‘A space that worked for them’: museum-based art psychotherapy, power dynamics, social inclusion and autonomy

Elllie Watson, Alison Coles, Helen Jury

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background: This article focuses on art psychotherapists’ experiences of using museum and gallery settings for group art psychotherapy.
    Aims: It aims to explore the impact of museum settings for group art psychotherapy on the dynamics of power between therapists and service users, and between service users and the wider community.
    Methods: Interview transcripts from five art psychotherapists working in museums were analysed using an interpretative phenomenological framework and arts-based methods.
    Results: Service users may feel valued and socially included by participating in art psychotherapy in museums and using museum objects can help service users to feel empowered within the therapeutic process. Museums offer service users choices, which can engender a sense of autonomy. A museum environment where therapists and service users explore together, and diverse perspectives flourish, may facilitate a flattening of hierarchies. This levelling of the
    potential power differential is enhanced by a sense of informality and human relating in these settings.
    Conclusions: The findings suggest that a museum environment for art psychotherapy can influence service users’ experience of power and autonomy within the therapeutic relationship and within the wider social sphere.
    Implications for practice/policy/further research: Art psychotherapists may consider using museums to foster social inclusion, autonomy and a more equal sharing of power with service users, whilst it is recommended that art psychotherapy training courses teach about nontraditional practice and settings, such as museums, and power dynamics.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)137-146
    Number of pages10
    JournalInternational Journal of Art Therapy
    Issue number4
    Early online date21 Jan 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2021


    • art therapy
    • art psychotherapy
    • museums
    • galleries
    • group therapy
    • power
    • social inclusion
    • autonomy


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