Examining Art in Grief Associated with Client Death to Discover Effective Natural Processing of Grief: A Retrospective Heuristic Examination of an Art Therapy Student’s Experience

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Knight, Cara
Master of Arts in Art Therapy
Professionals in mental health and medical fields are likely to encounter difficult situations when working with clients who die within their clinical setting, often making countertransference and professional burnout possible. This paper discusses establishing personal awareness of such feelings through utilizing creative art making. In contemplating her own experiences in dealing with deaths of patients in a long-term care facility, the author presents the concept of using personal art making in order to cope with the stress and grief evoked from such experiences in order to identify a workable process to help other professionals. Although this is a significant experience many professionals face, there is currently little literature available concerning the use of art to help heal from such grief experiences. The author used a heuristic retrospective method to examine personal artwork created during her own grief period in order to determine if the experience holds value for others in the helping profession. As a result of inspection, a consistent theme of imagery, as well as a progression in emotional indicators throughout the artwork was identified. In addition, placement of the imagery on the Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC) for evaluation of emotional release was established to associate personal feelings with each image, thereby allowing the author to document her phases of grief through the imagery. Thus, through reexamination of the artwork in combination with a survey from an Art Review Board, the author was able to discover her natural process for grief work through the use of personal art making and further identified what aspects of this process might be deemed valuable for use by other professionals.