Acts of destruction – like popping a balloon, knocking over a sand castle at the beach or dumping a bucket of marbles onto a hard floor – often offer emotional release. Children are particularly interested in this kind of discharge and, to test this point, try offering a child a sheet of bubble wrap the next time you receive a package and listen to the popping and squealing begin! However, there are times when the feelings behind the act of destroying are far from pleasurable. Many know the emotional experience of dealing with a computer or phone that malfunctions and the desire to throw it out the window with all our might. What we might do, instead, is act out by slamming our fist onto the table or screaming into a pillow. Although I want to be careful not to completely glamorize the act of destruction, I do think it’s worth considering its value within a larger context.
Frequently, especially in Western culture, there is a tendency toward containing and even avoiding emotion. This is particularly true with less socially acceptable and uncomfortable emotions such as sadness, anger and frustration. What is often overlooked, however, is that emotions are and always have been an essential component to our overall evolution and that expression allows for additional possibilities to emerge and, ultimately, growth to occur. In addition, destruction or annihilation often allow for the possibility of reintegration and reconstruction.
Many who engage in creative activities understand this phenomenon because moving through a variety of emotions and expressing them non-verbally is central to the creative process. Creativity exists within us all, so the earlier children are encouraged to create and the more we adults create, the more acquainted we all will become with this essential practice.
Parents might consider having a few things at home that allow for the experience of destruction and reconstruction. Possibilities include a bin of blocks that can be easily dumped or water and sand tables where elements can transition from whole to fragments to whole again. Basically, loose materials or items that can be used in multiple ways are most desired. The theory of “loose parts” began influencing child-play experts and designers in the 1970′s by architect Simon Nicholson, who believed that loose parts in our environment encourage creativity. (For more information about Loose Parts, please visit: http://betterkidcare.psu.edu/TIPS/tips1107.pdf/.
Take, for example, the teenager who comes to therapy and regularly begins working on a piece of art, but then destroys. “It’s ugly”, she says as she, once again, smashes the clay piece she’s been shaping or rips up the paper that she’s spent the last 15 minutes drawing on. Rather than tell her to stop this expression, what if she was given the opportunity to take bins of old newspaper and rip them to shreds? Or take clay balls and whip them against a brick wall? But it doesn’t stop there. Those shredded newspaper pieces can be reintegrated by using them in a plaster sculpture and the clay balls against a brick wall becomes a mosaic synthesis of color, shape and effort. Again, in the act of destruction lies the opportunity for reconstruction. Without it, we deny ourselves the very material that weaves our experience together and becomes the transitional joints of life.
By practicing this over and over again, we tone the muscles that will serve us now and throughout our lives.
Jean Davis is a licensed creative arts therapist and a registered and board-certified art therapist. She has postgraduate training in group therapy, gestalt therapy and ecopsychology and has over 15 years of experience with a wide variety of populations and in numerous settings. Jean is an Adjunct Associate Professor within Pratt Institute’s Graduate Creative Arts Therapy Department. She has published numerous articles in professional journals and she presently serves on the editorial board for the Ecopsychology Journal. For more than a decade, she has maintained a private practice in Brooklyn, New York working with children and adults. To contact Jean Davis, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 917-292-9301.
Tags: acts of destruction, anger in children, avoiding emotion, Brooklyn Letters, brooklyn therapy children, creative activities, creative arts therapists in brooklyn, creative arts therapy, creative process, emotional release, encouraging creativity, experience of destruction, frustration in children, Jean Davis, non-verbal expression of emotion, park slope creative arts therapy, park slope therapy for children, reconstruction, reintegreation, sadness in children
A child sits up in his hospital bed for the first time in days. He looks out the window and draws the bluish-gray sky, the buildings, and some white clouds. Then, he lightly draws a figure coming out of the clouds. “Superman!” he exclaims as he holds up his piece and flexes his arm in identification with his image.
A woman, struggling to maintain sobriety, works with found objects in a community park. “This is a staircase going down into the ground”, she says as she points to the freshly painted steps she’s just hammered together. “I’m calling it ‘Never Ending Journey’ because that’s how I feel today.”
A group of highly volatile adolescents are asked to make “nothing” out of scrap wood, pinecones and stones. The sculptures are exotic and the laughter is contagious.
Although very brief in description, each of the above vignettes reveals a peak into the power of art therapy and the importance of nature within and around all that we make. As we enter into a creative process, a relational dance occurs between our inner, most intimate self and the self that displays itself and collaborates with the external world. This link is the key to health and has both individual and global implications. How we manipulate matter directly impacts ourselves and our environment. Thus, creativity, in a very particular way, is essential to the healing and growth of ourselves and our earth.
Ecopsychology is based upon the belief that a culturally induced, unconscious, mental separation of people from the health sustaining, nonverbal wisdom of the natural world within and around ourselves underlies the environmental problems we face and many of the emotional disorders from which we suffer. Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods”, speaks of “nature-deficit disorder” in children and his writings have been highly useful to parents, teachers and those in helping professions. The premise of ecopsychology is to reconnect or reestablish a relationship between psyche (psychology) and nature (ecology). Theories from ecopsychology suggest that the needs of the planet are the needs of the person. Cycles of nature such as weather, lunar cycles, and seasonal changes, marked by winter solstice, spring equinox and Samhain (or Halloween) can also be sources of connection between psyche and nature. Theodore Roszak (Roszak, Gomes and Kanner, 1995) says that these natural occurrences are happening all the time, wherever we are in a skyscraper apartment in an urban environment or on the top of Mt. Olympus.
Art Therapy has a pivotal role in facilitating these connections. Creating with and within nature allows for a deepening or brand new relationship within and beyond the self. The concept of Environmental Art Therapy is the integration of art therapy and nature and it’s practice allows for multi-dimensional therapeutic outcomes. Non-traditional materials tend to be experienced as more inviting and allows people the opportunity to have real impact on and be impacted by the environment through the act of manipulating natural and/or found matter. This is especially significant in our society where so much focus is on separation – particularly from the environment through the use of things like consumerism. The aim of Environmental Art Therapy is to offer people of all ages and places, opportunities for real contact with the environment for purposes of increasing awareness and ultimately facilitating improved physical, emotional and intellectual health.
There is much richness when a tremendously sick child can, for a moment, connect with his incredible strength, or a woman trying get through each day can discharge her struggles, and a group of teens can come together at a time when so much is changing, and laugh in the face of chaos.
Jean Davis is a licensed creative arts therapist and a registered and board-certified art therapist. She has postgraduate training in group therapy, gestalt therapy and ecopsychology and has over 15 years of experience with a wide variety of populations and in numerous settings. Currently, Jean is Chairperson for Pratt Institute’s Graduate Creative Arts Therapy Department, the program from which she graduated and in which she has served as an instructor for ten years. She has published numerous articles in professional journals and she presently serves on the editorial board for the Ecopsychology Journal. For more than a decade, she has maintained a private practice in Brooklyn, New York working with children and adults.
Tags: art therapy, ATR-BC, Brooklyn, creative process, creativity, ditmas park, ecology & psychology, ecopsychology, emotional disorders, emotional health, Environmental Art Therapy, integration art therapy, intellectual health, Jean Davis, LCAT, licensed creative arts therapist, lunar cycles, multi-dimensional therapeutic outcomes, nature-deficit disorder, nonverbal wisdom, physical health, seasonal changes, the power of art therapy, winter solstice
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