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International Journal of Art Therapy: Formerly Inscape

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Risk discourse in art therapy: Revisiting Neil Springham's Inscape paper on art and risk
Sheridan Linnell Available online: 21 Feb 2012

To cite this article: Sheridan Linnell (2012): Risk discourse in art therapy: Revisiting Neil Springham's Inscape paper on art and risk, International Journal of Art Therapy: Formerly Inscape, DOI:10.1080/17454832.2012.658418 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17454832.2012.658418

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International Journal of Art Therapy, 2012; 16, iFirst article

Risk discourse in art therapy: Revisiting Neil Springhams Inscape paper on art and risk


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Abstract In view of an increasing emphasis on risk management in the therapy professions, this paper reconsiders Neil Springhams (2008) Inscape paper, Through the eyes of the law: What is it about art that can harm people?. The author asks how the simultaneously individualising and totalising tendencies of risk discourse might shape our relationships with our clients, each other and ourselves. She notes that many of her colleagues have commended Springhams focus on the serious risks associated with the use of art in therapeutic contexts, and have read his work as an endorsement of their expertise. While acknowledging the salience of the problematisation of art and risk, the author suggests that it is important to question the implications of risk discourse for art therapy. She argues that Springhams paper can be seen as a performance of expert knowledge, rather than simply a description of events. The current paper problematises the politics of representation in Springhams paper, particularly the concept of co-authorship, and raises questions about the generalisation of his findings to the field of arts and health. The current paper also deconstructs the slippages between legal and therapeutic discourse in Springhams text, thereby disrupting what might otherwise become an incontrovertible truth.

Keywords: Art psychotherapy, arts and health, risk, discourse, law, deconstruction

The risks of risk discourse

Through my work as an art therapist and a supervisor for both registered art therapists and trainees, I have begun to wonder about the potentially objectivising and distancing effects of art therapists (and other psychotherapists) being positioned as risk managers. I have found myself questioning to what extent this positioning might inhibit the open-ended and exploratory quality that, for me, characterises the art therapeutic encounter. While recognising that client safety and duty of care must always take priority and that we need to know how to assess and minimise dangers to our clients, to others and to ourselves, I have also hypothesised that the trend towards understanding our work through the lens of risk discourse and risk management could be a threat to a psychotherapeutic focus on relationship (Cherubin & Linnell, 2009). In 2010 I conducted a research project (Linnell, 2011) that grew out of this sense that, as art therapists, we are increasingly being charged with the management of our clients, particularly if they are young and/or considered to be at risk. While my research is not the focus of this paper, I will briefly describe the context it provides for why I am raising concerns here about art therapy and risk discourse. During the field research for this project, An initial study of how counsellors and art psychotherapists working with young people respond to the discourse of risk (Linnell, 2011), I conducted several interviews and arts-based

focus groups with art therapists and counsellors who work with young people, about the effects of current ideas of risk and practices of risk management on these therapists professional wellbeing and therapeutic relations. As a qualitative, collaborative enquiry, this research sought to understand how risk discourse may tend to shape our professional identities and responsibilities, and also our understandings of and relationships with our clients. I also sought to understand what alternatives to the dominant discourse of risk this group of art therapists and counsellors might have discovered, but that is the subject of another paper (Linnell & Marjason, 2011). As I looked into the literature, I found that risk has itself proved extremely resilient in the face of almost two decades of sociological critiques that aim to challenge the increasing emphasis on the individual as the site of risk, resilience and responsibility. Following from Ulrich Becks influential theory of the risk society (Beck, 1992, 1994, 1998), various analyses have been offered of the social construction of risk, and of risks relationship to modernisation and the governance of populations (e.g., Furlong & Cartmel, 2007; Green, Mitchell, & Bunton, 2000; Hayes, 1992; Hollway & Jefferson, 1997; Lupton, 1993, 1999; Woodman, 2009). For the most part, though, there is a gap between sociological theorisations of risk and how risk is understood within clinical and psychotherapeutic practice. An exception to this can be found in the work of Nikolas Rose (1996),

1745-4832 (print)/1745-4840 (online) # 2012 British Association of Art Therapists http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17454832.2012.658418

S. Linnell

who has built on Foucaults (1988, 1992, 2000) later work on ethics, power and subjectivity in order to analyse risk discourse in relation to psychiatric theory and practice. Rose challenges the apparent inevitability of contemporary categories of risk and safety, normal and abnormal, and questions the idea of some clients as risky individuals (Rose, 2006). Roses work has helped me to think about how the simultaneously individualising and totalising tendencies of risk discourse affect the field of art therapy, shaping our relationships with our clients, each other and ourselves. Discourse, in the analysis I am offering here, refers to a body of knowledge, composed of everyday ideas and practices as well as formal knowledge, that shapes the meanings that we give to our experiences and our lives, and even whom and what we can be (Foucault, 1980). Discourse is implicated in the production, as well as the representation, of truth. Risk discourse thus means much more than the formal ways that we speak and write about risk in professional and academic contexts; it is one of many competing discourses that work to shape our understandings of art therapy and its subjects*both clients and practitioners. Risk discourse establishes and reinforces what becomes known as the truth about people and risk. It shapes how someone might understand and feel about themselves, relate to others, act and be recognised, within the category of person at risk. This way of conceptualising risk discourse gives insight into how the association of certain client groups with risk becomes taken for granted, and how some people are produced as risky individuals (Foucault, 1988; Rose, 1996). Similarly, only certain kinds of professionals are charged with the authority and capability to manage these risky individuals. At the same time, although many aspects of risk discourse are extremely concerning, it also makes some useful possibilities available. Like other discourses, risk works by producing capacities and opportunities, not only by repressing them, but it simultaneously tends to dominate the current experience of reality (Foucault, 1980). For example, risk management practices are necessary and crucial to saving lives, but they can also perpetuate risk averse attitudes, pathologising and even isolating the people who are most in need of our help (Fullagar, 2005).

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for granted and embedded in this literature. Risk taking was variously figured: either as part of the healthy exploration that takes place in art therapy (for instance, the risk one takes when making a mark on a page or talking about oneself and ones art work as part of a group) or alternatively in terms of the risk factors pertaining to various clients or client groups. The possible tensions between these different iterations of risk seem to have gone largely unexplored, at least in the literature. It was with considerable interest, then, that I revisited a paper that I had read when it first appeared in the International Journal of Art Therapy (Inscape): Neil Springhams Through the eyes of the law: What is it about art that can harm people? (Springham, 2008). My interest sprang from the fact that Springham was himself engaging with some taken-for-granted assumptions, in this case, that art making is exclusively benign and healing, rather than also potentially dangerous. I had found his paper intellectually stimulating when it first appeared in Inscape, but also, in some indefinable way, rather concerning. Rereading the paper, from the perspective of having immersed myself in a psychosocial critique of risk discourse, has opened up the possibility of questioning aspects of Springhams work that had previously appeared to be unquestionable. A descriptive summary and commendation of Springhams paper by Dr Jill Westwood, my esteemed colleague and a leading figure in Australian art therapy, can currently be found on the website of the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association. Westwood pinpoints the significance of Springhams contribution*a significance that is enduring, as the ongoing web presence of this summary suggests. She writes:
This paper describes a case in the UK where a serious injury was sustained by a client as a result of an art activity in a clinical setting. This led to legal action and the establishment of negligence on the part of the practitioner and the organisation. The act of negligence centred on the vulnerability of the client to discern the imaginary from the real and the responsibility of the practitioner and the organisation to competently assess the clients vulnerability and respond accordingly. The article presents an important milestone in the issue of protection of the public when engaging in arts based therapeutic activity in a clinical environment. (Westwood, 2009, p. 1)

Springhams problematisation of art and risk

When I was searching the art therapy literature in relation to the topic of risk, I found that, for the most part, dominant ideas about risk were taken

My peers in the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association have in general also received Springhams work very positively, as a noteworthy cautionary tale about the serious risks that can be associated with the power of art in

Risk discourse in art therapy

therapeutic contexts, and also as an endorsement of an expertise that struggles for recognition in our regional context. Several local colleagues have moreover mentioned the paper to me as providing the proof we need that art therapy should not be practised by non art therapists, although Springham himself is careful to recommend specialised support, rather than a closing down, of the range of arts-based activities that can have therapeutic effects. It is not my intention to dispute that Springhams paper is important, useful and deserving of this attention, but I would like to extend the reception of Springhams position to include an element of questioning. Presented with a shocking and distressing account of a court case that centres on a physical injury incurred by a client in direct association with a psychological reaction to an art intervention, an intervention made moreover by an unqualified practitioner within an agency that did not anticipate and manage risk appropriately, we are likely to feel compelled to take the side of the art therapist expert witness. To do otherwise could appear to be heartless, naive or thoughtless, even to be a kind of parallel professional negligence. Thus it is difficult to put an alternative viewpoint, yet this very difficulty speaks to the importance of a critique. Indeed, from the perspective of analysing risk discourse, it is precisely the reasonableness and apparent unassailability of Springhams position that is of concern. The question I want to raise here is not whether Springhams judgement*noting the slippage in his paper between moral, professional, academic and legal forms of judgement*is right or wrong. Rather, I am interested in what his paper might produce. I wholeheartedly agree with Springham that risk management is an important dimension of art therapy practice, and indeed of any practice that takes up art as a therapeutic modality. I also agree that regarding art as an intrinsically benign agency is risky. The irony here is that I consider myself obliged to underline my agreement with Springham on this point, lest I appear professionally remiss, or worse still, might lead less experienced art therapists or trainees astray. At the same time, in a way that oddly parallels Springhams contention (which I do not dispute) that art is not without risk, I contend that embracing risk discourse is also not without risk.

Performances of expert knowledge

From this perspective, Springhams paper can be understood not only as a description of events and opinions but also as a powerful performance

of expert knowledge. Throughout the paper, the art therapist as expert witness is performed as much as described. The paper and the court case of which it gives an account hinge on a claim that art has the power to make the subjective seem real, a power that is not necessarily benign. This problematisation is a useful intervention into a professional scene where art making is a takenfor-granted activity and separated from other therapeutic moves. What becomes invisible, however, is how the paper itself exemplifies the performative power of rhetoric to make the subjective seem real, and the power of discourse to create the subject itself. When Springham writes, Our system of litigation has its roots in the discipline of rhetoric, where counsels for both defence and claimant explicitly aim to use evidence and argument to build a case that is persuasive of their perspective (p. 66), he could be describing his own rhetoric as much as that of the court case he describes. Legal terminology permeates the paper. The client is described as the claimant, and when Springham says that he thinks it would be illuminating to now put the evidence before the reader (p. 67), he draws us into a performance of meaning where we become members of a jury. Who and what is on trial here? Early in his paper, Springham anticipates and refutes an accusation of self-interested professional protectionism (p. 66) by claiming that he is writing in the interests of and in collaboration with the client whose unfortunate story is at the centre of Springhams account. It is important to know about the clients involvement in the paper, and this clearly adds to its significance and ethical positioning. However, I did wonder about the description of this relationship as co-authorship. If quoting the claimant, and having his permission and indeed encouragement to write about the events described, constitutes co-authorship, then many published clinical accounts could also be described as co-authored. Moreover, the assertion that the paper is anonymously co-authored (although formally credited to a single author) not only adds authority and conviction to the account, it also tends to elide the complexities of representation. Arguably, the writer represents the claimant in a manner that collapses the politics of representation with the rhetoric of the law. The word advocate could be more appropriate, but advocacy similarly sits between the different discourses of social justice and legal justice. I certainly dont see Springhams work in this paper as self-interested*he is clearly very concerned to raise important issues on behalf of his client and in the public interest*but I want to question the binary the paper sets up between

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S. Linnell arts project, unless under the supervision of an art therapist.

professional self-interest and client advocacy. Both the court case and the paper arguably advance and consolidate the professional status of art psychotherapy and Springhams own professional authority, at the same time leading to a legal judgement in favour of the client. A more pertinent question than that of self-interest or disinterest, here and elsewhere, is how we can practise professional advancement and benefit our clients in a manner that minimises the furthering of dividing and pathologising categories in which therapist expertise is raised above everyday experiences and knowledges. It is not my purpose to question, here, whether the drug and alcohol counsellor described in Springhams paper was monstrously remiss, although I have wondered whether he, as well as his even more unfortunate client, was to some extent an unlucky individual upon whom a widespread preoccupation in the world of psychotherapy with lack, negativity and the confessional mode, combined with stretched resources and inadequate/inconsistent protocols within an agency, rebounded with devastating consequences. However, assuming that we accept the counsellors and agencys liability in this particular instance, as (since it was legally proven) it seems we must, does it follow that we must also accept the rhetorical move that maps these failures onto the arts and health movement in order to invoke a moral prohibition as well as a legal precedent? The practitioner in this case is described as a counsellor, albeit one who appears to have been inadequately qualified. He was not, by all accounts, an arts practitioner who had strayed into the area of art therapy. Yet Springham refrains from suggesting that all therapists and counsellors other than arts therapists should be discouraged from using art in therapy or be supervised by art therapists. Such a suggestion would negate the multiple histories and practices of the therapeutic uses of art and would be impossible to regulate, even if that were desirable. The paper rhetorically aligns its writer with the client and with wisdom and justice, but at the same time it discursively reinforces and performs a set of hierarchical binaries (Cixous & Clement, 1986; see also Skaife, 2008):
. The expert responsibilised art therapist / the vulnerable and needy client . The real and properly trained professional art therapist / the untrained Christian drug and alcohol counsellor . The art therapist invested with knowledge of the psychological power of art / the arts practitioner who is only competent to lead a community

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Reading Springhams paper, we may feel confirmed in the rightness of the perspective that only those qualified to do so and recognised as such by a professional association should practise art therapy. We may find our attitudes to the possibilities and limits of the expertise of arts and health practitioners challenged or reinforced. We may feel compelled to side with what is presented as incontrovertible evidence. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, willingness or ambivalence, we may embrace or admit the opportunities and responsibilities we are invested with as those who are trained and licenced to handle the great power of art. We may feel justified and supported, particularly when many of us work in contexts where our professional knowledges may be marginalised or even trivialised.
Challenging the law

Underlying Springhams position is a theorisation of arts power to represent the inner world. Springhams argument is deliberately inclusive, and he does not tie his position to any particular approach to art therapy. Unlike many art therapists, Springham does not directly invoke psychoanalysis in this formulation, a positioning flagged in his paper by its notable absence of any reference to the unconscious. Yet notions of an intelligible inner world are linked to the psychoanalytic antecedents of art therapy and other psychotherapies, and to discourses that invest therapists of various persuasions with expertise in relation to peoples emotional, psychological and moral selves. In this sense, it seems to me that the authority of normative psychological practice and of psychoanalysis*as part of that powerful contemporary assemblage that Rose (1998) calls the psy disciplines*makes a subtle appearance in Springhams paper, alongside the authority of the legal system. As Judith Butler says of critical responses to her own attempts to challenge the law of normative psychoanalysis:
It is the law! becomes the utterance that performatively attributes the very force to the law that the law itself is said to exercise. It is the law is thus a sign of allegiance to the law, a sign of the desire for the law to be the indisputable law. . . (Butler, 2000, p. 21)

Here Butler engages critically with what Foucault, following Lacan, called the Fathers No: the prohibition against disorder that is the basis

Risk discourse in art therapy

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of the dominant, negative representation of power that Foucault calls juridico-discursive (Foucault, 1980, p. 82; see also Linnell, 2010).1 From this perspective, deconstructing the truths embodied and performed in Springhams paper could be compared to challenging the Fathers No. Perhaps, then, it is not only the slippage but the discursive parallel between the law of psychoanalysis, the law of the land and the powers invested in us as (art) therapists that makes Springhams paper so compelling that to resist it is to risk being cast out, at least symbolically, from membership of the responsibilised professional classes. Law, in Springhams view, might be said to represent an accumulated response to human interaction over at least a 2000 year period (p. 66). Thus law is disengaged from power and aligned with truth, through a truth statement that is itself a performance of power, and therapy is disengaged from the local and specific politics and practices of knowledge and power, and aligned with the law.

knowledge and power and the governance of risky individuals, this is one risk that I believe we must continue to take.

Butler is not suggesting a rejection of psychoanalysis per se, but of its most powerfully normative and pathologising dimensions.

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An ethic of questioning

It is an irony that a perspective that arose from Springhams commitment to challenging takenfor-granted ideas about the power of art may have come to offer the kind of certainty and status that can be deeply attractive to members of a profession so often marginalised by the claims of positivist science and evidence-based practice. Yet before we align ourselves too uncritically* perhaps even defensively*with such a move, perhaps we could ask ourselves whether we want to go where it might lead us. Art therapy has a long and remarkable history of being subversive, although not necessarily in an oppositional way, and the art of finding our way between normative and transformational praxis continues to be one of the great challenges of the profession. Art therapists are frequently engaged in questioning what otherwise might seem inevitable, in the moment to moment unfolding of each therapy, where we often hold hope for someone whose sense of self has come to be dominated by discourses so entrenched, embodied and psychically enfolded that they seem to close off the possibilities for a rich relational and inner life. It seems to me that we can, at our best, translate the complex ethos and practices of art psychotherapy into equally reflexive practices of reading, listening and writing, practices that move us radically beyond the taken for granted. In a professional world that increasingly draws us into the production of clinical truths, the sequestering of professional

S. Linnell Biographical detail Dr Sheridan Linnell is Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, where she leads the Master of Art Therapy. Her 2007 PhD thesis and subsequent book on practitioner research (Art psychotherapy and narrative therapy: An account of practitioner research, Bentham Science Publishers, 2010) conceptualised how the subjectivity of art therapists is formed and performed within contemporary regimes that situate moral responsibility primarily with the individual. Sheridan has extensive clinical and community experience working with people at risk. She is also a published poet and collaborative artist. Email: s.linnell@uws.edu.au

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