Representations of Trauma, Memory-layered pictures and repetitive play in art therapy with children

Caroline Case

Abstract


This article explores some common themes that emerge in the therapy of traumatised children where memory of significant events in their lives is not consciously or verbally available to them or the therapist. Children may initially present layered pictures and/or play repetitive scenarios either in the sand tray or with toys. The layered pictures are gradually unpacked in therapy as trust and a sense of containment develop. The play is at first unusual in that it has little accompanying emotion and is told as a story that often peters out with no clear ending. Events in the therapy room between child and therapist or sometimes events in the child’s life outside the therapy may be a catalyst for moments of re-living the trauma which is given words and becomes available to be thought about together and then the presenting symptoms ease.

These themes will be demonstrated through discussion of the therapy of a boy age seven. Those who work with children in areas of inner city deprivation and social exclusion will be familiar with this kind of presentation. His struggles with traumatic memory and to achieve an active sense of self emerging from a protective relationship with his mother will be discussed with particular attention to the changing transference initially to the images, in play to the therapist as maternal object and to the therapist as paternal object. This article follows on other recent writing exploring images and enactments in therapeutic relationships (Case 2009; Case 2009a submitted for publication).

Key words: bereavement, layered pictures, haunted houses, memory, repetitive play, enactments, domestic violence, maternal depression


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