I See, and I’m Seen: The Transformative Process of Witnessing and Emergence of Self.

How can the creative arts support eating disorder recovery? Eve, Orri’s Art Psychotherapist, discusses just that in our latest blog.

“Art is not always about pretty things. It’s about who are, what’s happened to us and how our lives are affected.”

Elizabeth Broun

There are endless possibilities around what you can create in making art – isn’t it amazing that no two art pieces are ever the same, because no two people are the same and we are all so wonderfully unique.

I think that sometimes individuals struggling to access their creativity, are grappling with ideas around how something is ‘meant’ to look and whether their difference is acceptable according to their inner critic. It’s incredibly brave to do this when in the throes of an eating disorder because often the voice of identity can be obscured or mistrusted.

By letting go of ‘Should’s and Must’s’ and overwhelm of flooding thoughts, feelings and bodily states, and committing to the creative process with its many unknowns; there is on some level trust in one’s ability to trust and be with oneself, alongside their therapist, and others present.

We explore how to mindfully navigate expectations in recovery in our blog.

I am reminded of the familiar expression, ‘trust the process.’ With that said, this isn’t always plain sailing as no therapeutic process ever is.

“There has to be an interplay between highs and lows if we are to access the most transformative chemistry of creation.”

McNiff, (p.192,1998)

McNiff writes about the art therapist creating a safe, thoughtful and creative space, where the art of mindfulness can be used to role-model how we ‘pay attention to ourselves and to each other, to the space and to the images, without desire, without expectation. Allen in Rappaport (p.56,2014.)

Mindfulness is characterised by being fully present, focused and aware of what is sensed and/or felt in the moment, without judgment. This practice is a discipline that is crafted and refined over timeMilner (p.94,1986) eloquently sharesBy a simple self-chosen act of keeping my thoughts on one thing instead of dozens, I had found a window opening out across a new country of wide horizons and unexplored delights.’

Attending to the process of mindfulness allows there to be a new inward focus, this is supported by being witnessed and seen by the therapist and by others. The experience is intimate, revealing maybe, and often uncomfortable initially because it is a new way of being together. In art therapy witnessing is supported by reflections that are free of judgement and compassion. Witnessing others with compassion and openness can help us learn to do the same for ourselves.’ McNiff (p.49, 2011)

“Acting as a witness to the expressions of another not only generates significant bodily, mental and spiritual effects, but the person making the art can experience satisfaction in providing these resources to others. In this respect, the arts therapy context is profoundly reciprocal with respect to the medicines of giving and receiving.”

McNiff in Rappaport (p.49, 2014)

We explore about how mindfulness supports eating disorder recovery in another blog.

There is something really magical about creating and witnessing which supports the ability to build relationships with others and with the self.

In tracing ideas of the significance of witnessing back to early development we see how this interacts with the here and now.

“A person is first seen by another, similar to a child being held as an infant, and, through this interaction, begins to see and learn about oneself. After self-awareness begins developing in a person, they are able to understand others more. Though it may not progress in such a linear fashion, an inner witness is continually evolving and shifting for the person to understand oneself and subsequently relate to others.”(Adler, 1987; Musicant,1994).

Yes! That inner witness is evolving constantly and changing – and that change is ok because life is continually changing and testing us.

We can use the principles of mindfulness and pay attention to the inner witness to guide us and know about ourselves in all our colours, where we can be free to move in new directions which enable the emergence of a self that is unapologetic and worthy, if only we can dare to trust the process, to see and be seen.

I have included the above image of my own art practice made in solitude – I think it speaks to letting go of those weighty consuming distractions and focusing on being guided by my own curiosity in trusting the process.

Peeling back the edges of the leaf, I notice how beautiful and imperfect the print left behind is – I just love that.


Adler, J. (1987). Who is the Witness?: A description of Authentic Movement. In Pallaro, P. (Ed.), Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler, and Joan Chodorow (pp. 141-159). London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Allen, P.B (2014) “Intention and Witness. Tools for Mindfulness in Art and Writing.” In Rappaport,L. (2014) Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies. Theory and Practice.Jessica Kingsley Publishers. London

Musicant, S. (1994). Authentic movement and dance therapy. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 16(2), 91-106. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02358569

McNiff, S (1998) Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go. Shambhala Publications Inc. Boston. In Vance,L. (1998) Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go, Art Therapy, 15:4, 275-276, [online]: https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.1989.10759340.

McNiff,S. (2014)“The role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience”: In Rappaport, L (2014) Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London.

Milner, M. (1986) A Life Of One’s Own. Routledge, London.

Has your recovery journey inspired your creativity?

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