In preparation for an upcoming course on issues of professional practice in art therapy, I read this book on postmodernism and art therapy, as edited by Helene Burt. The book itself is comprised of a number of different author’s contributions, who are practicing or researching art therapists themselves. The focus of the chapters vary, based on the practitioner’s area of personal research or practice. They include areas such as: language differences between clients and therapists, working with a diversity of culture in certain areas, feminist theory and art therapy, and working with transient youth populations. The one string that ties everything together, however, is the fact that the ideas presented all fall into what would be considered postmodernism ideas.
The one problem I found, however, was that how each author understands postmodernism is not specifically defined by them. In a book that emphasizes individual differences and the individual experience, it would make sense for the contributors to explain how they understand the concept, as this is not explicitly expressed in any manner. There are bound to be a few differences in conceptualization and understanding. The research portion presented is largely done so with studies involving small groups with qualitative data, as this field in itself is still in somewhat of a growing stage. Overall, however, the chapters are informative, though some of the writer’s styles do not exactly align with my tastes and come off as somewhat dry.
What I’m left with the most from this book is the idea that while we may think we understand people’s experiences and can generalize them based on some factor (race, gender, sexual orientation), each person has had their own experiences in life. It really reminds me of the ridiculous new trend of people to say they are “women against feminism” because they feel they don’t need feminism in their own experience. But just because one person in a group does not experience something that doesn’t mean others don’t. All the little subgroups must be taken into account as well: ie, women of color, transgendered women, etc, who not only encounter certain oppressions and experiences due to being women, but also other issues within their specific groups on top of that. While we may sometimes want to say that we don’t see or recognize differences in others (the “colorblind” theory), this often informs us as to some aspect of how a person might experience or perceive their world. Furthermore, being culturally aware is important when working with others, as this can inform us of how they might view certain acts or actions: for instance, what is respectful to one may not be so to another, based on how their are raised or certain cultural views.
I suppose what I’m taking with me more than anything is the idea that while we should treat people equally and without prejudice, we cannot just not see or ignore the fact that differences exist and that these differences will have an affect on how a person experiences the world. This is incredibly important to remember in the helping professions, so I suppose taking that message with me is a good thing, even if some of the ideas related specifically to art therapy didn’t stick quite as well with me.
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