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Post-graduate art therapy training in Israel: personal and professional transformation through dynamic artwork-based experiential transformative courses

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:06 authored by Ofira Honig
Art therapy training programmes around the world feature a unique type of course based on dynamic art-work experience and conducted in the context of a core student group. The course is usually called an 'experiential group course'. There is world-wide practical recognition in the professional art therapy literature of the need for dynamic experiential artwork-based courses in art therapy training. What is new is that Israeli lecturers have extended this 'experiential group course' into what I term 'a topic-led dynamic experiential artwork-based course'. The nature of this course in Israel and how it is deployed, planned and conducted is the subject of this thesis. The data for this dissertation were collected from in-depth and wide-ranging interviews with three groups of persons: (a) 11 of Israel's 40 lecturers lecturing on Master's degree and Masters-level plastic art therapy training programmes. All have taught in the teaching mode under investigation here for many years and I looked on them as partners with me on a journey of discovery into the essential nature of this teaching mode in Israel; (b) 15 working art therapists who graduated from Israeli training programmes 3-15 years before participating in this research and who had been working as art therapists since then. They provided a reflexive analysis of what it was like to take a topic-led dynamic experiential artwork-based course. (c) three directors of art therapy training programmes (one current, two former). provided me the background to the theoretical development of art therapy training in Israel. In addition, as an insider researcher, a senior art therapist who has herself designed and taught topic-led dynamic art-based experiential mode courses for many years, I have used my own experience and example from my practice to illustrate and corroborate the points made by my interviewees. The interviews indicated that over the forty years the dynamic experiential teaching mode has been deployed in Israeli art therapy training its use has been extended to the design and teaching of a wide range of theoretical topics and that this extension occurred at approximately the same time on all Israel's recognised art therapy training programmes. From the point of view of the theory of art therapy training this thesis argues that the professional literature displays a significant gap. Many scholars have stressed the vital contribution made by dynamic experiential artwork-based courses to future practitioners' training but no researcher has yet clarified when and for what purpose certain theoretical courses are taught in this mode, how such courses are designed and conducted, and how they produce on students the effects the students say they do—what so many students term their 'magic'. And yet the lecturers who make use of this teaching mode declare it to be indispensable to the transmission of art therapy's concepts, language and methods to the next generation of art therapists. The object of this doctoral research, then, is to explore and expose the nature of topic-led dynamic experiential artwork-based courses in Israel and their particular contribution to Israeli art therapy training. (The research does not aim to investigate what theory of art therapy these lecturers represent nor what body of psychological and other theory they transmit to their students). Given a constructivist epistemology, a phenomenological research paradigm is deployed to investigate how dynamic experiential artwork-based courses achieve their aims. Interview data are analysed by the inductive Socratic analysis method and by theoretical reading, taking a heuristic approach. The key contribution of this thesis to knowledge about art therapy training methods in Israel, is that it unlocks and conceptualizes the transformation of these topic-led dynamic experiential artwork-based courses which the thesis also demonstrates to be transformative for their students. A central argument is that, to achieve these transformative insights lecturers integrate three content elements — theoretical material, artwork-based experiential workshops, and the emotional materials evoked from the students by and during the workshops. They adapt and adjust their workshops and the art materials offered the students to the needs of the theoretical topic they wish to teach. And they make dynamic use of the responses of individual students and the student group to the art materials and the artworks produced from them for the purpose of conveying/ instilling this theoretical topic. The five elements of lecturer, individual students, core group, art materials/ artworks and the learning space created by the lecturer interact uniquely within a dynamic relationship in response to the course topic in what I term in this thesis a 'pentagonal potential space'. It is the integration of the five constituent elements of this relationship and the interrelationships between them that make the courses 'transformative'. In a nutshell, these courses (a) take students on an inner emotional journey which allows the self to adjust to a dynamic therapeutic perception of the course topic; (b) enable students to investigate the given topic to great depths of experiential and intellectual insight and be changed by this insight; and (c) generate in both individual students and the student group emotional processes relating to the topic, which shape their therapeutic development with respect to that topic. These three effects together generate in the student a meaningful and critical development of their therapeutic self as art therapist, a development which so many of them call 'magical'.


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