Countertransference and art making

April 16, 2009

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Creating art has always helped me to process my feelings and experiences. For me, painting is a dialogue between my unconscious and the surface and materials that I am working with. Since beginning my internship at Housing Works, I have been utilizing the art process as a way to gain greater insight into my clients: my countertransference with them, and as a way to become more creative in how I work with them within the individual and group art therapy session.

Countertransference refers to the different types of emotions that a therapist may experience while working with an individual client. More specifically, countertransference is about the therapist’s unique personal history and how that may consciously or unconsciously impact how they react to or feel about a particular client. Countertransference used to be seen as an impediment or obstacle in therapeutic work, but over the years many therapists have come to see countertransference as a valuable tool that can bring heightened awareness to the therapetutic dynamic. For this to occur though, the therapist must first be aware of their countertransference and then decide how best to use it in a therapeutic capacity.

My clients struggle with many challenges – all of them are living with HIV or AIDS, and in addition, many have mental illness, chemical addictions, and past incarcerations. Working with these clients brings up many strong feelings for me, and this is where the art process has been so powerful in helping me to explore these feelings on a deeper level.

I have been creating portraits of my clients for the past few months now as part of this exploration. Obviously, the client’s names are not included and I am sharing portraits that are very abstracted and stylized in nature. I do not feel that any of these images would infringe on the privacy of my clients due to their non-representational nature.

I have included a few of my portraits of clients in this post. Each one has been a transformative tool for me and has helped me to better understand some of my countertransference with each indiviudal client.

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