With body and colour: what does Humanistic Art Therapy mean and how does it combine with the “Periagogè” method?

by Charlotte Trachsel * - Translation by Angela Cervera *

Where is Beauty to be found? I believe that there is no person or artistic motif that doesn’t include beauty, though sometimes well hidden. It might be up to us to disclose its treasure.

The learning context named “With Body and Colour” emphasizes the joining of two elements, where the Body is to “Periagogè” as the Colour is to “Art Therapy“.

Body meant as source of life, as a physical place crossed by impulses and perceptions, as a dimention where emotions find their way to be conveyed and materialized and again, Body as memory hardly to approach through words or thoughts. Working with body and mind allows to investigate crucial themes and to gain access to profound contents. You might even sometimes find parts of yourself again. Colour happens then to capture, fix and give shape to life experiences and memories helping them to be turned into images. Thus Body and Colour form an alliance joining deeply in mutual help.

Colour is something I have intensively had to do with during my educational process, starting from Humanistic Art Therapy in accordance to the Egger Method.

The Egger Method starts in 1965 in Switzerland thanks to Mrs. Phil Bettina Egger, a humanistic art terapy pioneer in this country, whose works still represent an important benchmark for the educational training in this academic discipline. In 1978 she founds with Mr. Robert Wirtz the Institut für Humanistische Kunsttherapie, the IHK, which marks the beginning of a new specific training and promotes effectively the official acknowledgement of Humanistic Art Therapy as a profession.

Humanistic Art Therapy uses as priviliged medium the pictorial representation within a therapeutic relationship. The emphasis is on the creative process itself rather than on the art product and its interpretation. Thus we can focus on three different phases of the art therapy work: the painting, the relationship and the process.

  1. Working on the painting

The painting represents a non verbal language composed by metaphors which express themselves through images. The painting is no longer the description of a difficulty, nor conceales a hidden meaning only accessible to the therapist but, instead, it simply represents in a direct and immediate way, a Gestalt, a reality itself.

The observation of the pictorial sign doesn’t care about the symbolical meaning, but refers to the signifier and to the images rather than to their interpretation, whereas their meaning is disclosed dialectically through and thanks to the therapeutic relationship.

A firts contact with the Periagogè Method can be found precisely here in the importance given to the relationship and to the dialogical and corporal medium. In fact the relationship, whatever educational or therapeutic, is pursued through a third element: the painiting itself, which needs both the analogical involvement of the body and a reflective approach with the consequent rise of creative forces [1].

  1. Working within a relationship

The main concept is that in a therapeutic relationship “the painter” tends towards the usual relational schemes used in the everyday life. Hence at this stage, it’s interesting to observe which communication modalities, either verbal or non verbal, are used to come into contact both with the  art product and the art therapist. The latter helps to clarify his real needs and to take responsability for it. The therapist tries sometimes also to clarify, manage or change some relational communication modalities as well as certain ways of expressing needs or fears. In so doing the possibility of widing the own “internal container” is enstablished and consequently the ability to relate with oneself and the others is improved.

  1. Working within the process

It is assumed that “painters” deal with their life just as they do in creating a painting. The therapeutic process takes places in the “here and now” and the panting simply materializes reality as it is at the moment. The painting is just what it represents and tells us that words cannot add any further information the art work contains already. While considering such reality, the “painter” will be able to re-examine the choices he made to recognise avoiding behaviuors and emotional blocks, as well as to find and use new approaches. This means that “Painters” develop their personality learning to imagine new options, increasing their sense of responsibility for any resulting choice so as to gain self-esteem and a better approach to reality.

The Periagogè Method in fact considers and employs, in different evolutionary phases, both the work on the relationship and the particular attention given to what happens during the making of the art product. This method focuses particularly on real experiences emerging at the moment of creation and, rather than referring to usual interpretative schemes based on former experiences, it brings the attention on authentic data highly significant in terms of the relationship to oneself and the others.

The Periagogè Method considers the other as a person, which has a twofold meaning: on the one hand that person conveys his own meanings and values along with specific emotional and relational behaviours, on the other he represents a function, which might be that of the educator, supervisor or therapist. The function depends on the context, the request and on the needs of the client.

There are two principal methodologies according to the Egger Method: “The Accompanied Painting” and the LOM: the “Resolving oriented Painting”.

Accompanied Painting aims to assist the persons while they are painting and creating their own images in order to help them have access to a deep and creative contact to themselves.

It is based on an experiential process and might be used both in a clinical and in a non-clinical setting.  It might in fact improve anybody’s personal growth.

Since personal growth always deals with the acceptation and inclusion, within one’s heart, of something which has formerly been denied, let out or repressed, we can say that this methodology allows to focus precisely on what has been ignored leading the person to integrate it into the present time.  It helps widen one’s own horizons, rely in self-help and gain a new perspective.

So we come across to another similarity with the Periagogè Method, that is, the acceptance and inclusion into the present time of life experiences to be gained through a slow and gradual approach to reality considered as it is, rather than as we want it to be.

The LOM: “Resolving oriented Painting”, which I personally translate as: “Where is the problem?,” has been improved by Mrs. Bettina Egger and Mr. Joerg Merz in the ‘80s and allows to deal with a wide range of difficulties and to achieve a lasting result sometimes also in a short time.

Thanks to the LOM approach – Where is the problem? – we may contact many salient aspects of our personality as: relational conflicts, emotional blocks, traumas and the memory of relationships we didn’t reconcile with. All these difficulties can burden our lives and have an influence on our future, but the LOM approach might suggest the right solutions. Persons are still accompanied, but in this case they are given a specific task. After the first painting, other creative tasks are given which will recover dreams and deep life-experiences. As usual paintings won’t be interpreted nor commented.

Promoting personal growth has usually the effect of lightning up the person and can even sometimes be amusing. Mrs. Bettina Egger used to consider the sense of humour as an essencial ingredient of Humanistic Art Therapy. She used to tell me that people with sense of humour are meant to be in a state of grace. She was right.

Both Accompanied Painting and LOM – Where is the problem? – employ metaphors and put the painting at the centre. The difference between these two methods can be explained through a metaphor as well: Accompanied Painting is to be compared to vitamins. For example we need vitamins every day to avoid getting a cold. They are also important when we are ill because they support the self-healing process. Generally speaking vitamins, just as the Accompanied Painting, are effective in a long term because they work slowly.

Whereas LOM – Where’s the problem? – might be considered as an aspirin to be taken in case of a specific disorder until the symptom disappears. This allows us to go back to the Accompanied Painting because LOM, just as an aspirin, cannot be taken continuously.

The colours used for painting are also part of the methodologies I have just described. Only colours of the quality Resonance Gouache by Lascaux Switzerland are recommended because they are able to support efficaciously the creative process which aims to sensitize the touch, promote contact, encourage movement as well as rhythm. It’s about a particular bioactive gouache colour made of pure pigments, natural tissues, enriched with sage oil, including 28 different nuances quite easy to mix. Its tactile texture allows an excellent painting experience and a connection with an intrinsic beauty.

I believe that Humanistic Art Therapy integrates and fully matches the personal experience I have gained in the Periagogè School.

I have been attending this school for six years gaining an experience which has allowed me to approach what is called the principle of “Tejas[2], according to what we name “Normodinamica[3].  Practising Tejas, which includes meditation and the study of sword fighting in the ancient japanese Kendo style, allows to go through and cope with conflicts within a relationship in a non destructive way. In fact, if the conflict towards another person is understood, included and conciliated, it becomes possible to become aware of one’s own boundaries enriching the relationship. You are thereby able to accept the other because this person is both different and similar from you showing an unknown complex personality.

I knew right from the beginning that the approach of the “Normodinamica” could have helped me to face many questions about my life. I have been able during these years to become open to new ideas, new feelings and new experiences. Practising Tejas has made me understand that being alive means also taking risks, acting without guarantees, feeling engaged in life and risking to be passionate: just as it happens to be in Art Therapy. Today trying to join “Normodinamica” and Humanistic Art Therapy represents my creative tension made of body, heart and mind.

The experience gained so far has emphasised that there are many features in common with these two approaches. I would like to mention the most important ones:

  • The need to seek for a proper shape which has to express one’s own meanings and the need of communication and creative expression.
  • The necessity to pursue the ability to manage either contact or detachment within the relationship with oneself and to the other seeking distance and closeness at the same time.
  • Being a relational individual.
  • Believing in the importance of real and immediate experience, in other words to pursue a direct relation with others in the “here and now”.
  • Enjoying the opportunity to increase one’s one opinions, so as one’s own life perspective and to gain the ability to give larger meanings to life experience.
  • The importance to understand one’s own rhythm.
  • The wish to consider positively a human being as “a whole person”.
  • The existence of a transfert which links what happens in the therapeutic/ educational setting to the daily life.
  • The importance of the role of the therapist or supervisor who is considered the one who supports the person during the process of recognizing own real self.
  • The necessity to get to a vision of the world which integrates the opposites and the understanding of the difference that is between contradiction and polarity.
  • The attention focused on neither intellectual nor theoretical experiences but on real ones deeply connected to the global psycho bodily experience.
  • The importance of increasing willpower and the sense of personal responsibility.
  • The pursue to join body, mind and heart.

The project “With body and colour”, which I consider so far an educational context, arises from all these resemblances I have personally experienced.

In fact the perception and the disclosing of one’s own self is promoted by body awareness, by the expressive power of the colours in Accompanied Painting as long as by the investigation of the meaning of movements and shapes. We are indeed talking about a real research which calls for courage while seeking for meanings and also requires the courage of surrender and sacrifice, as well as the fortitude to face fear and anger.

There are many similarities between the art of fighting we study in the Tejas approach and the experience of the making of an art product. Creating art is a total bodily experience, which employs perception and the use of senses in order to regain an analogical, complete and synchronised dimension. All this belongs to artistic communication.

In addition the awareness researched in meditation helps to become present to one’s self, both in action and within a relationship. In other words “Body and Art” allow to give birth to experiences which otherwise would remain fragmented and unspeakable with words.

I would like to finish this article with the description of an image which, in my opinion, conveys very well what I‘ve been trying to explain so far. As you can see it’s about the particular of a room I‘ve recently photographed: the way this particular has impressed me and the fact that it has become precisely this image and not another one, mirrors accurately the modality and the aims of the proposal “With the Body and Colour”. This proposal aims to make people become familiar to attentive listening, the pleasure of researching, the awareness of movements, but also to struggle and emancipation thanks to the making of a shape and a colour tone, all elements which accompany the artist to the final outcome.

The image describes the disclosing of a fragment of reality, starting from the irreducible presence of the image itself, which brings directly into the unique world of the person who has glimpsed, observed and finally produced it.

foto char

* Charlotte Trachsel: Humanistic Integrated Art therapist, professional Counselor, works for the national health system, in a physical medicine and rehabilitation centre, member of the psycho-pedagogical equipe of the Periagogè Educational and Pedagogical Study Centre.

* Angela Cervera: teaches English literature and language. She is a member of the psycho-pedagogical equipe of the Periagogè Educational and Pedagogical Study Centre.

[1] A. RICCI, Bodiliness, Reflection and Experience, Blog “Manuale inapplicabile”.

[2] Tejas: the clinical, educational and research activity in the Periagogè School is set in different fields of experience. Tejas, which uses the techniques of the Japanese Kendo and Judo, is the field which studies the developmental value of conflict, of  the emerging friction, and the possibility to handle and conciliate them.

[3] A.RICCI, What is Normodinamica?, Blog, “Manuale inapplicabile”. Soon available in English.

Normodinamica” is the name given by Doctor Paolo Menghi, infantile neuro-psychiatrist, systemic relational – psycotheraphist, cofounder in Italy of the “Istituto di Terapia Familiare ” of Rome and of the ” Società italiana di Terapia Familiare” with Maurizio Andolfi in the ’80s. “Normodinamica“, is a specific methodology that he has created between 1984-89, neology that can be translated as the study of the “normal dynamics” of the human beings and of their relathionships. It is about an educational, clinical and training approach which pursues the conscious development of the individual based on three principles: 1.the person is considered in a dialogical and psychodynamic vision, with a special care both of the intersubjective and of the deep human dimention. 2. It is based on a systemic vision of the world especially focused on the observation of processes, interdependent structures and connections. 3. It believes that conscience might be expanded throughout the whole life. The Normodinamica methodology pursues two aims: 1. the conscious aknowledgement of behaviour patterns, relationships and development phases, all in the perspective of a competent and active acceptance of reality. 2. The gradual making of a conscious and responsible will.

Menghi died in 1998. Doctor Antonio Ricci, psychopedagogist, founder of Periagogè School, has been studying and working with him since 1987.