Gender representation, power, and identity in mental health and art therapy

Authored by: Susan Hogan

The Routledge Handbook of Disability Arts, Culture, and Media

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9780815368410
eBook ISBN: 9781351254687
Adobe ISBN:


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When I wrote Problems of Identity: Deconstructing Gender Issues in Art Therapy in 1997, it was the first investigation of the topic in the arts-and-health literature. In that essay, I set out my rationale, explaining why awareness of representations of gender is an important topic for mental health practitioners and art psychotherapists in their practice. In this chapter, I survey and critically appraise my research and practice in this field since then. My appraisal includes an exploration of key concepts and contributions, especially about the usefulness of a focus on gender representation, power, and identity, and its importance for mental health. This work falls into an area that Facer and Enright (2016, 84) have called “cognitive justice” which concerns new forms of theory emerging from and reflecting previously marginalised views and perspectives. They note that such perspectives are often explicitly political, and they question the dominance of hegemonic forms of knowledge and produce reflective epistemological critiques of disciplinary norms. Detailed critiques are difficult to summarise, because they are meticulous and rely on the use of examples to drive points through, though some of the essays take a polemical stance (Hogan 2013). Problems of Identity: Deconstructing Gender Issues in Art Therapy (1997) was a courageous essay because it created a fundamental critique of disciplinary theory within British art therapy by offering a different conceptual framework and applying it to the discipline. It allowed a paradigm shift to take place by offering cultural rather than purely psychological explanations for states of being, particularly about women’s experience of mental illness. It drew on art theory and cultural theory and feminist critiques of science. I shall focus some attention now on that 1997 essay as it began my research trajectory of looking at gender issues in mental health, a trajectory that has continued for 30 years.

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