case two: Girl 10, Incest
|This piece was painted by a ten year old female incest victim. At the time of treatment, the girl was an only child living with both parents. She had been repeatedly sexually molested since a younger age but did not disclose the abuse until she was ten, when she told a friend’s mother. Her own mother reported having had no idea. The molestation had progressed to rape and the father was incarcerated.
This painting is an example from an early stage of treatment when the young patient was still unwilling to talk about the abuse. I am including this case study to illustrate how a piece of art can be interpreted even with almost no information about it from the patient.
All the patient told me about this painting (aside from how much fun she had making it!) was that she was in her bedroom (on the viewer’s right,) that her mother was in the room on the viewer’s left, and her father was in the room in the middle. She said that she gave him a crown because she wanted to pretend that they lived in a castle and that he was the king. When I asked about the clock, she said that all castles had clocks. When I asked why it was three o’clock, she said it was because that was when she got out of school. Further questions went unanswered.
We never discussed this piece again; her healing journey eventually developed through more art and much play. This painting, however, is a wealth of information for an art therapist.
|The child only put windowpanes on her window, indicating that she most probably felt trapped in her bedroom. The clear omission of the father’s hands is surely a very unconscious indication that she could not tolerate the feelings and memories associated with what those hands did to her. Giving him a crown and making him a king speaks to confused, conflicting feelings common to young incest victims, as well as to a psychological phenomenon of idealizing or identifying with the aggressor or perpetrator. This defense mechanism helps children desperately try to make sense of things when a parent acts in such an incomprehensible way.
The layout of the painting gives us information as well, indicating that the father most likely created a family dynamic where he kept the mother at a distance from the daughter as much as possible, probably to prevent disclosure on the child’s part, as well as to be sure to keep the mother in any denial she may have been in should she have suspected that the abuse was occurring.
Finally, the clock striking three did prove to be important because I eventually found out that it was the father that picked the girl up from school every day, which she later talked and cried about dreading.
This piece is an excellent example of how much information a skilled art therapist can get even before a patient is ready to talk about traumatic events- a process never to be rushed.
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