Multimodal Expressive Arts Therapy Offered in Clients’ Homes and Alternative Spaces

Most of my clients cannot drive. Many live in economically oppressed areas and sometimes the cost of round trip public transportation is prohibitive, especially when several members of a family would need to travel to visit me in my office.  My clients speak only Spanish and finding a bilingual therapist is a huge challenge where I live in Atlanta. For these reasons, I visit clients in their homes and communities for therapy.

Planning activities, deciding which Expressive Arts materials I will bring with me, and making use of what is available in the home has presented some creative and practical challenges, but also some great opportunities to work a little bit less traditionally.

One client L, decided to pursue her dream of opening a small store a block from her apartment. Because of her busy schedule, we met in her store at a time customers generally did not come in, but where she would be available to greet a prospective client if one might stop by. Her store was a sacred space for her – she had all of her art and creative materials there. It was a peaceful place and a place where she felt safe.

In her store, we told stories of her experiences and I told stories of women who encountered challenges similar to hers, reading from narratives and translating them into Spanish.  We reflected on the stories. She drew with oil sticks or wrote in her art journal. She also kept books with images of artists’ work in her store to reflect on for inspiration.

L liked to create assemblages in the form of “gift baskets”. The basket is an example of a symbol of a feminine container, often related to women in myths. Using the basket as a container,  she could imagine the gift objects that someone might like, and place them in the baskets and decorate them. For example, she placed a teapot with a rose in a basket with pink ribbons and round pink candies. The rose is L’s favorite symbol and it is often in her drawings. The rose is a symbol of the Virgin Mary, or for L, La Virgin de Guadalupe.  The teapot is a symbol of the hearth and home. Candy is a symbol of children and playfulness.  She made this as a gift for a mother.

Basket for Mothers
Basket for Mothers

L created another assemblage basket thinking of me. It contained fashionable sunglasses and a rhinestone bracelet and earrings.  Perhaps  she was wishing me some luxury and the opportunity to be glamorous. Sunglasses could be related to a relaxed, “laid back” attitude, or alternately that the wearer is not seeing “the full picture”. The silver, gold, and “diamonds” in the items and packaging  convey meaning. Gold is a symbol of purity and incorruptibility and is related to sun and spirit.  Silver is related to immortality, to the moon, water, and feminine energies. Diamonds are considered to be indestructible. Perhaps she is communicating to me something about her transference to me.

L's basket created for me
L’s basket created for me

Creating the baskets and then reflecting in words offered the opportunity for L. to work with assemblage – selecting and bringing together symbolic objects and decorative materials by a process that resembles Freud’s method, the  Free Association process.  She sometimes followed the basket creation with drawing. Importantly, her creative and expressive work is sold, offering her the opportunity to provide for herself and her sons.


2 thoughts on “Multimodal Expressive Arts Therapy Offered in Clients’ Homes and Alternative Spaces”

  1. Dear Wendy
    I felt like I was with you in this heartfelt interchange. Thank you for giving us students another view of how therapy can transpire. It seems L’s baskets are ways the healing and supportive energy continues to others. Beautiful!

  2. This is really lovely on so many levels to me…
    bringing sacred back to vocational/work space, remaining fluid and organic in meeting another human being in a time and space that is resonant, and lastly, creating an expressive practice collaboratively by creating activities that are rooted in the client’s experiences, culture, and unique way of being.

    i wonder, when did the standard therapeutic environment become a windowless room with florescent lights?
    it seems a client is very much trying to morph into our surrounds most of the time and in this, both client and helper lose something very authentic and alive…an ease, and a story opened up simply by being inside it.

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