Introduction to Art Therapy 101
There is a certain fascination I have always held for psychological evaluation, therapy, and analysis -- like so many unopened packages under a Christmas tree -- revealing mysteries and unlocking doors with hidden keys, doors heretofore sealed tight.
Such was my attitude as a young, second grade teacher who approached the needs of each child in my first year classroom with only the most sincere effort, enthusiasm, and devotion. This first year of teaching I was especially worried about a quiet, very cautious little guy named Norman who kept to himself and shared nothing, not a word. He had been hurt deeply by people who were supposed to care for him, and now, as expected, he had difficulty trusting.
I watched him closely for clues that might help me unlock his secrets, and thereby find a way to heal his hurts. I was confident that Norman and I were doing well as student and teacher, and that I could help him find his way in the safe environment of our classroom.
One winter afternoon the class was drawing free-style and coloring with brand new crayons, a relaxed and favorite activity. Each table of six children had a big box filled with crayons to share. As I approached Norman, I noticed that he was hard at work on his drawing. When I looked down at his work, my heart nearly stopped. He was drawing abstract shapes and lines with black, brown, and dark green. Very foreboding! “What does this drawing reveal about Norman's secrets? How might I analyze his colors, shapes, the mysteries of this small boy's drawing?” The lines were jagged and ominous. Deep in the center of the drawing was a small yellow circle. It was clear to me that this drawing held a key to Norman's deepest, darkest mysteries and his eventual psychological healing.
"Norman," I said with care, "I notice that you have used a combination of dark colors. Can you tell me about your drawing?" (I had learned in college that this was the appropriate type of wording one uses with children when trying to draw out their honest, heartfelt impressions without adult interference. I felt good that I had remembered this approach and anxiously anticipated his reply.)
Norman looked up at me with a somewhat troubled expression in his eyes, and then proceeded to talk in more than a single word reply for the first time I could remember, filling me in on his impressions about his artwork.
"Well, you see," he began, "all da pretty colors was bein' used. Dese gunky ones was all that was left in the box. So, I just colored wid 'em. I really wanna make a red house with a cat on the roof."
could almost hear a bell ring in my brain. BONG! "Oh," I said.
"Let me bring you some more crayons, then. Be right back."
It was my turn to learn a lesson, and second grade is never too early to begin. The little red house Norman drew was warm and brightly lit, a huge brown cat purring contentedly on the roof, flowers as big as trees, and a sun in the left-hand corner with a smile directed to a teacher who tries very very hard.