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Healing the inner child through portrait therapy: Illness, identity and childhood trauma

23 June 2019

This article this is a co-written case study by art therapist Susan Carr and patient-researcher (PR) Susan Hancock

Susan Handcock is one of seven people who participated in Carr’s PhD research project. Susan Hancock is a former university lecturer who was diagnosed with incurable cancer shortly after retirement; her publications include The Child that Haunts Us: Symbols and Images in Fairytale and Miniature Literature (2008, published by Routledge). In her PhD project, Carr researched portrait therapy as a collaborative art therapy intervention for people living with Life-Threatening and Chronic Illnesses (LT&CIs) who experience illness as a disruption to their sense of self-identity.

Portrait therapy reverses the ‘terms of engagement’ within art therapy, using the art therapist’s ‘third hand’ to create portraits for patients, yet co-designed by patients. The focus of this article is an exploration of the role portrait therapy plays in helping people living with LT&CIs to explore and heal childhood trauma.

We examine the therapeutic implications of transforming traumatic memories and argue that through a process of mirroring and attunement, portrait therapy enables people to develop an increase in their creative capacity to adapt to the way illness impacts upon their inner child and to gain an increased sense of self-identity coherence.


This article by Susan Carr & Susan Handcock has been published online here

This article has been made FREE ACCESS until 31st July 2019 

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