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Revisioning Self-identity: The Role Of Portraits, Neuroscience And The Art Therapist's ‘Third Hand’

10 November 2019

This article by Susan M. D. Carr, describes an intervention that reverses the traditional ‘terms of engagement’ within art therapy...


People who suffer from life threatening and chronic illnesses often describe the impact of their diagnosis, treatment and illness as having disrupted their sense of self-identity.

This article describes an intervention that reverses the traditional ‘terms of engagement’ within art therapy, using the art therapist's ‘third hand’ to create portraits for patients, co-designed by them. This enables patients who are too unwell to make art themselves to engage in the creative design process as patient-researchers (PRs) and as valued experts on their lived experience.

Introducing two portraits painted for and co-designed by a PR who requested to be known as ‘Paul’, I will explore the hypothesis that portraits are powerful communicators with qualities that activate specific processes within the body and the brain, enabling change from a chaotic, disrupted sense of self-identity towards a stronger, more coherent one.

Using knowledge from recent advances in neuroscience, I develop theoretical insights into the neurological processes involved in vision, emotion, memory and cognition, contributing to empirical theory building in art therapy and highlighting potential areas for interdisciplinary neuro-art therapy research.

This article by Susan M. D. Carr has been made FREE ACCESS until 31st December 2019 here

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