session. The images are part of the medical file and are treated the same way. The people who made the images I’ve shared with you have all signed releases for me to do so, maintaining their confidentiality. Images made in art therapy are not gallery images or refrigerator art. Obviously they are made mostly by people who are untrained in art technique, but they are also about very private matters and need to be respected as such. I’m continually honored that clients allow me to see parts of themselves that are so precious. That being said, I have curated shows to educate the public about art therapy. For clients who are ready to share their work, this can be a powerful part of the healing process, a place to tell their story and be seen by the greater community.
Oh, that’s a terrific question. Always ask the image-maker what they see first! Personal imagery does not come with a list of what color means what. Red does not always mean anger. It also doesn’t always mean love. I’m also not a fortuneteller – the process is about the client. My knowledge of archetype, symbol and image construction combined with my knowledge of psychology gives me a depth of understanding of personal imagery, but it is not my job to interpret someone else’s art without their input. Even in a formal art therapy assessment, the patient provides his or her own information about the images.
I’m glad you included the “process” in your question. Process is important in art therapy. Witnessing the image being created provides valuable information for the client as well as the final image. An image might get completely covered with another image in the process. One time I had a client in a group who painted with water the first few sessions. That’s a process that doesn’t leave a bold end product, but certainly tells an important story for that person. Another example of process is that an image of a cage that gets a bear put inside it is a different story than an image of a bear that gets a cage placed on top of it.
Tell us about symbolic healing.
Symbolic healing is a wonderful way to try out skills in the healing process. It also supports the inner resources the client already has. If someone can imagine a safe emotional space and make an image of what color and shape it is for them, they can make that an even greater reality for themselves. Visual thinking means that by making an image of it, I am learning more about what that is. Working with personal imagery with an art therapist provides a concrete way to practice changing something. The initial image of a problem might reflect some reality to me. For example, the garbage might appear mostly in the trashcan with the lid partly on and show me that it’s not as out of control as I thought it was. Or, maybe the garbage is covering the entire page and I don’t even know where to start!
Symbolic healing in art therapy gives me permission to try something, to change it in the image and see what that new reality is like. And, since it’s only paper and art materials, the risk is low. I might decide to add extra support for dealing with the garbage of my life by adding a recycling bin to the image. Now how does it feel to have a way to separate the garbage? Now how do I start to separate those things in my thinking and behavior outside the art therapy session? A classic example of symbolic healing in art therapy is making an image of something that really feels awful and hurtful and intrusive, then crumpling it up or burning it or smashing it. Of course, in art therapy, there is a therapeutic process for destruction so that anger doesn’t reinforce anger. And, what is my awareness after destroying the intrusion?
Right. Clients don’t have to know anything about art skill. I’ve worked with people who had no use of their arms and made images with their feet! I’ve worked with blind people. Anyone can make his or her mark. It is, however, the art therapist’s job to know about art process, media, imagery and skill. Art therapists are required to have a balance of art credits and psychology credits in order to enter a Master’s program. Art therapy is a hybrid discipline that requires study in both art and psychology as well as study in where the two meet. I have a Master’s in Psychology and Art Therapy and am a Registered Art Therapist with the American Art Therapy Association and the Art Therapy Credentials Board.
Are these classes available locally?
I teach an Introduction to Art Therapy Seminar at SOU. Since I began teaching this class over 10 years ago, I’ve had at least 4 students continue in Master’s programs for art therapy. The nearest Master’s program is in Lake Oswego, but I’ve had students attend programs in Colorado and Florida. I absolutely love teaching and art therapy is one of my favorite subjects to teach. Because of requests from students and the community for more art therapy classes, I’ve started to offer small classes in the community at Ashland Art Center and in Medford. I’ve also had students in the Counseling program at SOU attend my Art Therapy group for adults as a way to learn about the discipline and meet some of the requirements for their program. I also provide clinical supervision and consultation for other therapists and agencies that use art with their clients but do not have a Registered Art Therapist on staff.
This fall is abundant. You can dip your big toe into art therapy at Saturday Night at the Movies, a series in collaboration with Marla Estes that combines film, food, art and discussion. You can stoke the fires of your inner creativity and shine more brightly at the Creativity Now! Retreat with Patricia Morrison at the end of September in Southern Oregon (www.creativitynow.net).
Groups begin in October: Art Therapy and Authentic Movement for Adults, Quick Draw, an online art therapy group, and the cancer support art therapy group at Providence Hospital. Go to my website www.PeoplesArt.net for event details, registration and updates. To receive announcements about new workshops and retreats, join my email list or like People’s Art on Facebook.
People’s Art: Creative Arts Therapies