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Art Therapy 101
There is a certain fascination I have always held for psycho-logical
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, enthusiastic kindergarten grade
teacher who approached the needs of each child in my first year classroom
with only the most sincere effort and devotion. This first year of
teaching I was especially worried about a quiet, frightened little guy
named Norman who kept to himself and shared nothing from his heart. 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 understand 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 my class was drawing free-style and coloring with
brand new crayons, a relaxed favorite activity. Each table of six
children had a big box filled with crayons to share. Norman scribbled
absently across his paper. When I looked down at his work, my heart
nearly stopped. He was scratcing out abstract shapes and lines with
black, brown, and dark green. My mind began working on what this drawing
might reveal about Norman's secrets and how I might analyze the colors,
the 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 that this drawing held a key to Norman's deepest,
darkest mysteries and his eventual psychological healing.
"Norman," I said cautiously, "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 fill me in on his feelings about his art work.
"Well, you see," he began, "all the pretty colors were being used.
These gunky ones were all that were left in the box. So, I just colored
with them. I really wanted to draw a red house with a cat on the roof,
like at my gramma's."
"Oh," I said. "Let me bring you some more crayons, then."
So much for analyzing this particular piece of art! I learned one of
my first lessons that day.