Construction of Adam's Hut: an adaptation of Art Therapy for men living in the special ward of an acute psychiatric hospital in Finland

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Liisa Girard


‘A hut, a shelter, or an object serves as a transmitter between unknown forces inside and outside the self’ (Kaj Noschis, 1986).

The project described here used an adapted Art Therapy group in ways intended to provide localised primary experience for adult men who had histories of deprivation from early childhood. The men had great difficulty in taking in any benefit from their usual psychiatric care because of their early deprivation and also their difficulties in interacting verbally and in using symbolisation.

The idea for this art therapy group project emerged from an interest in studying the needs of male patients treated by a special ward. The men were admitted to the special ward when they could not be treated in a mixed ward because of their very impulsive or aggressive behaviour. The paper is a description of the realization of the group treatment and the work process of two art therapists who were satellite workers for this special ward. 

Recognition of some of the vital needs of these patients was an important part of the work. The group was rewarding for all the participants and this was in stark contrast to what were usually negative experiences and difficult attitudes towards psychiatric care.

The art psychotherapeutic approach is based on the Winnicottian work of Dockar- Drysdale. The final artefact is discussed as a piece of architecture and as a metaphor for the early bodily experience. The overall outcome is discussed using the ideas of Ester Bick, Didier Anzieu and Winnicott. The hut serves as a transmitter like the skin of the human being. The therapeutic idea would be ‘the consolidating of the hut’.

The idea of Adam’s Hut was born as a result of an accumulation of clinical and
artistic experiences, knowledge about psychic development and a set of problems present within the particular ward.

Keywords: Primary experience; transmitting object between inside and outside the self; Symbolic realization by making art; Art therapy adapted to acute psychiatry; Skin.

Identifying features such as the names of patients and the hospital have been anonymised. 

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