Friday, June 03, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 2

Returning to Professor Levine's Arts Therapy

Model early Irish Monastery at Glendalough. May 2011
I wish now to continue my commentary on Stephen K. Levine's wonderful little book Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul (Jessica Kingsley, London, 1997) which I began more than six months ago but left off completing for one reason or another in these pages.  The book is essentially a thoughtful and philosophical treatment of the use of the arts in therapy.  Levine cogently argues that poiesis, which is essentially the creative act itself, is also the very act by which we affirm our identity and humanity.  Being such it has much to say to and do with therapy in its multifarious forms.

Expressive Arts Therapy is just that - it does what it says on the tin.  It's all about enabling the self or the individual soul to express itself as creatively as possible.  Hence, these types of therapy comprise the whole spectrum of the human soul's creative abilities - music (including human song and poetry), painting of all types, sculpture, design, drama, creative writing and many more besides.  In all of these, the human soul seeks to put to flight, to take off, to soar, to sing itself whole in the beauty of its very being, in the beauty of its own very soul-song. The aim of Expressive Arts Therapy to my mind is simply this - to enable the soul to sing itself whole in the beauty of its very being.

How does a person become an Expressive Arts Therapist?

It is to answering this pertinent question that Levine dedicates chapter five of the book, though he does not number his chapters.  A person can become a healing artist by undergoing a system of training or more precisely a "hands-on", experiential education which not alone equips the candidate to become an effective arts therapist, but one which also brings about a potent transformation in the trained person himself/herself.  He calls his method of training a "presentation." (See op.cit., pp 43 ff.) 

Giving a Presentation

Modern copy of an old manuscript, Glendalough May 2011
Levine gets his would-be Expressive Arts Therapists to present to the group some inner conflict or personal issue, and that conflict or issue must be presented through one or more artistic media.  When the student has given his/her presentation, the group is invited to engage in some feedback to help the presenter.  initial feedback takes the following format: "I feel that...," "I imagine that..," or "I remember that..,"  or "I resonate with what you say..."  Then, further feedback can be expressed in artistic format.  Moreover, when the presentation is complete, the student must write  a process report, in which he or she reflects on the process they engaged in.

In short, what the trainee Expressive Arts Therapist is at is presenting themselves to the group, or in Levine's words "they are showing the pain and suffering in their lives." (Ibid., p. 44)  Now they are not merely representing this pain or suffering, they are actually re-enacting it or making it present in the here and now.  In all of this, the student must be aware of their own responses and reactions and those of the others in the group.  Levine informs us that these presentations do not always work, but that when they do, they authenticate both presenter and the participating group.  In this way, the would-be therapists face one another with openness, authenticity and a sense of communion.  Further, the participants encounter their own vulnerability and that of others in the group.  In this way each participant shows his/her "psychopathology,"  in the original root meaning of that word, i.e., a logos of the pathos of the psyche or a telling of trhe suffering of the soul.  Let me conclude now with Levine's own words:

If the presenter "talks about" his or her suffering instead of putting it into artistic form, it remains distant from us; it is not actualized in the here and now.  On the other hand when the moment of opain is re-created in an artistic form, then it becomes real as if it were occurring for the first time.  We cannot help but be affected or moved by it. (Ibid., p. 45)

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