We’ve all heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” so many times it is almost a cliché. Nevertheless, science can prove that pictures and images are more likely to be remembered than words and, to quote art historian James Elkins, “some pictures… make permanent alterations in what I am”. Therefore, it makes sense to incorporate images in a therapeutic setting.
Moreover, many art therapists believe that the psyche comprises images and pictures, more than words or ideas. Jung, renowned for his use of images and symbols, has repeatedly said that “images define the essence of Psyche”. He believed that an image or symbol can allow us to explore content that we have previously been unable to access. When Jung speaks of symbols, he is referring to “the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown psychic content that cannot be grasped by consciousness”.
The work of contemporary psychologists and trauma specialists also addresses the inadequacy of language. Research shows that trauma is imprinted in the areas of the brain responsible for reflexes, memories, and automatic survival responses. These areas are only marginally affected by thinking, words or language. Enter Seena Frost, the Jungian psychologist who developed the SoulCollage method, drawing on concepts from many therapeutic models. Among them are Jung’s concept of active imagination, Virginia Satir’s Parts Therapy, Judy Weiser’s PhotoTherapy and Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy.
Now, can SoulCollage be considered a therapeutic technique? SoulCollage resembles the work of Virginia Satir in that both methods help clients to identify their personality parts, by using collage cards to represent personality parts and give voice to those parts. Once personality parts have been identified, clients can either transform parts they consider negative or integrate parts they have rejected. They also develop a better understanding of the dynamics between those parts. This, in turn, allows clients to revise the internal system of their parts and use their internal resources more effectively.
Seena Frost has an eloquent way of describing collage: “it is a metaphor for any discovering, gathering, and reweaving of energy-bits already formed and present in the universe”. Unlike other forms of creative expression, using already-formed images makes collage one of the least intimidating modalities. Other advantages of collage include that it is accessible, inexpensive, and quick. Images are readily available and almost everyone is capable of selecting an image, cutting it out and glueing it down and using them to give voice to the unconscious.
Exploring the unconscious (sometimes described as the lower self) is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it manifests in ways that are so nasty, we lack the courage to acknowledge that such impulses exist within us. At other times, the lower self operates in a more sneaky way, hiding itself in resistance, procrastination, arrogance or self-righteousness. In this sense, all imaging techniques, when used by a certified therapist can be considered useful healing tools.