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Why Jung Encouraged His Patients to Draw by Sondra Geller, MA, ATR-BC, LPC

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 9:30 AM | Jung Society of Washington

Jung wrote about inviting his patients to make art, “The aim of this method of expression was to make unconscious contents accessible and so bring them closer to the patient’s understanding”. (Jung, CW 18 p.182).

In his work with a young artist, Jung said, “You get all the material in a creative form and this has great advantages over dream material. It quickens the process of maturation, for analysis is a process of quickened maturation. (1989 CW 18 par 399.)

Jung’s method for analysis rested heavily upon reclaiming unconscious material from the realm of psyche, from the inner life. We have all read even in our beginning studies of Jung’s work, how much he encouraged the retrieval of images from the unconscious.  Dreams he taught are direct paths to the unconscious.  He encouraged his patients to record their dreams and bring them to their analytic sessions.  Then together, analyst and patient would work at decoding the message of the dream. 

Jung pointed out that just participating in the dialectic with the patient was not enough because there were so many ways of straying from the depths of psyche wherein Jung believed lay one’s true self.  One might retreat to intellectualizations devoid of emotional content to protect one’s fear of self exposure. Often there was a sense of foreboding, secrecy and shame that Jung called shadow. The patient might have moments of dissociation or experience feeling “backed up against the wall’, with no words at the ready.  There are many ways to stay hidden in analysis.  A great deal depends upon the chemistry between analyst and patient. The analyst’s capacity to create a sense of safety, of unconditional acceptance and trust aids in encouraging the patient to grow more comfortable with self disclosure. Then dreams may arise and spontaneous drawings. 

Jung learned this from his own self analysis. His dreams began to reveal material that often came as a complete surprise to him bringing parts of self that had remained shut away since early childhood. Thus tracking his dreams, he realized was like discovering passageways to the unconscious. He called these entries into the depths of psyche, “rites d’entres”. But dreams he felt were not enough. There were still ways for unconscious content to remain encoded.  There were times when he would feel blocked in his work, stuck  without access to his creativity.  He tells us that when those experiences occurred he reached for his drawing materials, his paints and canvases, or he would carve stone or sit by the lake and use small stones to build little houses and structures of all sorts.  He was driven in his search for the lost parts of self. He called this process the journey of individuation. It was a life long process of personal psychological development. All of the creative, artistic methods Jung turned to for himself served as entries to the unconscious.

He realized then that there was something unique about using art in the analytic work.  The drawings and paintings that he and later his patients produced were most often spontaneous.  They were unplanned and able to bypass the defenses so dominant in the dialectic process. The messages from psyche just slipped under the door. Then discoveries were revealed and both Jung and many of his patients realized that the art could access even deeper levels than the dreams. And they could be seen by both analyst and patient—they could be kept.  They weren’t ephemeral like the spoken word. Furthermore, Jung discovered that these drawings often conveyed an experience of the numinous.  He called them magical and spoke of enchantment. The drawings became the third in the consulting room. There was the patient, the analyst and the artwork.  Each had a voice. In this way, the patient could be brought directly into the work of interpretation, because, and this was the same in the dream work, the images came from the psyche of the patient.  It would be for him or her to determine the final interpretation of the symbolic content.  This enhanced the process of maturation because the patient was given space to develop their personal sense of agency and not rely entirely upon the wisdom of the analyst.

Jung was so convinced about the effectiveness of making art in analysis that in addition to drawing and clay work, he invited his patients to use other expressive media as well--- dance/movement to express emotional content or singing, or writing.  There were many times when words seemed not to be enough or when like Jung himself, the patient seemed stuck, perhaps trying to express memories and feelings from a preverbal time. Unable to speak it seemed.   Then the magic of art would be called upon.

I have been an art therapist and a Jungian analyst for many years.  I have worked with individuals and groups, including many art therapists and students of Jung.   The moments of healing, even transformation, that I have witnessed are countless, as well as my own experiences as a client in art therapy and later in dance movement therapy and my years in Jungian Analysis. I don’t tire of the work often feeling like the guide or sometimes even the mid-wife. I am the witness, I hold the space and I invite my students and clients to make art.  Then we look at the drawings or sculptures together. I ask, “What do you see? Or, What is this about?  What are you feeling, how are you affected by the drawing?”  I point out that often  the art affects us.  Perhaps a quickening, the heart skips a beat or we feel breathless, or constricted or fearful.  We might both feel that way.  Then we have an experience of Jung. Thus art making in analysis lays the ground work for these mutual experiences  and as Jung wrote then both analyst and patient  are  affected and the journey of individuation quickens.

Sandy Geller, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, is a Jungian analyst and a Board Certified Licensed Art Therapist.  She is in private practice in Washington, DC where she sees analytic clients and does ongoing Jungian Art Therapy groups.  Sandy lectures and gives workshops about Jungian Art Therapy and Creativity. The workshops always provide an experience of Jung and a deep connection with the symbolic.  She has taught at the CG Jung Institute in Kusnacht, Switzerland, The Philadelphia Jung Institute, The Jung Society of Washington, The George Washington University Art Therapy Program and elsewhere.  She gives workshops in her new office just off of Connecticut Ave on the Red Line.  Some recent classes have focused on Dream Drawing, Personal Myth and Fairytale, Personal Creation Myths and Stories.  Many of her clients are artists, poets and writers stuck in their creative process. Working intensely with dreams, art expressions and the symbolic is helpful in the process of awakening the creative spirit.
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  • Sunday, May 27, 2018 8:08 AM | Karen Branan
    Working the clay into rough ancestors, observing the witch emerge out of orange and aqua blotch,, cartooning my deepest terror, painting a dream forward, I found the meaning, the courage, the love, the words, the book, the me.....thank you, Carl and Sandy.
    Link  •  Reply
    • Monday, July 02, 2018 3:47 PM | Oxana Holtmann
      Thank you, Karen for sharing this. I feel drawn now to work with clay.
      Link  •  Reply


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