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Liesl Silverstone was a fellow of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and held a Diploma in Art Therapy, a Diploma in Counselling and Certificate in Transpersonal Psychology.  She worked for 18 years as a School Counsellor in an Inner London Secondary School in Brixton.  She taught on the SW London College Counselling Courses for 10 years and on the Westminster Pastoral Foundation Counselling courses for 4 years.

Liesl also trained as an art therapist.  Wanting to bring a more person-centred facilitative approach into her practice of art therapy, she developed her own way of working.  Liesl worked in this way with children, with educationally disadvantaged adults, in groups, with individuals and for herself, and gained extensive proof of its effectiveness and vast scope of application.

Later she created a way of teaching her approach to others.  She consulted Carl Rogers about the content and philosophy behind her course. Having seen her plan for teaching the model, in 1984, and its linking of images expressed in art form with the person-centred non-directive approach, he described it as ‘ploughing new ground’.  Later he endorsed his support in a letter.

Liesl founded the Person-centred Art Therapy Centre, (1985), offering certificate and diploma courses, workshops and supervision. The Person-centred Art Therapy Association (PCATA) followed.

The primary aim of PCATA was, and still is, to provide workshops for certificate holders in order to enhance and further embed skills and good practice. Liesl was tireless in her commitment to PCATA workshops, to the P-CATS model, to its teaching and to the supervision of the tutors who succeeded her before & after her retirement from training.

She wrote ‘Art Therapy – the Person-Centred Way’ – the first book on this approach in 1993, and Art Therapy Exercises in 2009.

The origin of the model : in Liesl’s own words

‘Several years ago, I went to Czechoslovakia, the country of my birth, with my son.

In Prague, we visited the Jewish museum. There, in the section about Terezin, the concentration camp where all my family were sent before being deported elsewhere, I saw a collection of children’s art. With the most meagre material available, children had expressed, in images, how they felt to be in Terezin.

The seeds of my work with art therapy were sown during that visit.

I was trained as a social worker ; to solve the client’s problem, to know best. I was well accustomed to that model since childhood, someone telling me what to do, what not to do. Now, as an adult, it was very easy to perpetuate that model. I knew of no other.

Then as a student on a counselling course, I came across the approach of Carl Rogers, the person-centred approach based on the belief that the person knows best, and can reach his/her own potential in a climate of acceptance, congruence and empathy. Emotionally I discovered the benefit for myself, from the client’s chair: to be heard empathically; to be deeply understood. That kind of listening felt like a precious gift whereby in turn I could trust listening to myself. To be accepted unconditionally, without judgement, enabled me to look at the unacceptable aspects of myself, to work through and go beyond them. To experience the counsellor as real, genuine, congruent, encouraged me to trust her and in turn, let myself be real.

Intellectually I embraced this approach at once and with enthusiasm. It made abundant sense on many levels – personal, social, political, international. Yet it took me a very long time to integrate, to operate. The old authoritarian model had to be uprooted first.

Slowly I began to see the benefit in my work as a school counsellor, extending the person-centred approach to young people, watching their self-esteem grow. And yet, and still yet . . . I began to notice the limitations of mere words, began to search for some other mode of knowing.

Images. Art therapy. I discovered first (inevitably) for myself the power, the potential, the truth of images made visible. I trained as an art therapist. I learned that images, like dreams, tap into the world of spontaneous knowing, nothing to do with thoughts. When dialoguing with a picture, I’d have those moments of ‘aha!’, when the image gave up – or rather when I recognised – a message to me. Through art therapy an integration between the thinking and the knowing mode, between conscious and unconscious material, could take place. I brought the person-centred mode of facilitating to the world of art therapy – allowing the client to know what the picture meant. No interpretations. No guess work. No me knowing best. The evidence was astonishing, encouraging.

I offered courses based on experiential, self-discovered learning in person-centred art therapy skills, training people working with people. As counsellor, I introduced art therapy whenever appropriate.

The seeds sown in the museum of Terezin are bearing fruit, transforming tragedy from the past to a health-enhancing resource for the here and now.’

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