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Coming Out Through Art

The article I chose from the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) was written by Laura M. Pelton-Sweet and Alissa Sherry, titled, “Coming Out Through Art: A Review of Art Therapy With LGBT Clients. ” They found that the potential between LGBT clients and the use of creative art interventions is an area that deserves more research. It states that AATA does not publish guidelines for working with LGBT clients because homosexuality is no longer classified as a mental illness or disease. However, this does not make the realities people within the LGBT population face in their daily lives.

We can still provide help and support specifically designed to suit the specific needs of this population; we are not trying to help, cure, or treat homosexuality, we are helping them cope with the negative effects society brings upon them, and they should not be forgotten because the effects are still very real. Coming out occurs on average between the ages of 19 and 23, however, the article noted that the average age is decreasing, and individuals may come out at any time throughout their life, and factors like culture, age, and gender, have influence as well.

I feel as though these are important years in the development of a person, and art therapy can provide a way for clients to further explore themselves, and be beneficial to their growth as individuals in their identity formation process, allowing them to “sample” different masks. The article “found that LGBT clients are at increased risk for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, eating disorders, panic disorders, alcohol dependency, drug dependency, poor self-esteem, and comorbid diagnoses when compared to the general population” (Pelton-Sweet & Sherry, 2008, p. 0). They attributed these issues to the stress from negative social stigma, discrimination, and the coming out process. They found that “gay and bisexual men are nearly five times as likely to be treated for panic disorder and three times as likely to be treated for depression. Lesbian and bisexual women are nearly four times as likely to be treated for anxity or to develop a drug dependency” (Pelton-Sweet & Sherry, 2008, p. 170).

They also noted that gay and lesbian adolescents report twice the number of suicides as compared to the heterosexual population. % of LGBT high school students report having been verbally harassed in school, and 39% reported having been physically assaulted on campus. This created 64% of LGBT high-school students reporting that they feel unsafe in their high school environment, and accounts for the one third dropout rate (Pelton-Sweet & Sherry, 2008). Having learned this, I am surprised to also learn that there has been little research in the benefits art therapy has to offer to the LGBT population.

Art activities that are ideal for LGBT clients include: self-portraits, collage, group murals, and sculpture. One example from the article was the activity, “Inside Me, Outside Me,” in which the client creates a self-portrait representing their publicly presented self, and another self-portrait to represent their private, internal, self. Sometimes the client may draw two completely different people representing their internal struggle between the social pressure and the binary model of gender not allowing for fluidity between genders.

Some alternatives to this project can be a mask, and a box. These portraits are then used for reflection, and as a conversation tool in therapy. Another example included choosing “an animal figurine, and then creating a “safe place” for it using a variety of art media” (Pelton-Sweet & Sherry, 2008, p. 173). The animal represents the self, and it is kept in its “safe place. ” Some barriers that may present themselves is that the therapist should be informed in the issues people in the LGBT community face.

They should be competent in the knowledge of the social and health issues this population faces, as well as issues such as, “sexual identity, bigotry, internalized homophobia, trauma and abuse, lesbian identity and culture, visibility, sexuality, gender identity, depression, stereotypes, homophobia, and the coming out process” (Pelton-Sweet & Sherry, 2008, p. 173). They also need to be non-judgmental towards homosexuality and gender variance because they need to feel comfortable exploring those areas with the client.

The article noted that “clinicians need to remain aware of the ways in which the outcomes or products of art therapy may be different with this population” (Pelton-Sweet & Sherry, 2008, p. 173). Important symbols like the rainbow, and the upside down pink triangles may be present, or prominent in their work. After having done this assignment, I realized that I have had a lot of privileges, being heterosexual, that I was unaware of. It made me realize the difficulties people in the LGBT community face daily in their lives, and the emotional toll it takes on them.

I feel as though this may be a great place for me to conduct research, and use it to further the positive effect art therapy can have on the LGBT community. Creating a physical object to examine issues such as identity, intimacy, and power can allow clients to see the invisible pain and secrets that they have been holding on to. The art pieces can also empower the client and facilitate them throughout the coming out process. I feel as though the lack of research in this field is disappointing, because there is so much art therapy has to offer clients who are LGBT that need little or no modification at all.

I am interested in doing research, and the lack of prior research on this topic makes me want to become an ally and begin to see researchers look more into art therapy and the coming out process, and maybe get to help with the research myself as well. The most important aspect for the clients to resolve the presenting problems was first to “recognize homosexual feelings, and then identifying to one’s self and others as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered” (Pelton-Sweet & Sherry, 2008, p. 170). It was a balance of deciding to disclose the information, or keeping it privately.

Secondly it is to be accepted by family, friends, and peers. The biggest question that I have from doing this research is why is there not more research covering this topic? Art therapy has been around for many years, and it surprised me that there have not been any studies of the effects of art therapy with LGBT clients specifically. Especially given their increased risk for mental health disorders and suicide. A new idea that occurred to me by doing this research project is that I could make researching art therapy with LGBT clients part of achieving my goal as a therapist.

I know that I will have to do some sort of in-depth research project in my future, and it seems that there is a lot of places within the LGBT community and art therapy that I could conduct research for. I initially thought that not having a specific case example and pictures would not be that big of a problem, but the lack of research on this subject led to a lot of frustrations. I could not find a single peer reviewed journal article besides the one I received from class on the LGBT coming out process, and the benefits that art therapy can offer these clients.

Providing a way for clients to communicate and think in different ways than what they are used to, like painting jealousy, may offer the client a deeper insight from the experience. However, I can say that I would not do anything differently because now I feel empowered to become an ally for the LGBT community and use my privilege of heterosexuality to stand up and speak out in support if I hear my peers using derogatory terms. I also would be interested in conducting research in this field to add to our understanding of the benefits art therapy has to the LGBT population.

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