The Tao of Art Therapy: Bodily Movement as a Bridge Between the Conscious and Unconscious

by Linda C. Mahoney

In this paper, the role of movement and the kinaesthetic sense as a form of perception, in combination with the concept of balance and rhythm (Cane, 1983), is explored through a qualitative analysis of the phenomena of vigorous gross motor movement of the arm in the spontaneous creation of images with art media. According to Cane (1983), an art teacher and pioneer in the field of art therapy, we apprehend the world through the functions of movement, feeling and thought, however, we do not begin life with all three functions actively employed. The chief hope of change - the transcendent function - "lies buried in the unconscious" (p. 35) and, in order for growth to occur - for change to occur - it must be "coaxed up" for union with the conscious.

In this paper, I propose that a change in self-perception occurred for the subject of this study - an adult in mid-life - as a result of "coaxing up" the function of movement through vigorous gross motor movement of the arm in the spontaneous creation of images.* I liken the creation of art in this manner to transitional phenomena (Winnicott, 1971) to abet regression in service of the ego (Kris, 1952).

The study, a retrospective analysis (Schaverien, 1993), uses the client's history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse to enhance understanding and appreciation of her art. The art (22 images) and session notes from five out of a total of 24 sessions, purports to identify:

  • A change in the client's ability to endure stress "when things are going good" (hence, interrupt patterns of self defeating behaviours) and
  • A change in the client's sense of self (sense of well-being).

In conclusion, in response to the query "What was going on?" I make an analogy between the concept of rhythm and balance and the body's response to the flight or flight response gone awry. A phenomenological analysis addresses the symbolism of the circle and of "the eye" (a recurring image in the subject's spontaneous creation of art).

  • Cane's method of using movement exercises to liberate expression with art media was the precursor to the subject's experience of creating art in this fashion. (Cane, 1983, pp. 48-52)