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Can Art Heal Us? The role of imagery in Jungian Analysis

Jul 4, 2024

VIDEO

Art Credit: Jano Tantongco, jano.tantongco@gmail.com

AUDIO

Mark Dean, Jungian Analyst & Art Therapist joins us to explore ‘Can Art Heals Us? The role of imagery in Jungian Analysis.’ We discover the power of spontaneous art-making.

Jungian Art Therapy explores the connection between art and psychological growth. The spontaneous act of creating images, whether through drawing, painting, or other forms of artistic expression, helps us to tap into our unconscious mind, providing insights into our inner world. Imagery, metaphors, and symbols are central to this process, bridging our conscious and unconscious levels. This approach can promote emotional healing and self-discovery, fostering a deeper understanding of psyche.

Jungian Art Therapy is rooted in Analytical Psychology and moves away from Freudian ideas of repression. Instead, it views the unconscious as a powerful tool for understanding our foundational attitudes. The dynamic relationship between the conscious and unconscious minds creates what Jung called the transcendent function, which aids in resolving psychological tensions and conflicts through transformative images.

Jung viewed his patients’ seemingly nonsensical expressions as meaningful, sparking his interest in exploring his unconscious through art. This led to the creation of his famous Red Book, where he used art to balance his inner and outer worlds. Jung’s pioneering work laid the foundation for integrating art and psychology, demonstrating the therapeutic potential of creative expression.

Clients create and interpret their symbolic artwork in a session, facilitating healing through creative expression. This approach underscores the therapeutic relationship between the client and their artwork, akin to Jung’s active imagination technique. By engaging in this creative dialogue, clients uncover and address unconscious material that influences their thoughts and behaviors.

Self-generated mandalas illustrate the intersection of art and psychology. Drawing these sacred circles provides a meditative space for self-expression and reflection. Trained therapists use mandalas to reveal emotional disorders and aid in the healing process. The structure of mandalas allows for a contained exploration of the psyche, offering a visual representation of the individual’s journey toward self-realization and balance.

The practice involves using art materials to create representations of our psychic contents, often including instincts severed from our awareness. Through spontaneous painting or collage, we uncover nonverbal or hidden aspects of the unconscious. This helps us visualize our psychological dynamics, making them accessible and meaningful. By externalizing these inner forces, we gain objectivity and perspective on ourselves.

Uniquely, art therapy helps us document the narrative of our lives. By slowing down and focusing on our subtle feelings, impressions, and thoughts, we stitch lost memories back into our sense of self. As we recover more of our original selves, we can differentiate between what is aligned with us and what we were instructed to adopt.

Making art can conjure our inner judge, making us feel that we are not good enough or creative enough. Overcoming this criticism is crucial, allowing us to engage more freely with our inner life. This process requires courage and determination but ultimately leads to a deeper acceptance of ourselves. By silencing the inner critic, we can access a more authentic and spontaneous form of self-expression in all domains of life.

The integration of art therapy in group settings can also be beneficial. While Jung cautioned against the collective pressure of groups, we recognize that a supportive group environment can mirror and confront our inner experiences. Group art-making allows us to experiment with new behaviors and expressions, fostering individual and collective growth. In a group setting, participants share their creative products and gain insights from others, enhancing their understanding of themselves and their relationships.

We utilize a structured approach in analyzing images created in art therapy. This involves describing the artwork in detail, exploring its imaginative aspects, making personal associations, and reflecting on the therapeutic outcomes. This comprehensive method ensures we fully engage with the symbolic content and its potential.

When our inner images remain unconscious, our ego merges with unconscious content and becomes vulnerable to a host of negative forces. Maintaining the separation between the ego and the symbols in our artwork allows the unconscious to present new solutions to our psychological conflicts. This dynamic interaction, or the transcendent function, bridges the conscious and unconscious minds.

Exploring early childhood experiences through art-making can help transform negative self-images. By revisiting these early experiences and out-picturing the negative internalized judgments, we can release infantile emotions and reframe our self-perceptions. Engaging in creative expression not only regulates emotions and reduces stress but also facilitates psychological integration and social belonging. By addressing and transforming these early influences, we can break free from limiting patterns and achieve more authentic relationships.

Jungian Art Therapy emphasizes the creative instinct as a fundamental aspect of psyche. By engaging with our inner imagery and symbols, we can access deeper layers of our unconscious. This approach offers a powerful means of reconnecting with our true selves and living more fully. We can explore, understand, and transform our inner worlds through art-making.

HERE’S THE DREAM WE ANALYZE:

I am in the upper level of a shopping centre with a man who seems to be recently released from some kind of jail or lock-up. He is tall and lanky, bedraggled, and unworldly. I am tasked to take him somewhere in the centre, but we keep getting trapped in a department store amongst high-end fashion labels that seem outrageously colorful and ridiculous, almost Alice in Wonderland-like. I try to take him down a level, but the man can’t navigate the escalator, and we find ourselves outside on the deck of a lavish swimming pool. Both of us are in the pool, and a freak wave takes me under. I am stuck underwater, and there is a ledge above me, stopping me from finding the surface. Panicking, I then realize that not only could I breathe, but I was in a cavernous room, and a woman was sitting opposite me. I ask how long she has been here, and she says, “Six months. Welcome to the belly of the whale.” I realize the walls are pink, and I’m inside a whale. I ask her why she hasn’t tried to escape through the blowhole, and she leans forward, head in her hands. Passive. Resigned. Given up. Then I woke.

LEARN MORE ABOUT MARK:

Mark Dean, MFA, MA, ATR-BC, LPC is a certified Jungian Analyst and an art psychotherapist with credentials as a Registered, Board Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor (PA) with nearly twenty years of experience. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Arcadia University since 1990. Mr. Dean has received the National Endowment for the Arts Award for Artistic Excellence and twice received the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Award. Before his graduate training as an art psychotherapist, Mr. Dean was a professional artist. His work is featured in several prominent private, public, national, and international collections. Find out more about Mark HERE.

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3 Comments

  1. Nora Fitzpatrick

    I had not encountered a better explanation of the transformational experience. Reference@25:00 minutes.
    I found that faceless character, the monster, to be a real Ra*ist. The AI said “Don’t confront it.”
    However, Lisa said that identifying the face of the monster would in fact hold the key to identifying that which holds us back. It was true but the identified assailant the perpetrator was actually a simile for much more.
    The dream I had revealing this gave me the GPS 26:00 representing 26 minutes into the podcast. I encountered people in the mud and rescuers were holding their arms as they trod through the mud to the other side.

    Reply
  2. Ryan

    Fantastic episode. I can’t find the books that Mark referenced throughout this episode- are those shared somewhere? If not can you add those to show notes? Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Gregory Duncan

    Mark knocked it out of the park! His descriptions of the transcendent function reminded me of some of Nathan Schwartz Salant’s stories in his books.

    The quote he referenced at one point comes from a surrealist poet named Paul Éluard: “There is another world, and it is in this one.”

    Reply

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