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It is not always easy, I must acknowledge, for patients to describe how they feel. Yet as a homeopath, this is exactly what we rely on in our quest to find the best matching remedy for the relief from disease for our patients. We need to know, in a patients´ own words, how the individual experiences his/her symptoms of illness [1] (Aphorism 84 – Organon). It is in the peculiar idiosyncrasies of the patient that we find the most valuable leads to the most appropriate prescription for the patients´ presenting state.

I am frequently quite overwhelmed when new patients do not hesitate to share with me the symptoms of their diseased state. For me, this is not something I personally feel comfortable with and as such the trust my patients have in me is something I treasure and respect immensely. Yet, not all patients, can achieve such a comfortable union with their practitioner readily and rapidly. While a trusting therapeutic relationship may take time to develop, in order to be able to treat some patients, it is sometimes required of me to employ unconventional means. In the quest to retrieve the information necessary for me, to be able to make an appropriate prescription, I occasionally resort to elements from art therapy.

Not all artistic expression is a therapeutic one or is reflecting a need for treatment [2], but in illness, emotions expressed in artistic actions may mirror the state or reflect the cause of a patients indisposition. If the spoken word is too difficult to utter, or the verbal expression lacks the appropriate vocabulary, art may offer a valve for the release of existent troubling or impairing factors to an individuals´ existence. Art therapy therefore may function as a means of “working out a problem, by making it portrayable” [3].

Art is a stimulant that incorporates “an individuals´ thoughts, emotions, beliefs or ideas through the senses” [4] (p.2088/2089). As a therapeutic means art may reflect a deliberation in arrangement, colour, by choice of material used, by method of doing [5] and as such may be a means of resolving issues of pedagogic and psychological origin [4]. Therefore, producing art “is inherently empowering, healing and cathartic” [4].

In anthroposophy, art therapy is very intensely connected to medical treatment [5]. In this medical discipline, illness is believed to have “its roots in the soul” and artistic work is seen as “an expression of the soul” [5]. Research has shown that this type of artistic treatment positively impacts, long-term, the symptomatology of chronic illness and has a beneficial effect on the quality of life of patients [4]. Art is therefore seen as a method of healing.

Kaplan [6] stresses the use of art therapy not so much as a therapeutic agent, but as a diagnostic tool. He uses an art therapy assessment for the identification of an accurate prescription and mentions the homeopathic value such an artistic analysis may have. Via close observation of the process of the artistic task, the selection of artistic material, and the analysis of the finished piece, patient aspects are revealed that may confirm or aid the selection of a patients´ best matching remedy.

With one of my patients I have experienced yet another form of diagnostic aid, still employing art as a means of expression, but in this case it was not the patients´ own production of an artistic piece, but the work of an old master that helped a patient find expression where verbal communication seemed difficult. One of my patients, let´s call her Helen, initially handed me this tool.

The case-taking with Helen was one that needed much questioning on my part, she did not readily answer these questions and having given a short answer she would fall silent and would not speak unless a new interrogation was started. As such, little homeopathically useful information was retrieved and I felt the identification of a matching remedy for this patient would be difficult. Helen had repeatedly raised her head to look at a painting I had hanging on the wall of my consultation room and began telling me of her favourite art work. It was a print of a painting by an old master that she had hanging at a focal point in her apartment. She told me that she would stop on numerous occasions during the day just to look at it. I asked her to tell me more about it, what she liked and disliked, how she felt looking at it, when she had bought the print and if her gradient of ´liking` the image had experienced changes over the time since she had it.

These simple questions, in the foreground not so much about her, made her speak about herself and her feelings through the expression of the art work of this old master. She permitted subtle insights that provided essential information for me to make a solid remedy selection for her.

I have since, on various occasions, employed this ´tool` with other patients and did almost always receive case-relevant information. Not all patients have a favourite painting or artist, but for those that do, their idiosyncratic likes and dislikes in a piece of art can be revealing in homeopathic terms.

Much like in art therapy, where the patients´ own works serve to express individual aspects, this interpretation of existent art works may provide a valuable aid to the homeopath that may help to identify information about a patient. “Artists express their emotional world through art, and the spectators [or readers] let this world pass through the realm of their sensuality” [4] (p.2088), and therefore any persons interpretation of an artwork reflects his/her own idiosyncrasies.

I am not proclaiming we must use art therapy or related tools in our homeopathic practices. We still in principle need to rely on the spoken word and our own skills of listening and observing the patient [6] [7]. But, as an aid for the patient, for him/her to find comfort, such a ´bridge` to his own state, expressing him/herself away from the focus on his/her illness, may be a useful means to be able to recognize the patient and his remedy.

References:

[1] Hahnemann, S. (1974) Organon der Heilkunst (2.Auflage) 6B Heidelberg: Karl.F.Haug Verlag.

[2] Granier, F. (2011) Art-thérapie [online] article from Annales Médico-Psychologiques last accessed 25 June 2012 at URL http://www.sciencedirect.com

[3] Carnes, J. (1979) Toward a cognitive theory of art therapy [online] article from Art Psychotherapy last accessed 25 June 2012 at URL http://www.sciencedirect.com

[4] Farokhi, M. (2011) Art therapy in humanistic psychiatry[online] article from Procedia – Social and behavioural sciences, last accessed 25 June 2012 at URL http://www.sciencedirect.com

[5] Alexander, P. (n.d) Anthroposophical Art therapy [online] last accessed 25 June 2012 at URL http://anthromed.org

[6] Kaplan, B. (n.d.) Art therapy and Homeopathy [online] last accessed 07 July 2012 at URL http://drkaplan.co.uk

[7] Kaplan, H. (2005) How do art therapy and homeopathy work together? [online] article from Homeopathy in practice, last accessed 07 July 2012 at URL http://www.a-r-h.org

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