The Box – a powerful image by a client

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The Box – a powerful image by a client

Working with creative arts in counselling  is an incredibly effective therapeutic method.  Art making in itself can be beneficial  and can have measurable and wide ranging benefits on mental health, it can reduce stress and anxiety and improve clinical outcomes in therapy (1).

This may be partly because it taps into  our natural creativity. Art  also  provides a safe outlet for the expression of emotional issues that are confusing or distressing without the needs for words, and this  can help promote emotional processing  and the emergence of new perspectives.

Working with art using PCATS skills can add an additional element of therapeutic-ness. In person-centred terms it can allow more of the client’s material to be present, offering greater opportunity to empathise and for the client to feel understood on a deeper level.

Working with the symbolism in the image, using person-centred art therapy skills for example, can allow new insights to develop.  In other words, expressing things in a visual way can help clients see things differently, and discover new solutions or directions.

In sessions clients may draw spontaneously, or may have a specific idea of what they would like to express. At times a guided visualisation or a suggested theme can be helpful and feel less daunting for clients.

A visualisation or suggested theme can be a useful ‘hook’  for the for subconscious to project material onto. Client’s can feel self-conscious, or self-critical when creating an image,  or they may censor their images, ‘I wont use black because she might think I’m depressed’ . Using a theme  can  help to allow  the creative, right side of the brain to come to the fore and create an image which is a metaphor without any censoring from the right side of the brain.

I’d like to share with you this image titled  ‘getting out of a box’  which was created by a client in response to a visualisation.

This image was a powerful image for the client, and a representation of her situation and dilemma.

Working with PCAT skills enabled the meaning to emerge from subconscious knowing to conscious awareness, in the client’s words;

The box  is a small, self built, cosy and practical retreat. But the doors (and even the roof) are open and the sea, and the rich vibrant nature of the outside is calling.

There are dangers but this is outweighed by the richness of what is out there to be experienced.

The lighthouse in the distance symbolises guidance and hope.

This image arrived at a time of change and of choices for the client. It symbolises the clients choice between the safety of the cosy and practical box – her existing life, and the call of the vibrant outside – the life she wants for herself. There is some fear at the risk and she hasn’t yet stepped outside  the box. But there is also guidance from the lighthouse which highlights the dangers and helps her feel safer in taking some risk.

The visual representation of the richness of the ‘outside’ and the guidance she felt was available to help her on her journey allowed her to develop a new perspective, helping her feel in touch with her courage and make the decision to move forward in a new direction in her life.

Working with image can be incredibly powerful and empowering. It is a rich and rewarding resource to offer clients, that can enable deep growth and healing. 

I have worked with art in therapy for around fifteen years, and am still as moved by the power and potential of art as when I started. As a therapist it can be a fascinating and rewarding way of working . 


1. Arts Health and Wellbeing. The Welsh NHS Confederation. May 2018–health-and-wellbeing.pdf


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