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  • Writer's pictureKim Gibson, MS, ATR, LPCC

Projection: An advantage of art therapy- self-disclosure​ can occur without direct disclosure

          I have a stack of over 500 black and white 8 by 10 pictures.  I've collected them over the years; photocopied them out of random magazines.  Some are of famous folks but most, my favs are everyday people living their lives and experiencing a full range of emotions.  A few are featured below. I often refer to them as "My Museum." I'll tell my clients that we are bringing a museum to us. We’ll then look through the images together.  Sometimes, I'll ask a specific question that relates to an issue that brought my client into therapy . Like I might ask a client to pick out images that remind him or her of their family or pick out an image that represents their hopes for the future.   But often, I encourage clients to choose images that speak to them. This gives space & permission for projection to take place.  

It’s important to note, projection in art therapy is defined differently than Freud’s definition.  Frued explained projection to be a defense mechanism; undesirable thoughts or feelings are placed on to someone else rather than admitting or dealing with the unwanted feelings. Simple Freudian projection example, a person who is cheating on his or her spouse may constantly accuse the other of cheating.  

In art therapy, projection means being able to use one’s artwork or imagery to tell an important part of one’s story without direct verbal disclosure.   Creating art or using images can be a safe way to express oneself when direct telling or using words are not possible due to the risk of the client becoming too overwhelmed.  For example, a client may pull out images and use those images to disclose about childhood abuse. They may share important memories using their chosen images. The images can help them shift from a first person to a third person narrative, which may feel safer for the client.   They may even be able to dialogue with the image. In this way, the client is able to process the thoughts and feelings that come up but at a safer distance, allowing one to be authentic & present but not become hyper-aroused (anxious, angry, overwhelmed) or hypo-aroused (numb, frozen) by traumatic memories, which is an important goal in trauma therapy.  

Please reach out if you have any questions about art therapy, projection, or trauma therapy.  I am happy to help. I’ll try to write additional blog posts soon about the “Window of Tolerance”, pacing in trauma work and the foundation needed before trauma work should begin.  Thanks! -Kimberly Gibson, LPCC, ATR, or

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