– by Deborah Schroder
I recently picked up the newly-released edition of Beautiful Boy, David Sheff’s powerful story of addiction and recovery within his own family. I was overwhelmed with the exquisite authenticity of Sheff’s description of family art therapy because I was the art therapist in the scene that he eloquently shared. His words brought back the memory of that weekend!
When the book first came out, I was still co-facilitating those intense multi-family group therapy weekends at Life Healing Center. I was too immersed in the work to be able to take in the depth of Sheff’s description of it. Now I’m far enough from those weekends filled with art, pain, rage and hope, to appreciate the writing about what can truly happen when a family makes art together.
“I have been through too much to be sitting on the floor finger-painting with Nic and my ex-wife. I am raging inside. Why did I come? Why am I here?” (Sheff, 2018, p.300).
I remember his anger and cynicism. And I also remember what happened next, the powerful art that emerged as his son created an image that cut through the thick presence of resistance that was layered upon fear, frustration and anguish.
“But then I look over at Nic’s third of the paper. Using ink, he draws a heart. Not a valentine heart . . .but a heart with muscle and tissue and ventricles . . .a pumping heart inside a body. His body. Attached to the aorta, a face, and then more faces . . .with expressions of fury and desolation and horror” (p.300).
The description of the experience continues as the family moves into the depth and meaning of their art, along with the other families in the room.
I often share my own experience with what family art therapy feels like, from the clinician’s viewpoint, with my students. I am so grateful to have come across Sheff’s moving words again, and share them as a tender testament to the power of family art therapy, from the voice of the client.
Sheff, D. (2018). Beautiful boy: a father’s journey through his son’s addiction (2nd ed.). New York, N.Y.: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt.