Interview with Christa Whittington, 2nd year student in Naropa University’s Transpersonal Art Therapy program
What does Transpersonal mean to you?
Transpersonal Psychology means to me that the whole expression of human experience, including spirit, is taken into mindful consideration when relating with another. It is seeing the impact and connection the spirit has on the journey of life. It is supporting the mind, body, spirit connection.
I often like to think about the ways we can see the spirit in a person, whether it be in their spiritual and/or religious practices or simply by truly looking at a person. For example, when I was asked to define Transpersonal during my admissions interview for acceptance into Naropa’s graduate Art Therapy Program, I at one point mentioned how you can see the twinkle of ethereal essence in a Buddhist’s Monks eye’s when they smile.
Spirit is carried in a person and can also be carried on beyond a person, which is something that can be comforting to know. Transpersonal Psychology acknowledges that we can move beyond ourselves and that there is a possibility to being connected at a greater cosmic level through such acts as synchronistic moments or numinous experiences.
What makes this approach different than other therapies?
Transpersonal Psychology is different from other psychological approaches because it see’s the whole person, including the spirit. It is also an extremely mindful and compassionate approach. With that being mentioned, Transpersonal Psychology recognizes that spiritual evolution can present itself in many different stages and ways including what can sometimes be perceived as a mental break down or illness.
With a Transpersonal approach, a therapist can recognize a deeper meaning, and that a spiritual emergence or emergency may be transpiring. This mindset, in my opinion, is less pathologizing and lends to a greater connection between therapist and the individual they are working with, for we are all on the journey of life.
What year are you and what does this mean for your areas of focus ? (classes/ practicum/ internship/etc.)
I am a second year student, and for me this year means really feeling into how I support myself and to observe how I want to grow as a budding art therapist. In particular, this year will be my first experience as an art therapist in training as a practicum student. So, I aspire to be aware of what comes up for me at my practicum site, whether it be particular transference/countertransference, a pull to work with a certain demographic, or areas that I find I want to seek more knowledge around; whether it be in a personal sense, or more of an academic orientation that I would like to practice. Really, this year is about connection, introspection, and expansion for me.
Can you explain art therapist as a third hand? What aspects of AT most intrigue you?
For me, the concept of the art therapist as third hand is when the art therapist is able to attune to the needs of an individual and provide them with a certain support to one’s art process without taking away from autonomous creation. You aide in creation almost like a paint brush does with smearing around paint.
For example; I worked with one of the Naropa Community Art Members last year with learning how to draw realistically. This particular community member was very self-critical. So, instead of telling her how to draw and what she wasn’t getting correct as far proportions, I helped her learn how to use a grid system, use a view finder, and how to trace what she was trying to draw so that she could really feel it out at her own pace. Then I would ask her questions like, “What do you think, or what do you see?”, while encouraging her to celebrate every curve and simultaneously enjoying the art process. This approach helped the community member I was working with feel into herself, what she was doing, and aide herself in minimalizing her anxiety.
Can you talk about what NCAS is and your experience?
Naropa Community Art Studio is a safe studio space to connect through the act of communal art making process. NCAS inherently builds community and a sense of belonging. I have seen this through my own personal experience working with adults who successfully function with extreme mental states. It is a space where one just gets ‘to be’. You can arrive with any felt senses and have however you arrived be accepted by your fellow community members. The art making then gives you a space to support yourself and enjoy the capacity art has to be comforting and enjoyable.