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Environmental Art Therapy by Jean Davis, ATR-BC, LCAT, Licensed Creative Arts Therapist

By May 18, 2011Blog

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.

Craig Selinger

Author Craig Selinger

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