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The Therapeutic Value of Destruction and Reconstruction in Art Therapy By Jean Davis, ATR-BC, LCAT, Licensed Creative Arts Therapist

By July 24, 2012Blog

Acts of destruction like popping a balloon, knocking over a sand castle at the beach or dumping a bucket of marbles onto a hard floor often offer emotional release. Children are particularly interested in this kind of discharge and, to test this point, try offering a child a sheet of bubble wrap the next time you receive a package and listen to the popping and squealing begin! However, there are times when the feelings behind the act of destroying are far from pleasurable. Many know the emotional experience of dealing with a computer or phone that malfunctions and the desire to throw it out the window with all our might. What we might do, instead, is act out by slamming our fist onto the table or screaming into a pillow. Although I want to be careful not to completely glamorize the act of destruction, I do think it s worth considering its value within a larger context.

Frequently, especially in Western culture, there is a tendency toward containing and even avoiding emotion. This is particularly true with less socially acceptable and uncomfortable emotions such as sadness, anger and frustration. What is often overlooked, however, is that emotions are and always have been an essential component to our overall evolution and that expression allows for additional possibilities to emerge and, ultimately, growth to occur. In addition, destruction or annihilation often allow for the possibility of reintegration and reconstruction.

Many who engage in creative activities understand this phenomenon because moving through a variety of emotions and expressing them non-verbally is central to the creative process. Creativity exists within us all, so the earlier children are encouraged to create and the more we adults create, the more acquainted we all will become with this essential practice.

Parents might consider having a few things at home that allow for the experience of destruction and reconstruction. Possibilities include a bin of blocks that can be easily dumped or water and sand tables where elements can transition from whole to fragments to whole again. Basically, loose materials or items that can be used in multiple ways are most desired. The theory of loose parts began influencing child-play experts and designers in the 1970’s by architect Simon Nicholson, who believed that loose parts in our environment encourage creativity. (For more information about Loose Parts, please visit:

Take, for example, the teenager who comes to therapy and regularly begins working on a piece of art, but then destroys. It s ugly , she says as she, once again, smashes the clay piece she s been shaping or rips up the paper that she s spent the last 15 minutes drawing on. Rather than tell her to stop this expression, what if she was given the opportunity to take bins of old newspaper and rip them to shreds Or take clay balls and whip them against a brick wall But it doesn t stop there. Those shredded newspaper pieces can be reintegrated by using them in a plaster sculpture and the clay balls against a brick wall becomes a mosaic synthesis of color, shape and effort. Again, in the act of destruction lies the opportunity for reconstruction. Without it, we deny ourselves the very material that weaves our experience together and becomes the transitional joints of life.

By practicing this over and over again, we tone the muscles that will serve us now and throughout our lives. uri=/01974556/v30i0001/43_zto.xml/.

Jean Davis is a licensed creative arts therapist and a registered and board-certified art therapist. She has postgraduate training in group therapy, gestalt therapy and ecopsychology and has over 15 years of experience with a wide variety of populations and in numerous settings. Jean is an Adjunct Associate Professor within Pratt Institute s Graduate Creative Arts Therapy Department. She has published numerous articles in professional journals and she presently serves on the editorial board for the Ecopsychology Journal. For more than a decade, she has maintained a private practice in Brooklyn, New York working with children and adults. To contact Jean Davis, please email [email protected] or call 917-292-9301.

Craig Selinger

Author Craig Selinger

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