Art Therapy

My wife, Hephzibah is an art therapist. I have often found it useful to ask her to do an art therapy assessment on some of my patients where I have felt I need additional homeopathic information.

What is Art Therapy

Art therapy is a psychotherapeutic process which depends on art as its chief therapeutic agent. It is distinct from sychotherapy in that the healing potential depends on the psychological processes that are activated through
creative work. There is a difference between an art therapy intervention (ongoing weekly sessions) and an art therapy assessment (one or two sessions).

What is the link between Art Therapy and Homeopathy?

Art therapy can be also used as a tool in diagnostic assessment in order to support the homeopath in finding the correct remedy. The art therapy assessment is not conducted in order to make a diagnosis, but to cut down the field. In many situations the homeopath will eventually find the most suitable remedy, however there are always the difficult cases. In some of these cases the difficulty for the homeopath has been in obtaining the relevant clinical material.

To a certain extent, the homeopathic conversation relies on the verbal skills of the patient. In his book, The Homeopathic Conversation, Dr. Brian Kaplan has referred to the difficulties of consulting patients who are familiar with homeopathy, and who may use language in a sophisticated way to hide behind, and not actually disclose much information. Art therapy is
very useful with these patients as they tend to be less skilled in image-making than they are in language. The art therapy process can help open up the patient and show sides of himself that might not be revealed in words. Conversely, art therapy is also very useful for patients who are not as skilled in the English language. This includes children, patients who speak English as a second language, and patients with learning difficulties (see case history below).

In art therapy one can express in images what may be difficult to express in words: “It’s like having a private photograph of you to convey how you are feeling at a certain point in your life. Art therapy is a very explicit, accurate language and images go very deep, maybe back to childhood.” (Silverstone, L . Art Therapy: The Person-Centred Way. Jessica Kingsley 1994)

Similar remedies can present similar clinical material and when there is a differential diagnosis, an art therapy assessment can help find the correct remedy. In one case of a six year old girl who was referred to me for an assessment, the homeopath had two possible remedies in mind, and feedback to him from my session confirmed which remedy to prescribe. In the art therapy room Jodie (not her real name) was very organised, always putting the art materials back in place, not leaving them out. The images were not specifically revealing homeopathically (teletubbies without hands / a bottle of champagne / family portrait ) but what was more interesting was the way Jodie coloured in the picture of her mother’s clothes. As she did this, she spoke about her mother’s purple bra “I can see her booboos”. She also undressed, and left undressed, every single Barbie doll I have in my consulting room. Some of the dolls, she even tied up in a repetitive (obsessive?) way. My feelings were that she was a fairly sexualised little girl and the suggested remedy of Hyoscyamus was confirmed.

The art therapy assessment

The image alone rarely gives sufficient information to confirm a remedy, and indeed this way of working is not advised. The assessment takes into consideration the process of image-making, as well the social skills and behaviour of the client.

“The psychotherapist’s single most valuable tool is the process focus. Think of process as opposed to content. In a conversation, the content consists of the actual words uttered, the substantive issues discussed; the process, however, is how the content is expressed and especially what this mode of expression reveals about the relationship between the participating individuals.” (Yalom, I. Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, Penguin 1989 p.95)

In art therapy the choice of art materials, the approach to the art materials, the relationship to the materials are considered part of the process, as described by Yalom. We not only take heed of the above, and consider it useful information, but then also consider how the image is actualised. When the client makes a mistake when the paper inadvertently gets dirty; when paint spills out unexpectedly etc. etc. All this makes the client react in particular ways which gives the therapist information about the client.

In art therapy we consider:

1. the choosing of the materials (process)
2. the making of the image (process)
3. the response to the image (content of the finished product)
4. the response to the therapist’s response to the image (process, content and relationship) as useful, or diagnostic, information.

Hence, detailed observation is an important part of this assessment. The homeopath cannot simultaneously converse with, and observe the patient, without losing a certain amount of relatedness. The art therapy assessment however, is not only an exercise in observation, it is also about engaging the patient in self-expressive work in order to allow diagnostic information to be revealed through the image.

When a patient comes to an art therapy assessment he can choose to paint in silence, and indeed the art therapist should allow the patient to have a quiet conversation with his painting. In encouraging the internal conversations (including fantasies and fears) to surface, through the tangible form of painting, the art therapist can then help the patient. The careful observations, the internal dialogue, the fantasies, the fears, the image itself, can all help in providing the homeopath with relevant material to support accurate prescribing.

Art therapy is my particular field, however I do think it is possible for music therapists (Dr. Kaplan writes an interesting section on music tastes), or dance-movement therapists to support the homeopathic process in a similar way.

Whilst I have a cursory knowledge of homeopathy, and a fair understanding of its principles, I find it is far easier to be without prejudice and try not to find the remedy myself. Otherwise I can manipulate the art media in order to support a theory.

Case history : Lara (not her real name)

Young woman, age 28, with learning difficulties, and autism. Dark hair, dark eyes, fair skinned, bad complexion, overweight, hunched posture. Would suffer from regular period pains with tender breasts. Loved (mostly pop) music. This is an image of Lara depicting the art therapy experience. Hephzibah on (left). Lara on (right). She wrote:

“Hepzibar talking to (Lara) in a nice way how to get over autistic features……..

I like to get over Autistic features”

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I saw Lara on a weekly basis for ongoing art therapy. She was very communicative of her feelings. Her emotional intelligence seemed to exceed her cognitive intelligence. Lara was living with her parents, while waiting for an available place in a group residence. I was helping her with this inevitable and difficult separation from family home to group home. Lara said that she “wanted help to get over her fears and phobias”. These included fear of stairs, escalators, going upside down, balloons, fireworks, bangs. Lara would have anxious episodes on an hourly or daily basis. She would lapse into repetitive and stereotypic behaviour, where would repeat in words and images her main passions in life.

Steep Stairs
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Her first passion was a great interest in Space, Outer Space and Space Travel. She collected astronomy books and often depicted herself in orbit, in her space suit. I had the sense that this interest, depicted in her paintings, was more about staying in the shell of her space suit, with her mother, in her respective space suit next to her, than actual love of travel. Being in Space seemed to represent an autistic type of “cut-off but still connected” existence. (When we finished therapy, she chose to take all the Space images with her to her new home, hence I cannot show them here, but have described a particularly important image accurately.)

Her second or third passion was the love of travelling. She had had opportunities in the past to go on a couple of European holidays with her parents, and organised special group trips around England. Moreover, going to her local shopping centre, or discovering a new café in a different suburb, was also deemed as travelling. She would bring lists of all the new places she had visited, and revisit, in her images, all of her previous trips. It was unclear whether travel represented a genuine love of travel and exploration, the desire to leave home, or the affirmation that she was grown up, independent and in essence, did what normal people did.

I Love to Travel
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Her other second or third passion was her desire to work in an office, as an ‘admin. assistant’. This was partly based on her desire to be accepted as a “normal person”. However over a 12 year period Lara had had many many different opportunities for career training, of which many of them were suitable for her level of skill and concentration. E.g. She had learnt gardening, cookery, catering, woodwork, massage, bursar, librarian, computer training etc. etc. However working in an office was her dream. This was also reinforced through repeated conversations and images about the clothes she would have to wear, “smart-casual”, and her understanding that fashion helps define a person.

Working in an Office
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Suggested remedies

calc. carb. (the pearl)

Suits her physiognomy / fair, fat, flabby

Grandgeorge: fear of leaving the shell

“The main mental symptom is fear. If a child has more than three fears (for example, fear of the dark, of dogs, of illness), calc. carb should be considered…….throughout their lives, our calc. carb subjects will try to rebuild a protective shell, from the cradle cap and umbilical hernia of the infant to the search for stable employment (often as civil servants) in adulthood.”

(Grandgeorge, D. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley 1998 p.50)

Dr. David Lilley wrote in his masterclass article in Health and Homeopathy. Spring 2001 “Calc. carb – the oyster – representing an awful sense of isolation, severance from mother nature, separation fear and naked exposure to a hostile environment.”
Lilley goes on to say ” The fat Calc. carb baby is content to sit where placed, twiddling its toes or amusing itself with some object, for hours on end. their hesitancy is often due to an innate fear of a hostile world. In the extreme case autism may result…….”

“something growing inside (resembling the pearl in the oyster)”
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Differential Diagnosis

calc. phos. growth

Individuals needing calc. phos. Are sensitive to injustice. “It’s not fair!” these children say constantly. In fact they do not have the energy reserves they need to attain the goals they set for themselves: to leave father and mother (they desire to travel, but become anxious as soon as the family nest is too far away)…….. (Grandgeorge p.52)


Having had the privilege of working with Lara for over 2 years, I can clearly see how the suggested remedies match her emotional landscape. However, in this case Lara was not a homeopathic patient but an art therapy client. The next stage would be to refer Lara as a homeopathic patient, for the homeopath to take her case history, and then to meet with the art therapist to discuss possible remedies.

What I am advocating to the homeopathic community, is to consider the use of art therapy as an additional method of obtaining information about your patients. This can be a helpful, certainly creative, and interesting way to enliven homeopathic practice.

Hephzibah Kaplan B.Ed (Hons), Dip. ATh. STAT(A)
140 Harley Street
London W1G 7LB

(T) 020-7487 3416
(M) 07946-603715