The most common words I hear when I first invite a client to draw or paint in a session are, “I can’t draw” or “I can’t paint.”
Transactional Analysis Script introject
TA’s cognitive approach embraces relational dynamics on the understanding that developmental blocks in earlier years are likely causes for negative self-beliefs and behaviours (Stewart and Joines, 2009). Since 2009, when Stewart and Joines published their book, developments in neuroscience within the folds of left and right brain hemispheres provide a wider scope to explore multi-sensory intelligences and creative thought, which in this article focuses on drawing skills. Professor Betty Edwards identifies five key perceptual skills comprised of ‘edges, relationship, lights and shadows’ for engaging effectively with visual arts. Edwards’ also uses the term ‘sighting’ as it relates to ‘proportion and perspective’ (Edwards 2014: XV - XVI). Her ‘upside drawings’ also provide evidence based visuals in her case studies with young children. She explains this process as ‘tricking the dominant left hemisphere’ in order to detract preconceived ideas that hinder perception.
Eric Jensen, educational researcher and another advocate of the Arts in education seems to resonate with Edwards’ ideas relating to cognitive awareness and creative skill (Jensen, 2001). He quotes American psychologist Abraham Maslow best known for his model of Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow states, “The arts are far closer to the core of education than are the more exalted subjects.” As Jensen suggests, the arts play a vital role in a child or adolescent’s capacity to absorb learning and open their minds to culturally diverse aesthetics’ (Jensen, 2001: 49). Both Edward and Jensen suggest that the engaging with and emotive expression when connected with the making or actively viewing an inspiring art form, heightens the senses and awakens the spirit. In this context I use the term spirit to mean the essence of Self. Jensen’s work at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) is based on exemplary models of select schools including the Waldorf schools in North America (Jenson, 2001: 11). I have extracted information below from the website, as it reflects ideas presented in this article, especially in view of their excellent graduate record:
‘[Their schools take an] experiential, and academically rigorous approach to education. They integrate the arts in all academic disciplines
[Their curriculum is] based on the insights, teachings and principles of education outlined by the world-renowned artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. The principles of Waldorf Education evolve from an understanding of human development that address the needs of the growing child.
Music, dance and theater, writing, literature, legends and myths are not simply subjects to be read about and tested. They are experienced. Through these experiences, Waldorf students cultivate their intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities to be individuals certain of their paths and to be of service to the world.
Professors who have taught Waldorf students across many academic disciplines and across a wide range of campuses—from State Universities to Ivy League—note that Waldorf graduates have the ability to integrate thinking; to assimilate information as opposed to memorizing isolated facts; to be flexible, creative and willing to take intellectual risks; and are leaders with high ethical and moral standards who take initiative and are passionate to reach their goals’ (2015, Online).
Aside from the biased self-promotion of the above texts, there is enough tangible evidence to wonder why these outstanding educational models are not implemented in our state schools? I am not suggesting that schools should be confined to Steiner’s philosophy - I don’t agree with everything, such as the focus on harmony alone in the making of art - but our policy makers, whoever they happen to be, keep repeating the same mistakes.
Within a holistic model incorporating the arts in education it becomes clear that we need to have some idea about the function of the brain. The primary focus on the left-brain hemisphere accesses memory, an ability to absorb learning and organise thoughts (Jensen, 2001). Additionally these transferable qualities optimise effective time-management and essay methodologies. However, students with dyslexia, ADHD, or suffering from anxiety and panic attacks are likely to experience shortfalls in left-brain functions (see the Mindfulness article under Arts & Education under sub-heading, Mindfulness, breath and neuroscience). So while a pupil goes through escalating anxiety and panic prior to exams then demoralised by low grades, some of them plunge into despair and hopelessness. It seems unfathomable that the architectural structure of the education system does not seem to empathise enough to engage in discussions with a wider educational and therapeutic community. I believe that these constructs lean toward oppressive dictatorship. How does anyone’s brain function in a rigid environment? I feel compelled to say to the legislators tramping into the heart of what education could be: “Wake up! The children and adolescents’ experience at school doesn’t need to be modelled on a Charles Dickens novel.” Since that impoverished period when Charles Dickens wrote so vividly about the plight of children, it is obvious that we have come far by comparison. But not far enough, because the mentality as it relates to children still seems to be encumbered by staunch patriarchal precepts.
At least neuroscience provides more leverage in the evidence addressing links with education, the arts and the brain. So coming back to the drawing aspect of this article, Jensen’s account of how the brain is connected with seeing, through the ‘the brain’s visual system,’ he says involves ‘feedback and feedforward loops.’ I believe that this is a profoundly significant point when teaching drawing skills. With the back and forward brain dynamics he mentions, Jensen emphasises what happens during the process of drawing. When I was teaching drawing to a group of teenage girls their “can’t do this… it’s too hard” mantras changed when they became receptive to the learning and the stunning difference in what they later produced. This experience broke through their limited beliefs. Jensen refers to the dilemma of ‘remembering how something “should” look…while seeing it’ (Kosslyn, 1996 in Jensen, 2001: 55). The capacity to see what is, is an essential quality accelerating awareness. So for children and young people (also applicable to adults), the kinesthetic and tactile engagement provide a holistic template. They are able to see their accomplishments and to hold the evidence of what they have personally achieved, and with continuity of positive experiences plasticity in the brain is able to miraculously cause a shift towards more positive thought processes.
Neuroscientist Bessel van der Kolk’s description of neuroplasticity suggests a fusion of ‘neurons that fire… and wire together’ when consistency occurs. He exemplifies this dynamic by contrast, such as a person who feels ‘safe and loved’ thereby igniting these neurons to open up the pathways for ‘exploration, play and cooperation.’ However, for an individual who is ‘frightened and unwanted’ the emotional and feeling impact corresponds to ‘fear and abandonment’ (Van der Kolk, 2014: 56). So the plastic brain would seem to be linked with emotional wellbeing and a sense of safety. It is unsurprising that deficits in learning and concentration are rampant in schools. Too many of these pupils live in fear. They hear about gang violence and murder and almost every young person I have seen has known at least one adolescent who has been knifed to death. These disturbing realities cause tremendous insecurities, and I am struck by the casual comments alluding to expectations that this will happen to them. This type of thinking is also compounded by the tendency to bottle up feelings, which are then brought to the surface in the therapy sessions. However, it does not necessarily change the reality of children and young people at risk in a more general way, such as living in violent neighbourhoods.
In the arts-based psychotherapeutic interventions, mindfulness meditations, talking and listening, the child or adolescent is give the space to lighten their load. After a while when they become more stabilised, by first tending to their primary needs, they become more present and able to move forward into healthier and productive ways of engaging with the world. This has been my experience for the most part.
Art Child-Adolescent Psychotherapy Education
Copyright Deborah Shaer 2016. All Rights Reserved
Text condensed (Jensen,2001: pp54-55)
'Girl on an envelope' DS 2016
The multiple advantages in learning to draw, in a compatible educational and therapeutic setting, offer tools in which to enter into a deeper, wider internal space where imagination and creativity can thrive. The human spirit has the enormous capacity to overcome obstacles even in the most horrific circumstances. Malala Yousafzai’s fight for children’s rights for education, having survived an assassination attempt in her homeland Pakistan, is an example of what is possible. In England we are fortunate that education is offered to everyone, yet at the same time we too need to recognise constraints rather than normalize them.
Ruea-araka 1985: 412
Deborah Shaer: artist & Arts Therapist
Take hold of my flattened-crown; wrinkled brow; observing eye; obstructed-nose; conversing-mouth; chattering-lips
The Arts, imagination and play, together with a capacity for relating and enjoying close as well as intimate relationships, synthesise core elements of joyful expression infused with rich emotional, mental and spiritual juice. However, social and intellectual impairments in children and young people rooted in trauma or other destabilising factors often place them at a profound disadvantage. One of those disadvantages concerns academia, despite the support of Special Needs and individual learning mentors. Within the spectrum of diagnoses such as autism or dyslexia, negative mirroring may contribute to their resistance in engaging, thinking and doing. Learned helplessness and laziness are real, yet when the root is uncovered such as a negative script, there is something tangible to work with. In Transactional Analysis the script symbolises repetitive verbal and non-verbal messages from parent to child and adolescent known as introjects (Stewart and Joines, 2009: 32). Here’s an example:
The diagram below illustrates the introject droning on as background noise in the mind. I notice in the ambiguity of ‘choosing’ not to question or challenge its accuracy there is most often a huge resistance to breaking the ‘spell’ perpetuating this type of bondage. It would seem that beliefs provide a safe sense of familiarity, despite the limitations they present. As Stewart and Joines suggest, ‘the script serves a purpose for a frightened infant-child as a mechanism for survival of perceived threat’ (Stewart and Joines, 2009: 102). Therapeutic interventions are different for each unique individual, though as a generalisation for an adolescent, one focus might be to encourage new thinking and problem solving skills in order to mobilise these fixed gestalts. However, the dynamics between the therapeutic or teacher-pupil relationship requires time for the young person to begin to trust prior to addressing difficult issues. And at this juncture, repair becomes possible.
Author: Deborah Shaer 6 March 2016, London
Visual arts including doodling can create a more mellow frame of mind. Brain mechanisms involved in seeing are outlined above in the right hand diagram. The markers are intended to indicate the region of connective brain activities involved in processing information based on Jensen’s text.
Central Visual Pathways, The pupillary light reflex diagram [ONLINE] Available at
http://www.bioon.com/bioline/neurosci/course/cenvis.html. Accessed 6 March 2016.
Edwards, B, 2014 Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A course in enhancing creativity and artistic confidence: The Definitive 4th Edition, London, Souvenir Press Ltd.
Jensen, E, 2001, Arts with the Brain in Mind, Alexandria, Virginia, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
Ruea-a-raka in Rothenberg, J (Ed) 2nd Ed 1985, The Body-song of Kio, Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe & Oceania, London, University of California Press, Ltd.
Stewart, I and Joines, V, 2009 TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis, Nottingham, Lifespace Publishing.
Van der Kolk, B, 2014 The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, London, Allen Lane: the Penguin Group.
Waldorf Education, 2015, online Waldorf Education [ONLINE] Available at https://waldorfeducation.org/waldorf_education. Accessed on 6 March 2016.