October, 2006

Jeanne RustLetter From the Founder

Dear Friends,/p>

Occasionally, I get cards from some of the women we've treated, and I start thinking about my own recovery. Early in recovery, I found out that I was not my eating disorder — a monumental discovery! Today I earn my living as a psychotherapist and CEO of an eating disorder treatment center, but I'm also an artist. When I began recovery, it was the lowest point in my life, but I was still drawing and painting. I would go to my women's group, 12-step meetings, attend individual therapy ... and draw.

While in therapy, I found that my drawing was what really opened doors. I was fortunate to have a therapist who believed in the healing power of creative expression. It was through drawing that I began to see (and appreciate) things about myself that I never knew existed.

Jeanne Rust, PhD, LPC
Founder and CEO Mirasol

Great Art ... and Great Therapy!

Art Therapy and Eating Disorder Treatment

Art therapy as a profession evolved in the 1930s, when psychiatrists began studying the artwork created by their patients to see if there was a link between creativity and illness. They discovered that the simple act of creating art reflects the client's experiences, including unresolved emotional issues and conflicts.

"When we speak, we are taught to be polite in a way that compromises the truth," says Mirasol art therapist Donita Dixon. "But in art, there's no way to lie. When I ask someone to make a drawing, the truth is there, and the subconscious puts it on paper."

A typical first assignment is to draw a house, a tree and a person. Donita asks the client to complete all three drawings and then describe each one. Called the "discovery" period, this exchange often reveals stories that are imprinted deep in the artist's memories.

treehouse personAlthough certain symbols appear to be universal, the therapist's challenge is to discover what the elements in the drawing mean to the client.

"Instead of suggesting an interpretation, I ask the client to tell me what it means," says Donita. "I watch body language, eye movements and what gets erased." Donita takes notes while the client describes her drawing, and simply reading back the client's words can trigger powerful realizations.

In the drawing at right, there's a tree that's "about 20 years old". A path from the house intersects the tree near the roots.

"Typically, the tree represents what has happened to that person in the past, and what the soul is holding onto," Donita explains. "It also represents the person's age." The path from the house to the tree could indicate important events in early childhood. The explosion of branches halfway up the tree coincides with the emergence of body image issues in adolescence.

photo of client artworkThe house represents the internal self. Smoke coming out of the chimney could indicate inner turmoil or family difficulties. The number, size and placement of windows and doors convey the ease or difficulty of communication. This client drew a house with a four-sided roof with four windows with four panes, which may represent the four members of her family. But there are no windows where the client's room would be, and the wall is obscured by a bush. How hard will it be for her to talk about family issues?

"The person is usually the artist herself," says Donita, "and what the artist leaves out tells us a lot about her." Are the eyes closed? What doesn't she want to see? If the person has no feet, she may feel stuck and unable to move or change her situation. Missing or hidden hands could signify that the client has difficulty reaching out for help.

photo of client artworkThrough regular individual and group art therapy sessions, Donita works with clients to reveal the truths they cannot speak. The power to withdraw into the art process will accompany them on their journey back to good mental health.

So will their artwork. The paintings, drawings and sculptures created during residence at Mirasol go home with the client. Only the eating disorder — and some powerful memories — get left behind.