I am deriving the inspiration to write this article from Claudio Naranjo’s The Divine Child and the Hero: Inner Meaning in Children’s Literature, and a presentation I have to give to the class on the topic :Work with the inner child in Gestalt therapy.
It is often said, that there is a child in every adult. Some individuals are better able to recognize this child than others. If this inner child were to exist, it lives in the intra-psychic world of the adult person. Being a child, it is vulnerable. Being vulnerable, the inner child is often the one that feels the fears (in panic attacks, perhaps?), feelings of abandonment, the rage in depression, the loneliness of existence… In gestalt therapy, this inner child is sometimes synonymous with the “under-dog”.
Existing with the “under-dog” is, of course the “top-dog”. The “top-dog” is the grown-up person’s psyche. This is made up of the introjected voices of a person’s mother and father. It is also sometimes referred to as the super-ego. The super-ego protects the individual as he/she grows into an adult. The top-dog steers the person to achieve all the things he/she want’s in life (e.g. sense of self worth, protection, etc.).
In our strife to get the most of life, to be more autonomous and less vulnerable, the inner child gets sidelined. This “under-dog” suffers in secret. This suffering often goes unnoticed. The suffering sometimes also manifests itself as psychological or physical (a.k.a psychosomatic) distress.
What is the inner child about, really?
I hope you enjoy this short presentation:
There are many types of children’s stories. Naranjo (1999) shows us how these stories can be categorized into 2 broad groups: The matriarchal- and patriarchal-type stories.
The stories he cites as patriarchal are:
The lion, the witch and the wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis; The Hobbit, by J.J. Tolkien; The book of three, by Lloyd Alexander; and The Sword and the Stone by T.E. White.
Others I can think of are: princess stories, stories of overcoming good and bad…
The stories cited as matriarchal are:
The little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupéry; Tistou of the green thumbs by Marcel Druon; The Animal family, by Randall Jarrell and Charlotte’S Web by E.B. White.
Others include: Alice in wonderland, Life of Pi, Dr. Seuss.
How are these groups different?
Stories change us. Time changes us. We develop. We develop to be adults, while our inner child remains the innocent “divine” child. Children stories tell us much about ourselves. We are not one or the other, we are both. We are both top-dog and under-dog. We live with our internalized matriarch (mother) and our internalized patriarch (father). These adult voices help us to grow up and gain autonomy. The inner child, however, remains always curious and trusting.
Naranjo, C. (1999). The divine child and the hero: Inner meaning in children’s literature. Gateways/IDHHB Publishers.
The organizations like Atelier 10, and Atelier Gugging in Vienna, Austria discussed in this essay, are 2 of many psychosocial initiatives that can be found in Vienna today. Both initiatives are similar only in the sense that Art— in particular, visual art— is the theme of the organizations. This essay explores the work of these two institutions, their philosophy and the possible impact these have on psychosocial intervention.
Atelier 10 and Atelier Gugging
The modus operandi of both Atelier 10 and Atelier Gugging, involves the production and exhibition of art produced by a small group of artists with mental disability. Apart from apparent similarities, these two organizations are strikingly different.
Atelier 10 was founded by Caritas in 2012. Situated in an up-market fine-art enclave in the city of Vienna. The look-and-feel of its 1000sqft premises gives no indication that it is a non-profit, charitable organization. Atelier 10 is managed by one full-time Art Director, who insists that his purpose is to select promising artists who are afflicted with psychosocial difficulties, assist them by providing them time and space to create art, and curating these art works for presentation in their art gallery. The art is chosen strictly, and only artists capable of producing world-class work would be selected. There is pre-concerted effort to establish this art gallery as a mainstream art gallery and not that which is associated with a social care organization.
Atelier 10 does not house the artists, but rather provides them with a place to work and a pension.
Art Gugging is an “Art Brut” or “outsider art” museum. It is run by a private foundation supported by the government of lower Austria. It is situated away from the city on sprawling 870 sq yard grounds. The museum was founded in the 1960s by Psychiatrist, Leo Navratil (1921-2006) who transformed the premises from a psychiatric hospital into a place to house artists who are psychiatric patients (or “kunstlerhaus”) and provide for these artists a space to work and exhibit their masterpieces. Unlike Atelier 10, Art Gugging is steeped in history and is known worldwide as a home for art created the mentally disabled. The Kunstlerhaus is home to about 10 patient-artists, and they are equipped with the services of nursing and medical professionals.
On visiting both premises, both organizers emphasized that their role in the lives of the artists is to provide daily structure and not art therapy. The art activity is purely a creative process and work. Both galleries seem keen to challenge public perception on mental illness with relation to art creation.
During our interviews with the spokesmen of both organization we learnt that their purported role is in psychosocial intervention which is not specific to providing psychotherapy.
Art in Psychosocial Intervention
Psychosocial intervention is a collection of initiatives done (mainly by) government and non-profit agencies with the intent to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities into the general population. In Austria, this goes in line with the health authorities aim to improve the quality of life for all persons through the principle of solidarity, by means of a compensating system for balancing our differences between persons with higher need of protection and the general public (Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, 2013).
In the best of times, funding of the psychosocial model of a country is resource limited. Perhaps for this reason, as well as ethical reasons, policymakers have to work towards achieving positive impact from these social welfare activities. In order to understand the impact of a psychosocial model, there has to be a psychological understanding of these social problems. This is “more important than the sum of individual initiatives that specifically come under a psycho-social label.” (Pupavac, 2001).
What can be said of the impact of the Atelier 10 and Art Gugging models of psychosocial intervention? What can be said of the achievement of both organizations?
For sure both Atelier 10 and Art Gugging have produced excellent works of art. This leaves us to question the link between mental illness and art. Many books and reviews have been written on this topic, and the conclusions are varied (Silvia and Kaufman 2011). There are many researchers that believe that mental illness and creativity are totally unlinked (Schlesinger, 2009), since psychosis and other forms of mental instability hinder creative work (Rothenberg, 1990). Having been an artist myself, I would tend to agree with this point of view that creating art requires a certain degree of focus.
There are others who disagree with the above points of view, that through case studies that here is a link between creativity and pathology (Post, 1994 and Nettle, 2001). Seeming to contradict myself, as an artist, I also agree with this point of view. This arises from my experience of experiencing loss of emotional quality of my art following a series of Gestalt therapy sessions.
While it is not within the scope of this essay to answer these questions, I would offer my observation on the art as I see them while in visiting Atelier 10 and Atelier Gugging.
The works in Atelier 10 seems to be more similar to that which one would find in an international art exhibition: formal, stilted but professional. This could simply be that at the time of our visit, the art was arranged in such a way to give me that impression.
The works at Art Gugging gave the impression of playful simplicity. They were accessible and likeable. There is familiarity in some of the works, and I am not thoroughly convinced of the claim that these are pure “outsider art” as described in the article by Cardinal (2009).
Art is a unique experience, which belongs to the art creator and the observer. It is therefore difficult to understand what role art really has in psychosocial intervention.
Art in the context of Atelier 10 and Atelier Gugging is used as an instrument (or a commodity) to provide work to people who otherwise would not be able to find a place in society and at worse, be isolated and institutionalized.
As a form of psychosocial intervention, art is used as a means of creating work, and hence structure for the mentally disabled. This is proven to be a success in Atelier 10 and Atelier Gugging. While these organizations have changed the lives of the artists supported by the efforts, there are still opportunities for accessing the real impact of this mode of psychosocial intervention in society at large: one of which is addressing going beyond providing structure to providing healing. Many artists remain with the institutions for life and don’t get to integrate with society, or become economically viable. This perhaps requires a paradigm shift in thinking of these organizations as a means to integration rather than an end.
Bundesministerium für Gesundheit. (2013). The Austrian health care system: key facts updated version 2003. (pp. 8).
Cardinal, R. (2009) Outsider art and the autistic creator. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 364, p. 1459-1466.
Nettle, D. (2001). Strong imagination: Madness, creativity and human nature. NY: Oxford University Press.
Post, F. (1994). Creativity and psychopathology: a study of 291 world-famous men. Br. J. Psychiatry 165, 22–34.
Pupavac, V. (2001). Therapeutic governance: psycho-social intervention and trauma risk management. Disasters. 25 (4). (pp. 358-372). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Rothenberg, A. (1990). Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Schlesinger, J. (2009). Creative mythconceptions: a closer look at the evidence for the “Mad Genius” hypothesis. Psychol. Aesthet. Creativity Arts 3, 62–72.
Silvia, P. J. & Kaufman, C. K. (2011). Creativity and mental illness. In Kaufman J. C. & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.). The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 381). NY: Cambridge University Press.
The art with the theme of the “mother” or good and evil mothers by 19th Century painter, Giovanni Segantini, enlivens us to the concept of the good and bad internalized mother in psychoanalysis.
According to scholars like Don Carveth, this idea of the bad mother was blindsided by Sigmund Freud, who was thought to have idealized his relationship with his own mother, and hence could not bring himself to the realization of the bad mother concept.
It was believed that the artist Sagentini lost his mother as a child. He felt guilty with the idea that he was a cause of her death. He was brought up by relatives after his father left him with them. This means that he lost also his father. Sagentini suffered mood swings, which Abraham attributes to the repression of the image of the bad mother (the mother complex). Sagentini’s traumas are not reducible to the Oedipus complex. He was nevertheless susceptible to revenge on the (internalized) mother (and the abandoning/vain…etc. mother) who abandoned him, and he depicts them in his painting.
Abraham points out that excessive hatred/hostility to the mother can be replaced by exaggerated by the opposite: the love of the mother, putting mothers on the pedestal (as in the case with Freud). Sagentini lived with depressive guilt (of having hate for mother turned against himself), and in a way made reparation by depicting the mother & child in his art.
Art is a reparative creative way of healing, and an essential to being healthy. Reparation of one’s internal objects (e.g. internal mother). When one repairs internal objects one can feel whole again and no longer broken. This is the central theme in Kleinian Theory.
The internalized mother is important in the lives of humans. It is the relationship to this internalized mother that we are able to feel protected in this world. In time of trauma, and existentially frightening setback, it is this relationship that gets broken.