The Vegetable Platter and the Dessert Tray


The Vegetable Platter and the Dessert Tray

The use of artmaking and images in therapy yield professional practice issues that rarely come up in verbal therapy.  Some of you are familiar with these while others of you might be newer to this scene and perhaps haven’t given these issues much thought yet.  If you caught one of my “vegetable platter” ethics workshops in the last three months, this will be a helpful review.  But if you caught one of my “dessert tray” ethics workshops prior to that, some of this material will be new.  Over the summer I embarked upon a labor of lunacy as I searched high and low for ethics and best practices documents that reference, even just once, artmaking and imagery in a therapeutic context.  I ultimately came up with five at the national level.  And the Texas Counseling Association was happy and granted pre-approval status to my revamped ethics workshop, which since has been dubbed the “vegetable platter” (some of the “dessert tray” content now makes appearances in the Ethics Emporium section of the ABCs for Therapists newsletter).  But hey, it’s actually not such bad advice to eat your veggies before you have dessert, especially when liability and culpability are part of the picture. Hopefully you will never have to defend yourself around issues related to the use of images in therapy, but if you are a therapist who asks your clients to engage in the process of artmaking, you need to be aware of these documents and their respective stances on artmaking/images regardless of whether you are a member of or governed by the professional organizations that authored them.  That way you’ll be able to defend yourself proactively rather than reactively.


The documents listed below all contain information to help art therapists as well as non-art therapists recognize the basic parameters that contribute toward the safe and effective use of artmaking and images in therapy.  These are not “how-to” documents; instead, they sensitize clinicians to the need for vigilance and respect when working with clients and art media/methods.  Their publication dates have been included for convenience’s sake, but remember that these are living documents that go through periodic revisions and updates; it’s in your best interest to “check up on them” every now and then to make sure you’re as in-the-know as you think you are.  These documents are readily available to the public, meaning that anyone who wants to question or challenge you about your use of artmaking/images in therapy can find them and use them as a point of reference.  And in some cases they’re not necessarily consistent, but this gives you the opportunity to do some reflecting and form your own opinion about the best way to handle an art-based clinical situation.


In alphabetical order so as not to endorse any one organization/document over the others, here they are:


As the holidays arrive and we all have the dessert tray on our minds, it’s important to recognize that turning to the vegetable platter first will help prevent us from diving into what might seem pleasant and harmless at the time, only to discover later that we made a mistake somewhere along the way—a mistake with the potential for unwanted long-term effects well after the thrill is gone.  That goes for holiday party snacking as well as for the use of artmaking and images in therapy (who knew they had so much in common?).  A proactive, rather than reactive, approach to each will do a lot in the way of damage control; if nothing gets broken, you won’t have to fix it.  Here’s to hoping you’ll never have to take corrective action for any of your choices!  And with that, I’ll wish you happy holidays—and valiant, virtuous veggies; you can always savor the sweeter stuff afterward.


With appreciation for the important work you do,

Megan November 2011

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