Art Psychotherapy and Congenital Blindness: Investigating the Gaze

Herrmann, U. K.. 2012. Art Psychotherapy and Congenital Blindness: Investigating the Gaze. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Art therapy with the blind has received little attention in terms of practice and research. This study investigates for the first time the psychodynamics of the gaze in the triangular relationship between congenitally blind clients, their artwork, and their sighted art psychotherapist. Analysing case material from a cohort of four blind clients in long-term art psychotherapy, this research explores how blindness and sight engender gazes that are specific to the sensory differences between the clients and the therapist. The nature of the interpersonal gazes between blind client and sighted art therapist are investigated in terms of transference, power and surveillance. The research shows that the client’s ‘blind gaze’ and the therapist’s ‘sighted gaze’ are subject to unconscious dynamics that mirror the continued historic, cultural and psychological misunderstandings between the blind and the sighted and powerfully determine the individual therapeutic situation. Through a multimodal qualitative research design, including the in-depth visual analysis of the clients’ artwork, three types of images are discerned by their characteristic form and content; these are described as protomorphous, allomorphous and automorphous sculptures. It is argued that the reciprocal relationship between these three forms of imagery and the clients engenders distinct gazes which gradually enhance the clients’ ability for the conscious reflection of ‘other’ in relation to ‘self’, arriving at a dynamic, changed and loveable self-image towards the end of therapy. The investigation further explores how the clients’ and the therapist’s joint beholder’s gaze likewise evolves in relation to the three forms of artwork and to the gaze of the artwork back to its maker and the therapist. The main findings of the study are described as a congruent and progressive anamorphosis of artwork and gazes; it is suggested that these specific forms of artwork and gazes do not only challenge the sighted therapist’s visual paradigm, but also eventually engender a changed sensory culture that reconciles the perceptual divide between blind client and sighted art therapist. This shared culture is discussed in terms of a tactile joint attention and a ‘tactile gaze’. The case material and the findings are examined and reflected against diverse theories on the gaze with particular reference to psychoanalysis and art psychotherapy. The entire process of the study, its methodologies and its impact on current practice are discussed and evaluated, and potential areas of further research are outlined.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Additional Information:

Thesis unavailable due to confidentiality


art therapy, art psychotherapy, congenital blindness, blind clients, sighted art therapist, gaze, cohort study, long-term case studies, visual research, collaborative research, protomorphous, allomorphous and automorphous sculptures,

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS)


May 2012

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

25 May 2012 11:22

Last Modified:

06 Sep 2022 22:05


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