Ad astra per aspera

Trauma and the Art Journal

Levine (2017) presented a keynote on his developing approach with trauma sufferers via art therapy. My class was invited to attend as we were engaged in a course meant to expose us to the breadth of art therapy as a modality and a theoretical approach that proved adaptable to several forms of thought within psychotherapy. An expressive artist accompanied Levine’s lecture. Not only was I identifiable as a trauma sufferer, I communicate primarily through nonverbal means. To be presented with a potential framework for therapy that appealed to me and provided an easier means of mutual communication was illuminating and re-established a sense of hope in my future.

The most intriguing art directives were the projectives. The first to truly surprise me was the first day’s freeform drawing assessment (Tejai, 2017a). When the class was asked to suggest possible assessment purposes for this task, I thought the purpose was to rate how construction of meaning and if imagery could be manifested from a chaotic mess of scribbles. I extrapolated this initial possibility to an operational measurement of resilience. With eyes closed, I scribbled. Upon opening and first glance, I immediately found a picture. We learned the task was a test for imagination capacity, and I was satisfied upon hearing that it was growing evidence for the creativity of nonverbal persons (O. Darewych, personal communication, May 8, 2017). The second measurement of this task was less of a surprise. The unconscious becoming conscious, it was obvious for me at a first look. After the image manifested as I glanced at the mass of scribbles, it was evidently a symbolic representation of my disconnect with family of origin.

I preferred an integrative approach as a theoretical orientation. While my interests and current therapy emphasize a psychodynamic orientation – particularly Jungian – I appreciated additions of existential and humanistic views. This was represented in the sublimation directive of the third day (Tejai, 2017b). With a basic image in mind of a lotus on water, I touched various papers while the image would rotate, revolve, and clarify. I felt compelled to increase my pace. My attention had its nexus in the crafting, while my awareness spread radially. Simultaneously tuned into my environment and surrounding commotion, I set to capture my vision as well as I could in the moment with the materials I had.

I thought my creation beautiful, fragile and tragic and lovely at all the angles the viewer could approach via perspective and shift. After class and my therapy session, I added a stone marked “Trust” inside the lotus, and a black amethyst on one of the lily pads. The portrayal felt complete. The title certainly sketches the humanistic aspects while the existential lay in point of view and the path the viewer would choose to journey towards the lotus. The Jungian focus was the lotus, as water flowers and related imagery were common symbols that were evident within my Art Journal.

Reflecting upon my Art Journal, nature as sanctuary and sanctification was the central recurring theme. Stars crept in gradually, and collaborated with the denser depictions of trees and loti to achieve a balance between the celestial and the terrestrial, or, supra conscious and conscious. Stars had not overpowered the progressive drawings as the artworks first sketched despair and uncertainty, transforming as I did. Balance was retained despite emerging concepts of hope and wonder, as if I acknowledged traumatic experiences while continuing my life. The light source shifted from a single ray into multiple beams, depicted in more complex shading and usage of gradients. There was also the descending diagonal direction from left to right increasing in prominence while the balance was maintained. This may indicate a heavy emphasis within to keep harmonious relations despite shifts and changes in my perceptions both internal and external.

The conclusion of this course brought an end and beginning for myself as well. At first, it was too difficult to conceive detail and movement in my artworks. As I continually challenged myself with each directive, details appeared, and in the final series, there was proof that my ability to express and project via visual media went through profound changes for the better. The final series was set to three pieces of instrumental music preselected by our instructor, and the changes seemed to reflect the entire personal work I did throughout the one week intensive.

The first of the trio (Tejai, 2017c) was typical of the initial phase: Heavy use of plants with a bouquet on the left and a wilder lotus to the right. The second (Tejai, 2017d) had figures and incorporated movement with flow. Finally, the third (Tejai, 2017e) felt like my greatest accomplishment thus far in this class and the culmination of all I learned that I internally began to incorporate: Human figures with faces and expressions, in relationship and in movement as a collaborative flow like tides. This last piece also bore the terrestrial and celestial, again with heavy emphases on balance, harmony, an encompassing light source with many rays and angles, and the tell-tale diagonal that manifested throughout my Art Journal.

I broke into a huge smile after its completion during our last class. I filled in faces; I captured a truth dear to my essential being. Now, I thought, here I experienced the potential of art therapy from the viewpoint of me, a trauma sufferer.

May 16th, 2017.

Levine, S. K. (2017, May 12). The art of trauma: Poiesis and human existence. Trauma: Body, mind, and spirit. Conference conducted at the meeting of The Society for Pastoral Care and Counselling Research, Wilfrid Laurier University.

Tejai, K. (2017, May 8). Ghost of memoria [Drawing].

Tejai, K. (2017, May 10). Entryway to this heart of snowy glass [Drawing].

Tejai, K. (2017, May 12). The colour of nature is red as the crimson fall [Drawing].

Tejai, K. (2017, May 12). After that Eden [Drawing].

Tejai, K. (2017, May 12). The evening and the morning [Drawing].

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