Flexing the frame: Researching therapist experiences of delivering museum-based art psychotherapy groups

Alison Coles, Fiona Harrison, Saira Todd

    Allbwn ymchwil: Cyfraniad at gynhadleddPapuradolygiad gan gymheiriaid


    This presentation will reflect on research undertaken by three art psychotherapists into our own experiences of facilitating art psychotherapy groups in museums for adults with complex mental health difficulties within the UK National Health Service. (One of these groups is described in Coles and Harrison, 2018). When undertaking this museum-based work we became aware that we were ‘flexing’ our therapeutic approach in an attempt to maximise the value of the museum context. We wanted to capture that learning and use it to inform our own and others’ future practice. Our research methodology was informed by four perspectives: Schön’s concept of ‘knowing-in-practice’ (1983, p. viii), McNiff and Whitehead’s approach to action research (2011), Etherington’s ideas about reflexivity in research (2004) and McNiff’s discussion of arts-based research (2011). We approached these from an underpinning epistemological stance that ‘knowledge’ within art psychotherapy practice is co-constructed and context-dependent, in line with the concept of the social construction of knowledge (Springham, 2016). We will describe our research process, focussing on its simplicity and collaborative nature which enabled us to sustain it alongside our busy working lives. This process involved structured discussions and reflective art-making for each of three areas of focus: the role of museum objects within the art psychotherapy process; the movement between and within the private artmaking space and the public spaces of the museum; and the potential impact of the public nature of the museum. We recorded and transcribed our discussions and drew out themes from the transcripts following a simple form of thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006). We will reflect on our personal feelings about the challenges and rewards of the research project and explore its strengths and limitations. We will also talk about how this kind of research process could be applied to any area of art therapy practice, particularly in the context of exploring innovative practice in new settings.We will then summarise the main findings of the research, describing our insights into the way we worked in the museum setting and how the museum setting contributed to the therapeutic process. We will relate this to theoretical concepts such as containment (Bion, 1994; Winnicott, 1990), mentalisation (Fonagy et al., 2004), transitional objects and space (Winnicott, 2005), attachment (Ainsworth and Bell, 1970) and joint attention (Isserow, 2008). We will illustrate the points we make with images of the artworks we created as part of the research process. We will also explore the idea that facilitating art psychotherapy groups in museums is similar to artists extending their practices into public spaces (for example, within street art or immersive theatre), involving experimentation with creative processes and the encounter between the internal and the external worlds. Finally, we will discuss our conclusion that when facilitating these museum-based art psychotherapy groups we were still working within the usual theoretical frameworks, but in new and potentially advantageous ways. Our research led us to challenge our feeling that we were ‘breaking the rules’ of ‘orthodox’ group art psychotherapy practice by working outside the framework of a traditional therapy room and encouraged us to continue to ‘flex’ our practice in response to new opportunities. Our presentation will end with encouraging other art psychotherapists to research their experiences of museum-based work and other innovative practices and to share their findings.
    Ainsworth, M. and Bell, S.M. (1970). Attachment, exploration, and separation: illustrated by the behaviour of one-year-olds in a strange situation. Child Development, 41(1), 49-67. Bion, W. (1994). Learning from experience. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2006(3), 77-101.Coles, A. and Harrison, F. (2018). Tapping into museums for psychotherapy: an evaluation of a pilot group for young adults. International Journal of Art Therapy, 23(3), 115-124. https://doi.org/10.1080/17454832.2017.1380056Etherington, K. (2004). Becoming a reflexive researcher – using our selves in the research. London, UK and Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley. Fonagy, P., Gergely, G., Jurist E.L. &Target, M. (2004). Affect regulation, mentalization, and the development of the self. London, UK and New York, NY: Karnac.Isserow, J. (2008). Looking together: joint attention in art therapy. International Journal of Art Therapy, 13(1), 34-42. https://doi.org/10.1080/17454830802002894McNiff, S. (2011). Artistic expressions as primary modes of inquiry. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 39(5), 385-396.McNiff, J. and Whitehead, J. (2011). All you need to know about action research (2nd ed.). London, UK, Thousand Oaks, CA, New Delhi and Singapore: SAGE Publications.Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner – how professionals think in action. USA: Basic Books.Springham, N. (2016). Description as social construction in UK art therapy research. International Journal of Art Therapy, 21(3), 104-115.Winnicott, D.W. (1990). The maturational processes and the facilitating environment: studies in the theory of emotional development. London, UK and New York, NY: Karnac.Winnicott, D.W. (2005). Playing and reality. London, UK and New York, NY: Routledge Classics.


    CynhadleddBAAT and AATA International Practice and Research Conference
    Gwlad/TiriogaethY Deyrnas Unedig
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