Many eating disorder clinics incorporate some sort of art therapy into their treatment program. Patients are asked to draw or paint pictures depicting their relationship with their parents, their feelings about their eating disorder, or of things that make them happy or sad. From analyzing these pictures, the therapist believes he can see what emotional struggles are happening in the patient's psyche.
I recall one social worker discussing our daughter's artwork. She had been asked to draw a happy scene, and she chose to sketch a picture of our family hiking into a backcountry cabin (an activity that has brought our family much pleasure over the years). He pointed out something troubling in this sketch. "I notice that your daughter is holding your hand but not your wife's hand." He was convinced this may be indicative of some deep underlying emotional issues between mother and daughter.
Now I don't know about you, but I'm just a little too skeptical to accept a sketch of a happy scene as indicative of anything except my daughter's artistic ability. To infer that any objective conclusions about a person's psychological status can be obtained from analyzing their art is just a little bit too much like palm reading, or phoning a psychic hotline. Perhaps when my daughter drew the second and third figures, she placed it just a little too far away and rather than erase it and smudge the drawing, she just didn't draw them holding hands. There could be many explanations.
The subjectivity involved in interpreting someone's art renders this sort of exercise totally useless. If the object were to teach the patient art skills, then it may have some value. I believe it is just one more example of how speculative and subjective many therapists become. All objectivity is lost when the therapist already knows what he's looking for in these drawings.
Some patients are asked to depict their relationship with their eating disorder. If they have accepted the conventional dogma, their drawings often show figures representing the "anorexic voice" or "Negative Mind". These figures often look like devils, or monsters, who taunt and torture them. I suppose if they had been told that the "anorexic voice" was a snake or a dog, we could expect to see these figures in these drawings as well.
The main point here is to be skeptical, especially if you are the parent of an anorexic patient. With these wildly subjective therapies, your child's therapist may read all sorts of things into your child's artwork that have nothing to do with reality. If you believe this stuff, you just might start to believe that your child really is going crazy.
Please contact us and tell us your experiences with art therapy, pro or con. Your input is greatly appreciated.
Loyalty to petrified opinion
never yet broke a chain
or freed a human soul