Flexing the frame: therapist experiences of museum-based art psychotherapy

Alison Coles, Fiona Harrison, Saira Todd

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This article reports on research undertaken by three art psychotherapists into our own experiences of facilitating art psychotherapy groups in museums. Drawing on concepts of tacit knowledge, action research, reflexivity and arts-based research, we engaged in structured discussions and reflective art-making in three areas of focus, and then carried out a simple thematic analysis of the data. The areas of focus were: the role of museum objects within the art psychotherapy process; the movement between and within the private artmaking space and the public spaces of the museum; and the potential impact of the public nature of the museum. The themes we identified relate to familiar theoretical concepts such as containment, mentalisation, transitional objects and space, attachment and joint attention. Our research has led us to challenge our feeling that we were ‘breaking the rules’ of ‘orthodox’ group art psychotherapy practice by working outside the framework of a traditional therapy room. We conclude that there is potential value in this particular way of ‘flexing’ our practice and encourage other art psychotherapists to explore museum-based work and share their experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-67
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Art Therapy
Issue number1-2
Early online date14 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • art therapy
  • art psychotherapy
  • museums
  • galleries
  • adults
  • group
  • mental health
  • complex


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