The Therapeutic Alliance: A Foundation for Emergence



Photo: Mapping Travel Journeys with Wire, Artist: Rachael Sadler

Carolan, R. and Backos, A. (Eds) (2018) Emerging Perspectives in Art Therapy: Trends, Movements, and Developments, New York: Routledge. 

Theory and Art Therapy Richard Carolan and Karrie Stafford, pages 25-26.

“A fundamental aspect of art is its ability to hold the therapeutic process, to serve as a container that allows internal experience to have external form, which can be viewed, interacted with, and which can continue to be engaged with over time. The image can hold a multiplicity of experiences, feelings and concepts. It can simultaneously hold what we know and what we do not know. Interpreting the image by translating it into a verbal understanding can close the process, reducing it to limited knowledge, rather…than an interactive process of multiple ways of knowing. The art facilitates an open, ongoing process of knowing, rather than reducing it to a more stagnant, interpretive cognitive knowing that fixes it as a fact. Art promotes exploration and learning as well as flexibility in thinking”.

“The holding power of art is a unique and significant part of the art therapy process. It is a mechanism of change that greatly enhances continuity, as well as emergence. The work that is done in creating the image and in relating to the image continues to serve a therapeutic function whenever the person views the image or recalls the image. Aditionally, a continual interactive impact between the artist and the image can occur, which may bring with it new inspiration, imagination as well as feelings and thoughts related to the artwork. Art therapy facilitates an active and ongoing process of change in the life of the participant”

Hogan, S. (2016) Art Therapy Theories: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge. (Ulster University Library, E-Book) Psychoanalytic Art Therapy and Jungian Art Therapy Chapters 

“In practice, art therapy is often concerned with gaining access to and making sense of this unknown and unacknowledged ‘inner world’ and the ways in which it influences relationships to the external world. The ways of working developed by art therapists are based largely upon the belief that through making images and objects, and the relationship between the art therapist and the client, long buried conflicts and feelings may find expression. By facilitating the emergence of inner experiences, within the secure environment provided by the art therapist, the client is offered an opportunity to further their self understanding. Through externalising internal experience it becomes possible to stand apart from, think about, and change it. Psychoanalysis has played such an important role in the development of art therapy largely because it offers both a method and a body of ideas for accessing and understanding the unconscious mind. (David Edwards, Art Therapy, p. 44).

Psychoanalysis The theories and techniques inspired by Sigmund Freud, which are formed around the belief in unconscious drives, desires and memories and a model of the mind that incorporates the ID, EGO, and SUPEREGO. Repression, resistance, and sublimation (translating socially unacceptable behaviour to socially acceptable behaviour) all feature in Freud’s methodology of the psyche.

Psychoanalysis: A Brief History of Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

Psychodynamic The influence of the unconscious on behaviour—the goal is to find insights into the metaphors of the unconscious that manifest through attitudes, thought patterns, actions and symbols. Psychodynamic theories recognise how a person’s past influences their present. A psychodynamic approach can be related to Freud, Jung, Lacan, Object Relations, and other theories and methods recognising the significance of the unconscious.

Furth, G. (2002) The Secret World of Drawings A Jungian Approach to Healing Through Art. Toronto: Inner City Books.

“A symbol from the unconscious always acts in a compensatory or complementary relationship to the conscious status of the psyche at a given moment in life. If the conscious attitude is one-sided, so involved with one aspect of life as to exclude another, then this compensatory energy emerges as a symbol from the unconscious. A compensatory symbol expresses the neglected area, either in a dream, fantasy or drawing, in an attempt to bring it to the attention of consciousness and promote a change in conscious attitude. The neglected area always demands attention in some way. Thus the symbol has a healing influence, striving for balance and wholeness” (Furth, 2002, p. 9).

“A symbol refers to something so deep that consciousness, limited as it is, cannot grasp it all at once. In this way the symbol always carries an element of the unknown and the inexplicable, that which is not amendable to words, and which often has a numinous quality. Yet the very fact the symbol exists tells us at some level we know or feel the meaning behind the symbol. In this tension between knowing and not-knowing, between conscious and unconsciousness, there is a great deal of psychic energy” (Furth, 2002, p. 9)

Schaverien, J. (2006) Art and Active Imagination: Reflections on Transference and the Image by Joy Schaverien, International Journal of Art Therapy, 10 (2).

“Jung came to active imagination and his method of amplification through his own experiences. After the important relationship between Jung and Freud came to an end, Jung, the younger man, experienced what he called ‘a period of disorientation’. In Memories Dreams and Reflections he tells of his confrontation with the unconscious (Jung [25], chapter 6) and of how his interest in his dreams and psychological state at that time led to an intense period of self-analysis. This, combined with listening to his patients’ dreams and associations, led him to further explore the mythical content of the psyche. Whenever Jung felt stuck with his own analytic material he reverted to making models or painting pictures, recalling the play activities of his childhood. Spontaneously he made circular drawings and later, when he encountered Eastern philosophy, he realised they were similar to mandalas of East. He began to understand the goal of psychic development to be the self. ‘There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self,’ (Jung, p. 222)”

Active imagination is like this; nothing is linear or logical and yet its process makes sense in an indirect manner. It evokes archetypal material and Jung relates it to the collective unconscious when he writes that, ‘certain collective unconscious conditions … behave exactly like the motive forces in dreams, for which reason active imagination … to some extent takes the place of dreams, (Jung).  It is this dream function of active imagination that leads to consideration of it as a means of dreaming whilst awake.

Active Imagination and Free Association

Active imagination was originally a development of the free association method of psychoanalysis. Jung wrote: ‘I learned it from Freud’s method of free association, and I regard it as a direct extension of that,’  Therefore the distinction between the two methods merits attention In free association, Freud asks the patient to put themselves into a state of quiet unreflecting self observation, and to report on–feelings, thoughts, memories – in the order in which they occur. So, in free association the patient is asked to observe and report his/herthoughts but to refrain from selecting material. In active imagination Jung instructs the patient to both select and follow the lead of the image: ‘… the patient is simply given the task of contemplating any one fragment of fantasy that seems significant … until its context becomes visible. For Jung therefore, selection is an important part of the process, because it indicates where the patient’s interest may lie and elaboration of the image or fantasy is encouraged:

It seems that this is the point of departure; Jung or the patient selects a strand to develop and the patient is encouraged to elaborate the fantasy material. The patient embarks on an imaginal journey and the process may be amplified by a myth or fairy tale that seems to resonate with the archetypal atmosphere of the material. This might be chosen by the patient or, at times, suggested by the analyst; clearly this differs from free association. Jung considered that, although ‘at first sight [dreams] point backwards, they also have ‘a continuity forwards …’ (Jung). It is this forwards movement that is of interest when considering active imagination and its relationship to art produced in art psychotherapy as well as analysis.

Because it is at first unconscious and only gradually comes into the field of consciousness, direct interpretation of…a picture may be experienced as destructive or intrusive. The relationship of the artist to the life in the image, when it is newly out in the light, is fragile and so we need to find ways of talking around it – befriending it.

Unlike visualisation and dreams, art has a tangible and material presence. It records traces of the imaginal activity that produced it. Moreover it holds, and fixes, at once moving and limiting the flow of the unconscious. In art there is a public manifestation and a shared viewing; both people see the same thing; there is an object for the shared gaze of the spectators. This is a significant factor because, unlike other modes of active imagination, the traces of its path are recorded for both people to see.