IF YOU WERE IN THESE GROUPS, PLEASE CONTACT ME VIA MY E-MAIL ADDRESS.
I'd like to invite an expansion of the discussion that began (for me) in Portland. I'd love to hear your insights into the experience of MEN (both as a collective abstract and as individuals) within the field of art therapy. What is your male art therapy experience?
Although first-person narratives may be the most honest bodies of evidence from which to draw themes, I feel like the broader, often risky, sweeping generalizations may be more telling. I'm referring to the underlying "ism" dynamics that may taint our purple-colored lenses when unaddressed.
As a personal narrative, I will share that when a few women showed up to the workshop that was named "the male art therapist experience" hosted by Matthew Bernier, my feeling of safety was threatened. Will I be judged by these (/all) women if I talk openly about my fears and humiliations of not having my masculinity valued in conjunction with my role as an artist and therapist? Will I be seen as lacking in femininity? Will Woody Allen sue me for writing this way? Very much in shame for feeling so un-P.C., I was a good workshop participant and decided to 'honor my annoyance,' yet give credence to my curiosity about our common interest in the topic and how we could participate in the group.
The objectives were listed as 1) create artwork together; 2) identify commonalties among male art therapists; and 3) identify at least three unique experiences, needs, concerns, etc. of male art therapists. What experiences would they bring to the room? The ratio of women to men was one to ten in the room--the inverse of my academic and professional experience. Would we discuss this dynamic? Yes, as it turns out, but in the last thirty seconds, true to the therapy trade!
It is clear to me now that these few women brought for me, at least (and perhaps a few other folks), was the opportunity to address what I wanted to look at in my budding professional identity as a male art therapist. I was also brought into those gender-alizations and prejudices that I find comfort in keeping buried in the ground. To risk a word game, I can see these things best when I dig a shallow hole and jam my head into it.
This leads to some interesting insight into how I've been perceiving art therapy: An attitude of permissiveness, flexibility, and creative integration that is played out in the therapeutic space. I can see that like a man invested in the exploration of my masculinity within this field, art therapy keeps itself in an identity crisis through restriction, by what D.R. Johnson refers to as a professional "shame dynamic" (in . Shame dynamics among creative arts therapists. Arts in Psychotherapy, Vol. 21(3), pp.173-78). I don't really know enough about the field to put combine my experiences and his broader assertions within an historical context. The identification of some of my guilt and shame as a man in the field certainly seems to pervade my language.
In presenting this facet of my experience to you, I've chosen to isolate the angst from my otherwise full-bodied experience as an art therapy student and therapist-in-training. Indeed, I do not constantly lament over an unrequited processing of my patriarchal guilt by my 'sensitive new-age guy' persona. I love my work because art therapy evokes passion, change, relationships, with the moderation of philosophy and scientific reason. I feel like what I've presented is a significant issue in my life right now, however, it does not constitute my professional identification struggles.
The failure to build a comfortable forum for discussing this issue may risk the field's development of a compensatory over-valuing of masculinity in art therapy practice. As Johnson wrote that with shame, "Often a compensatory fantasy evolves that the self is a misunderstood and unappreciated, but secretly unique, creative person" (p. 175). This dynamic that I felt as a threat to my safety (w/ women in the "men's group') speaks to the need for my own exploration of these issues with other men. I feel that this will entail my participation in both gender-specific and non-gender-specific discussion groups for my personal growth and development.
Finally, Johnson (I swear, this is my last reference to this article!) referred to the suspected suppression of, or lack of attention to the issues of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (he didn't refer to the last two actually) art therapists. This was painfully obvious at the Portland conference this year--an impromptu meeting of GLB&TG art therapists was tentatively advertised and eventually took place on Friday, apparently during lunch in a hallway of the hotel. I'm glad to see that these insurgencies within the field are emerging toward a new mutuality of affectional-identity and gender in the collective of art therapy. Perhaps as we learn how to transcend these interior (personal and professional) struggles together, we'll sense the strength in consolidating energies toward larger common goals. Perhaps our focus could change as new conflicts usurp the illusions of value in the 'same old arguments' that have historically differentiated our field.
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