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Museum Objects, Health and Healing
Museum Objects, Health and Healing provides an innovative and interdisciplinary study of the relationship between objects, health, and healing. Shedding light on the primacy of the human need for relationships with objects, the book explores what kind of implications these relationships might have on the exhibition experience. Merging museum and object studies, as well as psychotherapy and the psychology of well-being, the authors present a new theory entitled Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, which provides a cross-disciplinary study of the relationship between objects, health, and well-being. Drawing on primary research in museums, psychotherapeutic settings and professional practice throughout the US, Canada, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the UK, the book provides an overview of the theory’s origins, the breadth of its practical applications on a global level, and a framework for further understanding the potency of objects in exhibitions and daily life. Museum Objects, Health and Healing will be essential reading for academics, researchers, and postgraduate students interested in museum studies, material culture, mental health, psychotherapy, art therapies, and anthropology. It should also be valuable reading for a wide range of practitioners, including curators, exhibition designers, psychologists, and psychotherapists. Brenda Cowan is Associate Professor in the Exhibition and Experience Design Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York in the USA. Ross Laird is an independent author, scholar, and clinical consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia. Jason McKeown is a Marriage & Family Therapist, Parenting Educator, Clinical Program Consultant, and an Adjunct Instructor at Lenior-Rhyne University, Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville, North Carolina.
Routledge Research in Museum Studies
The Private Collector’s Museum Public Good Versus Private Gain Georgina Walker Museums as Cultures of Copies Edited by Brenna Brita The Personalization of the Museum Visit Art Museums, Discourse, and Visitors Seph Rodney Narratives of Vulnerability in Museums American Interpretations of the Great Depression Meighen Katz Museum and Gallery Publishing From Theory to Case Study Sally Hughes Museums and Centers of Contemporary Art in Central Europe after 1989 Katarzyna Jagodzińska Exhibitions as Research Experimental Methods in Museums Edited by Peter Bjerregaard Museum Objects, Health and Healing The Relationship between Exhibitions and Wellness Brenda Cowan, Ross Laird and Jason McKeown For more information about this series, please visit: https://www.routledge. com/Routledge-Research-in-Museum-Studies/book-series/RRIMS
Museum Objects, Health and Healing The Relationship between Exhibitions and Wellness Brenda Cowan, Ross Laird and Jason McKeown
First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 Brenda Cowan, Ross Laird and Jason McKeown The right of Brenda Cowan, Ross Laird and Jason McKeown to be identified as authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-1-138-60620-3 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-46781-3 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by codeMantra
List of figures Acknowledgments
Introduction 1 SECTION I
Our primal dialogue with objects
1 Ordinary portents
2 Object scholars and the literature Guiding themes 23
3 The power of objects Humanness 55 The universal 58
The theory of psychotherapeutic object dynamics
4 Creation of the theory
B R E N DA C OWA N
Encounters in the wild 65 Among the totems 72 Genesis of the psychotherapeutic object dynamics 76 5 The theory and framework Associating 81 Composing 82
vi Contents Giving/receiving 83 Making 84 Releasing/unburdening 85 Synergizing 86 Touching 88 Psychotherapeutic object dynamics interrelationships 89 SECTION III
Therapeutic object practices in clinical and educational settings
6 The wilderness within
J A S O N M C K E OW N
Releasing heaviness 95 Making and tending fire 97 Beads, letters, and photographs 98 Symbolic objects 101 Natural sculptures 104 The potential of therapeutic objects 105 7 Creativity and the true teacher
RO S S L A I R D
Inner and outer worlds 108 Vulnerability and care 111 Engagement and play 112 Facilitation and attentiveness 112 Empowered participants 114 Emotional safety 116 Inward and onward 117 SECTION IV
Health and healing in the museum setting
8 Seeing through a new lens: the empirical research Criteria 121 Process and findings 124
9 The National September 11 Memorial & Museum Overview of findings 130 Expressions of the dynamics 135
Contents vii 10 The War Childhood Museum Overview of findings 138 Expressions of the dynamics 144
11 The Derby Museum and Art Gallery Overview of findings 151 Connection 152 Expressions of the dynamics 157
12 The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) Overview of findings 162 Expressions of the dynamics 166
Implications for museums
13 The museum—wellness connection Therapeutic engagement in museum settings 174 Supporting the museum community 177 Recommendations for therapeutic organizational development 179
14 Working with trauma, grief, and related challenges Trauma 185 Understanding the mechanisms of trauma 186 Grief and loss 189 Shame 190 Intentional process and design 191 Training and competency for museum research and therapeutic activities 194
Conclusion A living presence 196 Deconstructing silos, pursuing possibilities, and finding freedom 196 Moving onward, deeply into, and farther beyond 198
1.1 Tony Butler “touching the country…” Photo by Jason McKeown 15 1.2 Cameras and resonances. Photo by Jason McKeown 16 1.3 A treasured pendant, lost and found. Used with permission from Elaine Maldonado 18 1.4 The silent magician. Used with permission from Geof Huth 20 2.1 It could change our relationship in a good way. Used with permission from Alexander Joseph 32 4.1 Bow-drilling. Photo by Jason McKeown 69 4.2 Tandem bow-drilling: a process of co-creation. Photo by Brenda Cowan 70 4.3 A labyrinth: one center, many pathways. Photo by Brenda Cowan 72 4.4 Hand-plane made by Ross Laird (woods: maple, cocobolo, and Lignum vitae). Photo by Brenda Cowan 75 5.1 Dynamic interplay of object characteristics, associations, and actions 80 9.1 It’s like a small 9/11 Memorial… Used with permission from Steven R. Saymon 131 10.1 A child’s swing. “The display of those objects [from the war] must be balanced with other childhood things about happy moments.” Photo by Brenda Cowan 145 11.1 Brenda Cowan (L), Jason McKeown (M), and Ross Laird (R) conducting an interview at the Derby Museum. Photo by Jason McKeown. Used with permission from Andrea Hadley-Johnson 151 11.2 We can learn that we have much in common. Photo by Chevy-Jordan Thompson 154 12.1 “It feels old and worn, like a story.” Photo by Brenda Cowan 162
We are grateful to all subject participants for their openness and trust, and to the institutions that allowed us to work with them: Trails Carolina: Graham Shannonhouse, Jeremy Whitworth, Brian Hannon, Shane Maxson, Michael Williams, and Tai Kulenic The Museum at FIT: Valerie Steele, Tanya Melendez, Colleen Hill, Faith Cooper, and Tamsen Young The National September 11 Memorial & Museum: Anthony Gardner, Jan Ramirez, Alexandra Drakakis, and Katherine Courtien The War Childhood Museum: Jasminko Halilovic, Amina Krvavac, and Sandra Mehmedovic Derby Museum and Art Gallery: Andrea Hadley-Johnson, Hilary Jennings, Tony Butler, Rachel Atherton, and Chevy-Jordan Thompson We would also like to express our gratitude to the sponsors who helped make these projects possible: State University of New York, Fashion Institute of Technology, Division of Academic Affairs, School of Graduate Studies, Department of Exhibition & Experience Design, Faculty Development Grants and Awards (FDGA); and the Esmée Fairburn Museum Associations Collection Fund. We thank Melisa Delibegovic for her support with the case study data analyses, War Childhood Museum data collection and Bosnian translations, and preparation of this volume; Andrea Hadley-Johnson for Derby Museum and Art Gallery resourcing and permissions acquisitions; Sandra Mehmedovic for War Childhood Museum resourcing and permissions acquisitions; and Sandy Schechter for support with permissions. The following scholars and colleagues offered their time and expertise to be interviewed for this book, for which we are most grateful: Leslie Bedford, Tony Butler, Paul Camic, Helen Chatterjee, Sara DeAngelis, David Harvey, Randi Korn, Marianne Lamonaca, Kiersten F. Latham, Cathy Sigmond, Lois H. Silverman, Ittai Weinryb, and Elizabeth (Elee) Wood.
Author acknowledgments Brenda Cowan: Love to Adam and Jane for your endless support and faith in me. Heartfelt appreciation to Libba, Leslie, and Mary for your friendship and encouraging my research. Many thanks to Ross and Jason for joining me on this journey. And eternal gratitude to objects, for always reminding me of my humanity. Ross Laird: For Elizabeth, Rowan, and Avery, as always. You are my helm and my keel. And with thanks to Brenda and Jason, for the companionship of traveling and the wonder of wandering. Jason McKeown: I appreciate my family and Trails Carolina for allowing me the time and support to write this book. Thanks to my co-authors, Brenda and Ross, for their wisdom and friendship through this journey. And heartfelt thanks to Graham Shannonhouse, colleagues, and mentors over the years in the field of wilderness therapy who have inspired me to see the healing power of nature, objects, and relationships.
In the time that has passed since a bright, blue autumn morning was shattered by tragedy, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum has amassed more than 12,400 objects: contributions pouring in from survivors, relatives, rescuers, and witnesses; people moved to unburden themselves of more than 12,400 experiences of horror, bewilderment, and sadness. To mark the moment, tell the story, heal, and transcend. We’re left with a man’s smashed eyeglasses, mortified, frozen into a state of shock; a wristwatch in pieces, its formal composure forever lost; a battered hockey stick. These objects present themselves with a certain ambiguity, straight through the glass. There is something about the banality of it all: a woman’s bloodied white pumps simply rest in a case; a widow’s key waits; and a telescope looks inward. A bomb-blasted set of concrete stairs stands poised mid-museum, scarred, and dignified. It’s as if the objects are holding their breath so as not to break the stillness of the whole affair, knowing that everything depends upon them now. Moving through the museum’s exhibits you can’t help but marvel at them—and at everyone else marveling at them. And you can’t help but wonder what on earth we are all doing here, captured in awe by these objects. Nothing about the chaotic moments that rendered these objects in their current forms makes any sense, even now, many years later. And yet, as pilgrims yearning, answering an unspoken summons, we make our way here, in the hundreds of thousands, despite our uncertainties and our ambivalence about revisiting those moments—because the objects prevail. They hold up their end of the bargain. They live on to tell the heedful tale. § This book is a chronicle and exploration of object-based pilgrimages, of the intricacies underpinning the meaning of objects, and of their affects in our everyday lives. This interdisciplinary research involved coordination among a museum professional from New York, a wilderness therapist from North Carolina, and a clinical consultant from British Columbia. Three individuals from very different places, backgrounds, and areas of expertise,
2 Introduction together set on learning how objects heal. The common factor among us is objects. We three—an exhibitor of objects, a healer with objects, and a maker of objects—are individuals who have dedicated our lives, in our own varied ways, to engaging with the power that even the humblest of objects wields. We share a belief that objects keep us well, often without our knowledge, and that our understanding of the psychological underpinnings of the human-object relationship helps us to see how museums can be places of health and healing. In our research, objects are broadly defined and include items found in nature (such as sticks, leaves, and stones); personal objects that we may refer to as everyday or ordinary; and objects that are newly made by our participants. Our research also includes cultural museum artifacts that are considered precious or rarified, including mundane (domestic) cultural antiquities but also personal objects that have been donated to museums and therein indoctrinated into the ideology of the museum artifact. Our interest in working across this wide and interrelated spectrum of objects stems from our three areas of professional practice. Additionally, we have been drawn to focus on the underlying primary factors in the human-object relationship inherent to meaning-making and personal development and health, as opposed to secondary or applied factors of monetary or commercial value. Our work focuses on the inherent relationship between mental health and the interrelated emotional, physical, and intellectual elements of objects fundamental to personal identity, social connection, and the “lifeworld.”1 Our shared passion united us as research partners and our different disciplines naturally converged, refining the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, with insights into the fundamental nature of objects in human experience. Our study is contextualized in scholarship and practice in material culture, museum studies, phenomenology, psychology, psychotherapy, and the social sciences. As we discuss in detail later in the book, much of the theory and practice related to the study of objects, health, and healing is interdisciplinary and cannot be siloed. Instead, our research is scaffolded by themes across the literature as opposed to a fixed taxonomy. Our research work and theory is grounded in foundational theories and applied practices in areas including but not limited to the cognitive and perceptual function of objects in psychological development and consciousness (Arendt 1958; Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981; Taborsky 1990); the attributes and phenomenological characteristics of objects and object encounters (Dewey 1934; Merleau-Ponty 1945; Csikszentmihalyi 1990; Turkle 2007; Wood and Latham 2014); meaning-making and visitor experience (Silverman 1995; Bedford 2014), communication (Hooper-Greenhill 1995; Lemmonier 2012), and education (Dewey 1916; Vygotsky 1967; Hein 1993; Egan 1997). Furthermore, scholarship and applied practice in haptics and somatics (Wilson 1998; Macnaughton 2004; Ratcliff 2008; Bentzen 2015), object materiality (Dudley 2010), and the role of sensory-tactile engagement in health and wellness (Chatterjee 2008; Critchley 2008; Gallace and
Introduction 3 Spence 2008; Camic 2010) have informed our understandings of the interconnectedness between the physiological effects and psychological factors inherent in the human-object experience. Altogether, these areas of research and practice have influenced the development and delineation of our theory’s elements particular to the interrelationship amongst object characteristics; object associations; and human-object dynamic experiences. The therapeutic outcomes defined within the Theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics have been shaped by scholarship and practice involving the ways in which people address trauma healing (Levine and Kline 2004; Van der Kolk 2015); grief (James and Friedman 2009); pain (Levine 2004); empathy, and prosocial behavior (Piff, Dietz, Feinberg, Stancato and Keltner 2015). In particular, we’ve utilized models of self-regulation (Baumeister 2017); neuroplasticity (Doidge 2015); self- awareness (Rochberg-Halton 1984; Dweck 2007; Ekman and His Holiness the Dali Lama 2008; Levitin 2015), and similar integrative themes that address growth and healing. Towards identifying avenues for further research and recommendations for applications of the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, we have drawn from the literature and professional practices in private, public and nonprofit sectors of the museum and mental health communities. Clinical research in the impacts of museum object engagement on mental, emotional and physical states of health and wellbeing (Silverman 2002; Chatterjee 2008; Chatterjee and Noble 2009; Camic 2010), and models for local and global organizational collaboration in health, wellbeing, and healing in museum and healthcare environments (O’Neill 2010; Silverman 2010; the New Economics Foundation 2011; American Alliance of Museums 2018; Happy Museum Project 2019) have also influenced our recommendations for readers. § Based upon these foundations and our own qualitative research, we have generated a theory of the connection between objects in everyday life and psychological health, defined by common and distinct types of human-object engagement through which we identify these impacts. The framework of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics presents seven dynamic human-object actions that are inherent, psychologically primary, seemingly universal, and a part of how humans, by nature, use objects in particular ways that support wellness and promote healing. The theory suggests that objects are meaningful and intrinsic aspects of our lives because they are fundamentally necessary to our mental health. Much like we need certain vitamins and minerals for our bodies to be healthy, so do humans need object engagement for psychological health. We can look to specific forms of activity to identify the ways in which objects provide those necessary nutrients.
4 Introduction These dynamic object experiences are ubiquitous, ordinary, yet complex when examined deeply. Here is a general example: while on a visit to a tranquil beach, a man happens upon a small seashell. Curious, he picks it up, triggering a complex and transformative psychological dynamic that will impact his psychological health. 2 The man’s recognition of the seashell demonstrates the cognitive phenomenon of “discursive interaction”: the seashell takes on socially ascribed symbolic meaning the moment he interacts with it (Taborsky 1990).3 In an instant, the significance of the seashell evolves: the man’s cognitive recognition of the seashell becomes transformed via subjective attributions including representations of other objects, events, and relationships (Rowe 2002), as well as newly formed associations with his pleasant experience in the moment. Those associations include sensory and emotional connections with the time, place, and his activities here—constructs of his “lifeworld” (Merleau-Ponty 1945)—and in the unity of these elements of his experience. The personal meaning of the seashell transcends mere recognition into deep perception; he has a “unified experience” (Dewey 1934). Within this simple conjuncture of person, object, and touch, the seashell becomes an embodiment of the man’s larger life experience (Wood and Latham 2011) and a “witness” to his pleasant time on the beach (Hoskins 1998). The man keeps this meaningful seashell in his pocket every day for years because it feels right to do so, such that he even feels empty or sad without it. The shell becomes a repository of his memory (Wood and Latham 2014) and a “companion in life experience” (Turkle 2007, 5). The object accompanies him as he continues along his life journey. Sometimes he touches and holds the object with pleasure, absently, or when talking about it with others, and these acts of touching, sensing, feeling, and remembering combine to produce effects that are psychological as well as physiological (Dudley 2010)4: he feels peaceful and relaxed when touching and holding the seashell, demonstrating the emotionally calming neurological response of “hypnoglyph” as defined by neurologist Hugo Critchley (2008). The inherent coalescence of our man’s identification of and subjective association with the seashell, the attributed evocative object characteristics of the seashell, and his catalytic actions with it are intentional, affirming, and altogether construct an experience that supports his psychological connection to his personal concepts of self, identity, and connection to life continuum: the fundamental elements of human development (Dewey 1934; Csikszentmihalyi 1984). This seemingly simple yet complex interplay with an object is inherent in the construct of human consciousness; the existence of objects and our experiences with them are grounding and mentally stabilizing (Arendt 1958), and in our example of a man’s engagement with a seashell, their inherent functions as psychological stabilizers are therapeutic in nature. The therapeutic elements in this example would include competencies such as self-regulation, as described by psychologist Roy Baumeister (2011); mindfulness as defined by collaborators Kabat-Zinn and the Dalai
Introduction 5 Lama (2012); and the resilience and neuroplasticity shown in the work of neurologist Norman Doidge (2015). These mental states and competencies are vital to a person’s psychological health and wellbeing. 5 By picking up and keeping this seashell, the man is contributing to his state of normative mental health. Both the body and the mind are nurtured and changed through the object experience. This illustration is general. Examining an authentic example, which you will encounter in our case studies, would involve more specificity regarding the person’s particular feelings about the time, place, and various aspects of their experience, and its impact on their state of health. In the illustration above, we went with the hypothetical that the man’s associations with the time and place were positive, such that his dynamic activity with the seashell fostered his wellbeing. But let’s say the particulars of his object associations with the beach were traumatic. Something bad happened then and there, and he kept the seashell associated with that traumatic situation. The seashell would now have negative associations related to the particular elements of the traumatic situation, the same object characteristics we described in the first illustration—bearing witness, repository of memories, life companion—but the dynamic activity of keeping the object in his pocket every day could be part of a therapeutic act of healing. His meaning- making experience and associations with the seashell, its attributed characteristics, and his action of keeping it close on a continual basis would again serve his fundamental need for connection to self, identity and life continuum. The object prevails as a reminder of the negative nature of the experience; by keeping it close, he reminds himself of his own resilience and endurance, which are vital to psychological healing. His dynamic object relationship helps him through the stages of trauma healing, which include the releasing and rearticulation of emotional and physiological response patterns (Levine 1997). These patterns, locked deep in the body-mind system as a result of traumatic experiences, could be even further reshaped and redirected by intentional therapeutic work that focuses on capacity building in the areas of resilience, self-regulation, and self-awareness (Levine and van der Kolk 2015). We could continue with the hypothetical story of our man’s relationship with the seashell, and imagine that he someday gives it to someone meaningful in his life, or perhaps he at some point destroys it, forever removing it from his life. Those are also object dynamics inherent to human health and healing. But more on those later. § The story of our pilgrimage, so to speak, was initiated by Brenda Cowan who developed the theory via field work at an adolescent wilderness therapy facility, followed by team-based qualitative case study work performed with Ross Laird, Jason McKeown and Melisa Delibegovic at four museums and via an open sourced online survey. Altogether, 83 in-depth interviews,
6 Introduction observations of 9 individuals in object-based wilderness treatment, and 20 qualitative surveys have provided empirical data and illustrative examples of what the theory means and how the framework works. Our quest has been and continues to ultimately, identify how museums are places of wellbeing and healing, and in what specific ways.6 The research journey began in 2015 with the theory’s origin stemming from field research at Trails Carolina, a wilderness therapeutic facility in North Carolina, which led to the formation of our partnership and a case study with the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in 2016. Additional case studies followed, including one with the War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2017, followed by the Derby Museum and Art Gallery in Derby, England in 2018, and then the Museum at FIT in New York, also in 2018. These institutions range from the highly and uniquely participatory, to more didactic in form. In each, we have seen how exhibition objects are making a powerful impact on the museum’s constituencies. We are seeing that even when visitors don’t overtly show emotional responses in exhibitions—or demonstrate what might be the ideal or target interactive or social engagement—they are nevertheless being impacted by objects. It’s automatic; it’s nature. In three highly participatory museums we worked with, where visitors, staff, and communities are engaging in sharing, donating, curating or creating the exhibitions and environments in different ways, perhaps unsurprisingly, the healthful and healing impacts were highly notable. In particular, at the War Childhood Museum and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum where our participants7 had personally experienced the tragedies at the core of the museums’ interpretation, their donations of personal objects to the museum collections resulted in strong feelings of “relief,” “unburdening,” and “peace” as a result of donating. As one participant expressed: It’s done. Over. It was a relief giving it away. I think I wanted to preserve the feeling of joy it gave me but when I gave it away I finally realized the gravity of it. The burden of it. And I felt the relief when giving it away. Doing this I feel liberated. It’s peaceful. I feel more relaxed in a way. Sharing the objects, my stories, makes me feel relaxed. It’s important to hear stories; it helps us forgive. We can’t heal society but we can heal ourselves. Even in the more didactic and passive museum environments, people are experiencing healthful feelings and prompts to make positive change as a result of their object engagements, just perhaps in more subtle, nuanced, or less magnified ways. Observation itself is an active state, particularly when the design of the environment encourages connections, is free from distractions and provides for the basic comfort of the visitor (Bitgood 2015).8 When a visitor is deeply focused and engaged, the evocative characteristics of objects
Introduction 7 on display can have a feeling of living presence to the visitor (Turkle 2007), and trigger, or activate impactful emotional connections such as reflections, ideas, and memories (Camic 2010; Chatterjee and Noble 2013; Froggett and Trustram 2014). Therein, even in a didactic museum exhibition where observation is the predominant object interaction, a visitor can experience a deepened state of mindfulness and presence with an object that elicits feelings of empathy (Cameron and Gatewood 2004), and a provocation to act (Laird 2001). In our study, we found that in exhibition spaces that were quiet and visually subdued, many of our participants described feeling sensitive and emotional when seeing the objects on display. They expressed being comfortable, moved, and like they were personally connected with the people associated with the objects on display, even though they couldn’t touch or otherwise interact with them. In one interview, a participant at the War Childhood Museum described moving through the entire exhibition space, and while moving from object to object, having alternating feelings of happiness and sadness depending on the stories affiliated with each. As she went throughout the loop of the museum’s galleries, she increasingly thought about herself and her family, object-by-object. Another visitor to the Museum @ FIT was significantly prompted by seeing a garment on display to make a connection with an estranged sibling, specifically with the intention of making positive change in their relationship: Just now I got the idea – based on the quilt garment in the show – to give my sister a positive idea to care for our grandmother’s quilt. I think this idea – the connection of the clothing – triggered the solution to share with my sister. I can help solve the problem maybe (how to care for the quilt) and allow the object to live on. It’s a healing idea. It could change our relationship in a good way. Conducting the case studies demanded rigor in terms of identifying useful participant samples and partner institutions, formalizing an appropriate interview methodology, maintaining consistency in data collection and analysis, and doing so with an openness to following the direction our outcomes were leading us in. The protocol for data collection in each research setting followed a structured qualitative methodology that is also open and heuristic, towards learning what people associate with objects, how they engage with objects, how their object relationships make them feel, and why they think that is. Towards compiling as complete a picture of object experiences as possible, we interviewed everyday visitors, object donors, curators, restoration specialists, staff, administrators, volunteers, historians, media experts, and museum professionals. Some of the individuals we interviewed did not have a history of visiting museums while for others, museum engagement has been a lifelong endeavor. Our sample included long term residents of the various museum communities, international tourists, refugees, visiting museum professionals, students, and immigrants.
8 Introduction The benefit of our own range and types of expertise enabled us to conduct this narrative-style work in a manner that was very participant-centered. With therapists present, the interview format and process allowed for significant emotional sharing and vulnerability within a safe environment, resulting in a depth of content that couldn’t be responsibly attained otherwise. Employing a heuristic approach (Moustakas 1990)9 that would elicit significant and meaningful content while making sure the interview didn’t turn into a therapy session, was challenging and took great care and mindfulness. As we discuss later on in the book, please don’t try this on your own! Limitations presented themselves in instances where participants sought therapeutic advice during interviews, and we had to carefully and respectfully redirect the conversations towards the case study objectives while being mindful not to disrupt the established feelings of trust and security. We provide our methodology and scripts for your own consideration, yet with words of caution and guidance about creating a safe environment and who to have at the table. It is very easy to activate challenging emotional states in subjects when engaging them in sharing personal memories, associations and actions with objects—more so than people might realize—and with this in mind we offer information and anecdotes that are instructional as well as encouraging. § The structure of this book is organized into sections, each one punctuated by illustrative examples from our case studies; interviews with scholars leading current research in objects, museum studies and mental health; first-hand accounts; and the theories that underscore our work. We begin with the theme of the psychological underpinnings of seemingly ordinary object engagements. Segments from interviews and stories shared by our participants that upon closer examination, can be seen as portals for entering into critical areas of scholarship related to objects. In this, we show the reader how to look at object engagement as we do. The following chapter flows from those points of entry and delves fully into a comprehensive overview of the scholarship within which we ground our research, arranged into themes including Objects and Psychological Development; Object Characteristics; Objects and Transformative Experience; Object Physicality; and Objects and Psychological Health. Section II presents the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics in full, including the questions that sparked the premise, the deeply personal story of the theory’s origin, and its formalization into a framework of specific human-object dynamic actions. Attention is paid to describing the evolving nature of the theory, its ongoing refinement, and the manner in which the empirical phases of research influenced its development into a framework of seven dynamic human-object actions including Giving/Receiving; Releasing/Unburdening; Making; Associating; Composing; Synergizing; and Touching.
Introduction 9 Section III provides an in depth orientation to the therapeutic use of objects in wilderness therapy and mental health practice. These chapters provide a lens into contemporary object-based clinical practice through first-hand accounts and professional experiences, and serve to orient readers to the therapeutic elements of the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics. Section IV’s chapters present our empirical research conducted with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, The War Childhood Museum, The Derby Museum and Art Gallery, and The Museum at FIT. In addition to providing the methodology and scripts utilized in our empirical research, this section articulates the findings and data analysis that directed the theory’s progression. Section V examines the implications of this work: to museums interested in exploring the healthful outcomes of human-object moments in their programs and exhibitions, and to others who seek to utilize objects in a therapeutic way. This section offers possible applications of the theory in a museum environment and practical recommendations and considerations for bridging clinical and ethical mental health practice with the evolving work of museums. This is an exciting and prolific time in the world of objects, and we conclude with a summary of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics’ potential for the museum and mental health professions moving forward, including thoughts for readers on the future of museum objects and mental health. § Stories of the objects in our lives are as old as humanity. They have captivated people for centuries past, as they will for centuries yet to come. Our own studies with objects, health and healing, and the role that museums play, enters into a thriving world of insightful scholarship, and we are delighted to be able to contribute a new lens for seeing their wonder and beauty. It is our intent that the stories we share about people and objects in this book feel familiar and resonant with those of our readers. The chapters include contributions from the participants who opened themselves up for the purposes of our research, in addition to memoir-like field notes, journal entries, and accounts from our own professional and personal lives. These various contributions illustrate the elements of our research, but even more so the humanness of our study. More than just an academic exploration, you will learn that delving into the meanings and purposes of objects means exploring yourself, and the narrative nature of our text strives to reflect the inspirational, illuminating, and at times poetical moments that make this work so rewarding.
Notes 1 The phenomenological concept of ‘lifeworld’ incorporates the world of lived experience and the way in which events, objects, and emotions, appear to us in our conscious experience of everyday life (Husserl 1936; Carr 1970).
10 Introduction 2 Our illustration resonates with the ‘found object process,’ a highly relevant theory that identifies a direct relationship between the process of finding objects with well-being and healing impacts (Camic 2010). 3 The semiotic power of objects is derived from their attributed sociocultural meanings, or ‘signs’ as explained in Edwina Taborsky’s theory of ‘action-of- textuality.’ Meaning-making occurs in the immediate interaction between the observer and the object. This is referred to as ‘discursive interaction,’ and it is deemed key to human cognition and meaning making (1990). 4 Sandra Dudley’s concept of ‘materiality’ posits that our sensory engagement with objects and their physical characteristics have implicit value in subjective association and meaning-making (2010). 5 There is no one universal standard of measurement for well-being. For our research we utilize well-being indicators from our own practices, and reference instruments developed by sources such as The New Economics Foundation in the United Kingdom, which is utilized in relevant current research in the well-being impacts of museum objects (New Economics Foundation 2011). 6 It’s important to note that as we are looking at the underpinnings of the human- object experience in relationship to mental health, we are not evaluating programmatic museum-based therapies or social work as a part of our primary research. This is an influential arena of research and practice that we have drawn from and will discuss later in the book, however, facilitated programs with museum objects, health and healing are adjacent to our focus on exploring the core dynamic. 7 We use the word “participant” throughout this work to be inclusive of the range of individuals we interviewed, including museum visitors, staff, as well as community members and affiliates. 8 In his paper “An Attention-Value Model of Museum Visitors,” psychologist Stephen Bitgood defines visitor attention in museums as three stages: capture, focus and engage: a model of experience that fosters outcomes such as flow, learning and satisfaction. Each stage is influenced by different contextual conditions, and can be distinguished via measurable visitor behaviors. 9 Moustakas’s model features interview questions that elicit deeply personal, emotional responses in the subject, and promotes heightened emotional sensitivity in the researcher. The aim is to create a shared, humanistic experience in the moment that benefits the opportunity for personal insights and discovery in the subject, and allows for a deepening flow of conversation to reveal unanticipated paths of inquiry and relinquishment of preconceived outcomes in the researcher.
Our primal dialogue with objects
1 Ordinary portents
Stories are maps, repositories of collected wisdom, ciphers, and guides for making sense of the human journey. Whether archaic, prosaic, or postmodern, stories render the paths undertaken by all those who seek resolution and healing. Our work is about objects: their silence and clamor, their inertia and momentum, their patient or pressing presence in the lives of people. A museum is a repository of object stories, colliding and interweaving, carrying forward the embodied past, holding the hardscrabble present, shaping the possible future. In this book we share object stories from our research to illustrate a way of looking into object experiences so as to identify their healing properties. These diverse tales of objects, of their curious and potent power, contain many similarities and many shared moments of discovery. The small and often quotidian object experiences described in this book are fragments of an ever-evolving tale about what it means to grow, learn, and heal as a human. These stories embody that unfathomable narrative; they share its richness and warmth. They are whole and complete, yet also woven into the larger tales that connect us all. Endless interwoven stories. These are all aspects of the unfolding story of every human and of humanity itself. § There is a moment—you can practically count on it—when the person telling you about an important object in their lives is suddenly struck by the weight of its meaning. They entered into the conversation knowing it was important to them in some way or another; they could associate it with meaningful people, places, or events in their lives; they kept it and cared for it or gifted it or destroyed it. The object equals intent. Nevertheless, you find yourself sitting with them at work, in a cafe, or on the train, and as you listen to them talk about their object and what it means, and why they do with it whatever it is that they do, you can see the point at which they realize their story is suddenly not quite as silly, or ordinary, or superficial as they had thought. Or had hoped. There is usually a pause: the person’s eyes might look down at the table, or they might cock their head slightly, their voice becoming softer. Suddenly they recognize a purpose or a preciousness that they had not been
14 Our primal dialogue with objects aware of before. And, in turn, perhaps they recognize too, in themselves, something purposeful and precious that they had not seen before. This moment often comes also in interviews with people who take great pleasure in describing how they don’t keep objects; they don’t like having things, they have no connections or need for stuff. In fact, they give things away all the time. They donate their objects to charity, they re-gift, and they offer the family heirloom to a sibling. They talk about how freeing it is not to have clutter, how good it feels not to have the responsibility of that family heirloom; how nice it is to know that the shoes will be worn by someone who really needs them. And so on. In their proud explanation of how objects don’t have meaning in their lives, and in their various examples of what they do with objects to prove their lack of meaning, these people typically realize that they have just shared many examples of how objects have, indeed, been deeply meaningful to them. Objects have facilitated those feelings of freedom, of release, of making a contribution to a larger need. I am unburdened. I have options and opportunities. I help others. Talking with people about objects can be like pulling on a tiny thread: one inquiring tug and the story comes free. The thread might slowly un-knit, cautiously, carefully, mindfully, so as not to hit the floor or damage the cloth, and sometimes the thread flows so freely and loosely that you find yourself flat on the ground in a heap and a tangle. And the dynamic is the same at a dinner party or airport lounge as it is in the formal research setting: Tell me about your object. And so it begins (Figure 1.1). § Question: What meanings or associations does your object hold for you? Answer: This road atlas was my father’s, and I got it from his things when he died. It’s my childhood and day trips with my family. I have very few objects, and this is a link to growing up and that love. We didn’t go abroad, but we would navigate through the countryside, and this opens up vistas and the country. My father would always drive, and I would navigate in the front seat with this. I remember all the places we would go see, and memories of my father swearing while driving! It’s like I was navigating through my childhood—my world understanding of the time. I can’t let it go. [Slowly flipping through each of the maps, tracing the lines as he talks.] It feels like I’m connected to my memories, my family; I feel like I’m touching the country. Question: You talk about being the navigator in the car—how much you loved that. Have you ever thought about the relationship between being the navigator as a child and your professional life today? Do you think your love of the road atlas is a metaphor for your work? Answer: [Pauses thoughtfully, quietly]… I hadn’t thought of that … Yes … I hadn’t thought of that…
Ordinary portents 15
Figure 1.1 T ony Butler “touching the country…” Photo by Jason McKeown.
Ordinary objects, such as a worn road atlas kept in the trunk of a car, can be portents in our lives; with them we can see, most often in retrospect, who it is that we have become. Our subject here is indeed the navigator that he was as a child. Having once guided his family throughout the English countryside, today, as the founder of a national consortium of museums and heritage sites, he identifies roads and bridges, pathways and connections for institutions dedicated to community building, wellbeing, and sustainability. The mission he set for his organization is momentous, significant in its long view and focus on the health of people and their environment. Through his work he opens up vistas for the museum profession. In many ways this is a continuation of his mission as a child: to navigate his family’s way throughout the countryside, shaping a shared understanding of the world through a love of people and place. As our subject talked with us about his father’s old road atlas while gently turning its pages, he was demonstrating an aspect of the psychological state of flow (Csikszentmihalyi 1990) and corresponding elements of the numinous object experience. His attention and energy were focused on the atlas in his hands; he appeared absorbed as memories from his childhood
16 Our primal dialogue with objects
Figure 1.2 Cameras and resonances. Photo by Jason McKeown.
were activated. In his description of “touching the country,” the atlas and his memories felt alive, both symbolically and tangibly. The materiality of the atlas was mnemonic, triggering reflections, reminiscences, ideas, and meanings via tactile engagement that connected him with his past (Chatterjee and Noble 2013; Dudley 2010). The atlas symbolized his understanding of the world, as a child, and mirrored his passions and experiences as an adult. This focused element of his experience is defined as object link (Wood and Latham 2014), which is highly interrelated with flow and the numinous object experience.1 In this simple moment, a man, a book, a past and a present, become a countryside ribboned in lines of blue and red, full of love and possibility (Figure 1.2). § Question: What made you decide to share your objects? Answer: I wanted to learn more about why I feel so much about my objects. I want to be more aware. Question: What meanings or associations do the objects hold for you?
Ordinary portents 17 Answer: My dad. Love. Joy. Moments. I keep the camera that was my dad’s on a bookshelf and I see it every day. It was his constant companion. The continuity of having my father’s camera. I work out some of my feelings when I use it. Beginning the process—of starting the creative process. I think out the image and frame and it’s a process. It’s iterative. The finished speech of the final photograph. It focuses my attention on changes. My feelings. Question: I noticed, when you came in and sat down, that you placed your two cameras on the table together, their lenses touching. Was that intentional? Answer: [Pauses, grows quieter] No … I don’t know … I can’t talk about it… Objects can speak for us of what is unspoken or unspeakable. The museum volunteer arrived for our interview and gently placed two cameras on the table in front of her, their lenses angled towards each other and slightly touching. One was a gift and the other an inheritance. There was a palpable tenderness in her manipulation of the objects. Throughout the interview, she spoke lovingly about her father’s camera, her process for taking photos with it, and what it means to her. As we explored together her thoughts and experiences and asked about her positioning of the two cameras, the mood deepened, and verbal communication wouldn’t—or couldn’t—suffice. The cameras were doing the talking now. Her juxtaposition and manipulation of the two cameras, and her hesitancy with expressing the meaning of their contextualization in words, brings into consideration anthropologist Pierre Lemonnier’s concept of perrisological resonators (2012). 2 Objects, when manipulated within or into a specific context of use or making, become activated, expressive. They communicate without words and can speak the unspoken. Together the objects—and the act of composing them, as the volunteer did—spoke the emotions, thoughts, and feelings that couldn’t be translated into words. Even her description of the final photographs as having “speech” is profound in this way, as is her process-oriented way of taking them. The participant spoke about how she does some of her best work when feeling sad. The use of the camera and the photographs enable her to focus on her feelings and to serve as nonverbal records of her process of recovery and healing. Her journey can be experienced and reflected upon more concretely than through verbal means alone (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011, 152). The cameras; the way she uses them; how she physically contextualizes them in our setting; the photographs she makes with them: these are all aspects of her voice for things that she cannot say with words. Language would be too abstract. Too removed. Insufficient. A reflection on object and memory, from a colleague, argues persuasively for the power and lasting impact of objects in our lives: I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and my friends, mostly Catholic girls, each wore a fantastic little cross on a chain around their neck. I never
18 Our primal dialogue with objects missed going to a parochial school, but I was terribly envious of the jewelry. At the age of 13, my grandmother (whom I adored and still think of often) bought me a heart-shaped mother-of-pearl pendant, embellished with marcasite and a little Star of David. I finally owned my own religious jewelry to wear around my neck! I’m Jewish, but I grew up in a non-religious home. Although there was no Bat-Mitzvah, 13 is traditionally an important coming-of-age year in Judaism … I have a feeling my grandmother wanted to mark this traditional milestone in her own way (Figure 1.3). I wore it all the time, and then I lost it. I looked everywhere, but after a year had passed, I resigned myself to the fact that it was gone. Pennsylvania winters are harsh, with lots of snow, and when the first real day of spring arrives, words cannot describe the sweetness. I sat that early spring day on the edge of the road, enjoying the sun and flowery air. I was fooling around in the dirt with a stick, when I saw it: my pendant was wedged into the crevice where the street meets curb. I couldn’t believe it. It had survived a year, despite snow and sleet and wind and cars skidding out of control. I walked home and showed my mother, and she said, “you can’t lose religious jewelry.” When my granddaughter turns 13, I will give it to her, share this poignant history and hope she doesn’t lose it. (Elaine Maldonado)3
Figure 1.3 A treasured pendant, lost and found. Used with permission from Elaine Maldonado.
Ordinary portents 19 We live amid transitions, we grow, we develop, we reach milestones, and we keep on going. Our objects move and merge with us along our paths, they enter into our lives at times of change, and at milestones they mark a moment. We celebrate, they celebrate, we acknowledge, they confirm, and onward into new growth we go. A necklace can connect us with a larger identity, a society—in this case cultural—and indicate to us that we belong. A necklace can say it’s time, you’ve arrived, to a new place, to the next stage, with yourself and with us. These are valued objects nurturing important elements of our identity. They provide us with continuity through life’s many transitions (Kroger and Adair 2008);4 they act as signs of the self and are essential for its continued cultivation (Rochberg-Halton 1984). In a liminal period we find ourselves in divisions within societal frameworks and hierarchies, or as with this educator, within a crevice where the street meets the curb. In liminal periods we can get lost, and our objects can get lost as well. Perhaps, sometimes, it is the objects that lose themselves to someday find us again. I made the pink papier-mâché head, and I gave away a bit of my thenblond hair for its head. My mother made the elaborate costume of this clown or magician: its hat, its tunic, its pants, and frills gilding each of these. My father carved the wooden hands and shoes of the puppet, having him hold a plate in each hand so that the fingers would not break off during play. This puppet, this silent magician, more than represents me; he carries my DNA with him. He also represents a time in my life when my parents were much younger than I am now (in their late twenties) and filled with the excitement of beginning their lives. He carries the evidence of long and careful effort by my parents on my behalf—even the pockets inside it for my hand and fingers are well-designed and sturdy. He represents that time of my life when I, though very young, was most involved with languages (instead of merely language): I spoke English at home, Portuguese at home and school, and German at school. He has lived with me most of my life, on four continents, at least six countries, a couple of states, and he carries within himself the memories of my entire life, even though those memories are nothing but the reflections I see coming off his body (Figure 1.4). (Geof Huth, in conversation with Brenda Cowan)5 In her book Misplaced Objects: Migrating Cultures and Recollections in Europe and the Americas (2009), Silvia Spitta explores the role of objects as cultural signifiers and silent partners in migration, accompanying us throughout life, from one place to another, one culture to another, one time of life to another. Objects are vehicles of intimate and inward narratives, they are memory-embodying, and to them we imbue the cultural meanings of the people and practices of the places where we once lived. As people become uprooted and displaced, our objects migrate with us, creating and attaching new memories to new places. In these long-term relationships, cultural objects become progressively and deeply entangled in our lives
20 Our primal dialogue with objects
Figure 1.4 T he silent magician. Used with permission from Geof Huth.
(Brown, Frederick, and Clarke 2015), providing us with a sense of security and safety as we manage the challenges of identity that come with adapting to new cultural environments (Mehta and Belk 1991). This small puppet, lovingly made, marked a rare moment of family togetherness and co-making in our storyteller’s life. In its making he was not alone, and through a life of cultural movements with the puppet he is not alone. It is his silent life partner, who will continue onward to whatever places may come, and whatever new moments and memories will be made. § The world of objects—which is the world—is kaleidoscopic. In this world a single, simple, ordinary thing is not really a single, simple ordinary thing; a necklace, a camera, a book, the doll you made of wheat paste and cloth. They are all prismatic, interplaying associations, relations, and meanings that you can reach out and touch. At least, that’s how you begin to see things once you pick up the knack. An object is no longer just an object; an object is suddenly a complex creation composed of semiotic, material,
Ordinary portents 21 intellectual, emotional, and spiritual qualities. Your head can become swarmed with questions or projections, intense curiosity or wonder—and all you’re doing is looking at a crushed can on the sidewalk. We will take human-object experiences and examine them further, using a new coalescence of lenses through which to see even more of their multidimensionality: how deeper associations are made, additional characteristics emerge, and personal development comes into play. These examples are potent, intricate, and rich with meaning. The breadth and depth of literature on the subject of objects, which has been substantial and increasing for well over a century, is currently booming. In the following chapter, we share the scholarship in the disciplines of museum and object studies, psychology, psychotherapy, and the social sciences, that has informed and provided a context and grounding for our interdisciplinary theoretical research. The guiding themes that have informed and substantiated our explorations draw from the literature as well as models of practice developed between the museum and therapeutic communities. This is an orientation to a kaleidoscope—one that continues to inform, inspire, and even amaze us as our journey continues.
Notes 1 In a 2016 study, Kiersten F. Latham correlated the focused engagement experience of flow, specifically involving deep attention to an object, with her research in object link: an element of numinous object experience in which the presence of an object, as seen in this illustration, actively links a person—and their present—with memories and feelings of the past that are deeply meaningful and symbolic. 2 In his theory of perrisological resonators and work with mundane objects, Lemonnier describes how objects manipulated into a particular juxtaposition or context converge—or instantaneously activate—a coalescence of concepts, feelings, circumstances, and domains of experience. Their material use triggers emergent, nonverbal statements that speak what words cannot; they can communicate unspeakable truths. 3 Throughout this book, quotations from personal interviews or correspondence are either attributed directly or anonymized, as appropriate. 4 Psychologists Jane Kroger and Vivienne Adair describe the phenomena of the symbolic meanings and functions of objects during liminal periods in life as providing identity maintenance and support with revision processes. 5 Throughout this book, quotations and photographs are either anonymized or used with permission.
2 Object scholars and the literature
Explorers in the world of objects are fueled by wonder, awe, and curiosity. Whether artists, educators, philosophers, collectors, makers, scholars, or scientists, we pursue the shape, form, function, and meaning of the human-object relationship, seeking to understand an inner mechanism and fullness of potential. This inquisitiveness into objects has motivated groundbreaking research and discoveries in human development, perception and cognition, psychology, learning theory, health, and the ways in which people communicate, create cultures, and form societies. The literature provides a myriad of pathways for thinking about objects and object experiences. Objects are factors in intellectual, emotional, and physical development; objects enable us to internally decipher, and externally communicate, complex concepts, intentions and actions; they are connectors to our innermost selves, others, and the world around us; they can trigger and access memory, imagination, and the subconscious; they can foster transpersonal experiences such as heightened creativity, spirituality, and self-awareness; and they can prompt us to action. The study of objects is immense, intricate, and at times beautiful. The theories, areas of research, and the literature overlap, converge at points, and interrelate. The body of scholarship and practices that contextualize our interdisciplinary research span several formalized disciplines. Scholars leading thought and innovation in the study of objects wear many hats and their work is highly multidimensional. A good example of this breadth and intricacy is in the area of meaning-making. Some of the most influential thinking in the paradigm of meaning-making comes from museum scholar Lois H. Silverman, who has championed research in meaning-making in psychology, communication, learning, museum exhibition development, exhibition design, exhibition evaluation, visitor studies, media studies, and material culture. This expanse of research has continued to broaden and can also be found firmly integrated into the literature of archaeology (Brown, Frederick and Clarke 2015), found objects in therapy (Camic 2010), neuro-semantics (Hall 2017), and narrative psychotherapy (Brown and Scott 2007). There has been no single home field for study in objects and meaning-making but
Object scholars and the literature 23 instead a myriad of lenses, means of examination, and findings. Therefore, as we progress and continue to evolve our theory and its framework, we have avoided siloed thinking and instead draw from the body of scholarship and practice in the form of guiding themes. In some cases these themes feature several of the same scholars and theories but from different perspectives, enabling us to see the multidimensionality and interdisciplinary nature of their work and our own. We have developed our own themes, as follows, with attentiveness to the many ways in which the scholarship of others has grounded our thinking and process, allowing for as much natural crossover as possible while maintaining clarity and definition.
Guiding themes Objects and psychological development Objects are fundamental to human development, cognition, perception, identity, socialization, communication, and learning. Object characteristics Objects have impactful phenomenological, evocative, and numinous characteristics as well as catalytic and protagonistic capabilities. Objects and transformative experience Objects influence and shape transformative human experiences such as awe, flow, spirituality, and the transpersonal. Object physicality Objects embody a fusion of intellectual, physical, and emotional meanings through tactile, somatic, and haptic engagement. Objects and psychological health Objects are devices for understanding mental health and enhancing museum and therapeutic practices. Objects and psychological development Cognition and perception From a psychological perspective, objects are formidable, truly awesome forces. They serve a primary psychological role in human life as the things
24 Our primal dialogue with objects that enable us to function in the world without getting cognitively or psychologically lost. It is from this most rudimentary function of objects that our work in object-based therapy and the object-wellness connection begins. An object’s tangibility, independence, or objectivity, according to philosopher Hannah Arendt (1958), functions to stabilize our consciousness. Objects enable humans to retrieve our identities by providing material relationship and relativity. Human consciousness requires objects to provide tangible elements to our life experiences, enabling us to define our existence and movement within the world. This concept of human reliance upon objects to maintain a sense of cognitive order is shared by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his views of the role of objects in the organization of human experience: Contrary to what we ordinarily believe, consciousness is not a stable, self-regulating entity… Without external props, even our personal identity fades and goes out of focus; the self is a fragile construction of the mind. (1993, 22) Objects ground our sense of reality. They give us a tangible, sensory scaffolding within which we can perceive, interpret, and order the world around us. A primary element in cognition and psychological stabilization is our interaction with an object’s sign, its socially predetermined meaning which evolves from social interaction and a shared cultural communication system. The meaning of the object does not come from the object but rather from culture; objects are tangible products of cognition and practice, signifying practical usage and representing cultural, aesthetic, and symbolic values (Camic 2010). An object’s sign is gained and defined via our active engagement, or discursive interaction with it (Taborsky 1990), and occurs when we share a temporal experience with an object visually or physically. The meaning of an object is created when we are engaged with it, or action- as-textuality (Taborsky 1990). This process is fundamental to human cognition and meaning-making; it is the psychological ground upon which we can move beyond a state of symbolic recognition of the objects in our lives and into the subsequent subjective and associative meaning-making that are vital to our personal development. Subjective perception and the elements of experiential phenomena (events, objects, emotions) are core to the concept of lifeworld:1 the relationship between cognition, perception, and daily sensory experience including our relationship with objects as the meaning/making elements in our lives. Defined by Edmund Husserl in his landmark work The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1936; Carr 1970), lifeworld interrelates individual, social, perceptual, and bodily- sensory experiences and suggests that the meaning of things is not inherent in objects but in the subjective inner life of the individual. Objects are
Object scholars and the literature 25 identifiable in the semiotic sense but become meaningful only in the multidimensional experience of the individual. Objects that are imbued with subject attributions and personal meaning recount our life experiences and emotions, revealing lifeworld (Wood and Latham 2014). Susan Pearce heightens the conversation by describing the nature of this interaction in a museum environment as a tension-filled balancing act between an object and its viewer: The object only exists if it is “made meaningful” through somebody reacting with it; but, at the same time, that somebody only exists, as a social being, as he is in the process of interaction. The balance is held by the object itself, with its tangible and factual content (1994, 27). The powerful interaction between objects, personhood, and emotion is celebrated by John Dewey in his masterful work Art as Experience (1934): In recognition there is a beginning of an act of perception… Perception replaces bare recognition. There is an act of reconstructive doing, and consciousness becomes fresh and alive… Recognition is too easy to arouse vivid consciousness… It involves no stir of the organism, no inner commotion. But an act of perception proceeds by waves that extend serially throughout the entire organism… The perceived object or scene is emotionally pervaded throughout. (Dewey 1934, 52, 53) True perception demands not just a cognitive interaction with an object, but a subjective wholeness of experience in which emotional, physical, and intellectual engagement forms a moment of deep connectivity. Such moments offer a sense of unity with the greater meanings of life, not externally but intimately. This unity lies at the heart of the connection between objects, experience, health, and healing. As Gerald Edelman affirms: Every perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination (Edelman 2006). Objects encourage us to experience a deep oneness with our individual way of seeing and knowing. Objects reveal themselves to us and we too are revealed. We see ourselves in and through them. Identity and socialization The act of making meaning enables us to analyze the nature of our relation to objects and perceive how they affect us, both individually in the dialectical creation of meaning and self, and socially in the ideological creation of relationships (Pearce 1994). This wholeness of connection with the meanings of objects stabilizes our psychology and nurtures our capacity to objectify our self-identity; it underpins how we shape identity, our sense of who we are. Our lives become entangled in objects and become a vehicle for
26 Our primal dialogue with objects selfhood (Hoskins 1998). According to Csikszentmihalyi (1993, 23), this area of development happens in three ways: … First by demonstrating the owner’s power, vital erotic energy, and place in the social hierarchy. Second, objects reveal the continuity of the self through time, by providing foci of involvement in the present, mementos and souvenirs of the past, and signposts to future goals. Third, objects give concrete evidence of one’s place in a social network of symbols (literally the joining together) of valued relationships. Objects provide us with a symbolic sense of permanence and placement within the life continuum, a means for the self to organize and identify its engagement in the midst of ongoing change through tangible and familiar things. Relationship with and assimilation into the social hierarchy— internalizing the social environment—is essential for feelings of placement, purpose, and connection, the vital third pillar of a fully integrated self: the personal self is fully infused with the social self (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981). Throughout our study, participants gave many examples of the symbiotic self-object-society relationship. In the following example, a participant’s donated object to the War Childhood Museum is a powerful illustration of the integration of these primary elements of self. The donated object represents her personal strength, power, and projection of identity. It objectifies and marks a time in her life that was deeply meaningful, provides a source of focus for the present, and signals intention for the future. The object represents a connection with a broader social history, social present, and unification with others. When asked about its meaning, the participant expressed, with great feeling: This shows we are stubborn children of war. We showed them! This museum will show kids are kids. We are all one. We weren’t Muslim or Christian or Serbs or Croats, we were children! All the same. The object’s symbolic and representational functions, its thingness, 2 personal associations, and perception as an instrument of social purpose supports the participant’s formation of self. The object is an inextricable part of her identity. Her action of donation, and the object’s subsequent display, enhance its function as a factor in her ongoing psychological growth. The object becomes a member in her life story. In an active sense, people narrate their lives with objects, and those objects become a part of their identity (Wood and Latham 2014). The concept of self as an active ongoing process of building and maintaining identity is described as identity work by museum scholar Jay Rounds (2010). In his view, museums—as structured and cultural forums for object experiences and meaning-making—are ideal venues for identity work. In museums, the object and environmental
Object scholars and the literature 27 experiences of visitors can develop and foster personal identity as a continual process of construction, maintenance, and adaptation (2010). Identity is a flexible construct of self-definition: how we present ourselves to others and how we choose to live in relationship with society. This model of identity as an active process adds further dimension to self as an interrelationship among the individual, society, and the material world, including elements of intent, agency, and action. In an interview, a museum volunteer shared an example of her use of her role in the museum (sharing collections with visitors) as identity work: I think it’s quite nice to share the objects. It gives you a sense of place, of identity. Communication and learning My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shown upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed! (Anne Sullivan, letter dated 1887) Anne Sullivan’s breakthrough moment with Helen Keller at the water pump is perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of the epiphanies of learning and communication in human psychology. It is a poignant illustration of Dewey’s writings on aesthetic experience and the illuminating, unified experience of perception and meaning-making. In a single “unity of moment” (Wood and Latham 2014), objects, environment, touch, sensory stimuli, interaction, and activity transitioned Keller’s state of rudimentary consciousness and recognition into the state of the active learner and communicator. In that single moment her lifeworld was realized, “the light of understanding” was awakened in her, and Sullivan and Keller were both forever changed. Learning is at once a process, a product, a verb and a noun (Falking and Dierking 2018). There is no single definition, and to understand the intrinsic relationship between objects, personal development, and learning, we draw from the work of museum scholar George Hein and his approach to learning as a multidimensional action of constructing meaning. Hein’s approach is greatly influenced by unified experience, with the factor of perception being paramount as in the example of Helen Keller’s experience: Aesthetic experience, or what Dewey calls perception, is what enables the person to learn new things, to accommodate his interpretive schemes to the properties of his environment. (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981, 184) This object-experience-learning dynamic is illustrated in Hein’s theory of constructivism, of how a learner constructs meaning out of experience (1993).
28 Our primal dialogue with objects Constructivism posits that learning is active and experiential: meaning and new knowledge acquisition occur via an interaction of objects, experiences and content, with new knowledge building upon pre-existing information and lifelong experiences (Falking and Dierking 2018). The highly interrelated psychosocial function of communication is also constructivist in nature, according to museum scholar Eilean Hooper- Greenhill (1999, 16): Reality is not found intact, it is shaped through a process of continuous negotiation, which involves individuals in calling on their prior experiences to actively make their own meanings, within the framework of interpretive communities. This whole interpretive process is within the purview of “communication.” The social culture in which communication takes place influences, directs, and creates the range of possibilities for meaning-making (Silverman 2013). Communication is the pathway in which self is fully integrated within the social environment. We find ourselves as interconnected beings with the concepts and constructs of family and society. The psychosocial dynamic that connects and interrelates communication and learning is addressed in the learning theories of psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978), whose work focused on the individual’s active engagement in the social environment as a vital element in personal development. According to Vygotsky, the construction of ideas and higher cognitive functions is fostered in social environments where objects play a role in group and shared communication. This is where museums stand out as potent allies in supporting learning, development, and growth in individuals and societies. In our work, we encountered many examples of individuals’ awareness of this interconnectivity and the role of the social environment as an element of self, society, communication, and learning. Learning is a shared experience, such as with this museum volunteer who shares a meaningful ancestral object with visitors: With the totem I can share with others the meaning, educate them, and we can learn that we have much in common. All of psychological life is here in this—a simple daily gesture. When seeing objects through the lens of their primary role in personal development and phenomenological factors, museums make tremendous sense: Every object has the potential to support a visitor in meaning-making, every object has the potential to reflect something back onto its viewer, and every object has the potential to create a moment of consciousness within the visitor. (Wood and Latham 2014, 30)
Object scholars and the literature 29 A central purpose of museums is to maximize these object potentials and to foster a unity of participant experience and coalescing moments of object engagement, communication, learning, and meaning-making. In museums and in these moments, visitors can find personal significance (Silverman 2010), and, as we will explore further, experience and nurture their health and wellbeing. Object characteristics The object knowledge framework Our exploration into the human-object relationship ardently references museum scholars Elizabeth (Elee) Wood and Kiersten F. Latham’s Object Knowledge Framework, presented in their milestone work The Objects of Experience: Transforming Visitor-Object Encounters in Museums (2014). Resonant with Dewey’s theory of unified experience and grounded in the principles of phenomenology, the Object Knowledge Framework provides a structure for understanding the potential for, and impacts of, visitor- object experiences in museums. The Object Knowledge Framework defines the visitor’s museum object encounter as an interrelationship of three key elements: their lifeworld, the objectworld, 3 and the results of the interaction in a moment of unified experience in which all active elements of the experience blend together. This multidimensional, unified experience asserts four key themes of phenomenological object experience: unity of the moment (the fusion of the visitor’s identity, lifeworld, and objectworld in an epiphany-like moment); object link (objects as receptacles of memories and triggers of deep connection with meaningful past experiences); being transported (perceptual experience of the sensation of time and bodily presence being altered or changed); and connections bigger than self (heightened and transformative experiences of awe, reverence, empathy, and spirituality). Although differentiated, each of the themes incorporates characteristics of a numinous experience, bodily sensory engagement (somatic, haptic), and heightened feelings of connectivity with self, others, society, the past, imagination, and related themes. In this regard, the theme of unity of the moment, deeply rooted in the phenomenological convention, is holistic and cuts across each of the other themes which altogether contribute to the idea of unity (Latham 2016). The object, of course, plays the starring role in these powerful experiences. Meaningful object experiences require objects that are potent with ascribed subjective associations and unique, attributed object characteristics. In our life narratives, filled with memories, emotions, and imaginings, it is this potent object that tells the story, and its summoning voice is known as the evocative.
30 Our primal dialogue with objects Evocative objects The remarkable things about objects that connect us with them, and in turn connect us with each other and our societies, are their evocative characteristics. Objects that are evocative bring us back to the people and places of our childhoods, or to imagined futures. They summon feelings of joy, love, sadness, or grief. They rekindle our beliefs in who we once were, who we are now, and who and what we can someday be. The personal thoughts and feelings we attribute to evocative objects are intertwined and inseparable: “Objects’ roles are multiple and fluid”: they are active in our lives, catalytic, and are “things we feel at one with” (Turkle 2007, 9). Evocative objects lead us into and through the mystery of things. There are two predominant ways of thinking about the evocative qualities of objects: as connectors (to self, society, memories, feelings, and ideas), and as catalysts (of thought, actions, and emotions). This is not a dualism, just a means of differentiation. In her book Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, social scientist Sherry Turkle refers to these differentiated approaches and to objects as “companions to our emotional lives,” and “provocations for thought” (2007). A key factor in Turkle’s definition of evocative objects is their memory- embodying dimension and ability to connect people with others, places, events, and meanings. Objects are repositories of memory (Wood and Latham 2014); and, to anthropologist Janet Hoskins, they can be “memory boxes” that hold the contents of our lives (1998). Anthropologist Silvia Spitta’s research into the relationship between objects, memory, culture, and identity in the lives of migrants, supports the concept of evocative objects serving as connectors and “silent partners” with us through long-term experiences (2009, 18). According to Spitta, in migration and the uprooting from one culture to another, one place to another, the objects that travel with us become detached, as their owners do, and in changed spaces they take on new meanings and make new or additional memories. The evocative object provides psychological stability to individuals throughout their ever-changing, growing, developing lives. They help us connect with difficult emotions and experiences as well as times of comfort, and they enable us to relate aspects of our pasts with hopes for the future (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011): Memories serve to perform a self-maintenance function… memories serve to integrate the various patterns around which the self is organized at different points in time… the longer a person lives, the more important this becomes to ensure the integrity of the self. (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981, 113) This inherent connection between objects, memory, self, and others is interdependent. To paraphrase a participant who received a cherished family
Object scholars and the literature 31 heirloom: what is the value of our own personal stories if we are not remembering and seeing them in the light of those who came before us? Objects co-create the changing life narratives through which we construct our own truths (Hoskins 1998). They embody events, places, and moments in time, bearing witness, serving as markers along the way. They are autobiographical, personal metaphors that can prompt deep self- awareness via reconstructed personal narratives, reflections, and the development of analytical insights (Brown, Frederick and Clarke 2015; Hoskins 1998). Material objects serve an autobiographical function by serving as linkages to life events and situations (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011). In our life journeys we also establish relationships with objects that develop biographies of their own, with identities that are localized, particular, and individualized. These biographical objects share our lives with us and serve as witnesses to our life activities (Hoskins 1998). The powerful need for an object to bear witness to life-altering events was found throughout our research, especially with participants who donated objects related to tragedies. Their objects were with them at the time of the tragedy, and then were donated and displayed in order to prove that they had been there, that it had really happened. In their autobiographical and biographical roles, objects are markers of moments in our lives. They identify and preserve critical periods, they establish proof, truth, and authenticity; and they are reminders of people, places, and events—and not always just to ourselves, but also as messages to the world: The box of things marks a period of my life. They were bright things… these were joyful moments. It was a memory from my youth. It’s proof that I was shot. I was the kid who got shot. [The objects] say it actually happened. [The object is] a reminder to the world of what happened.4 In examples such as these, in which objects are associated with tragedies, historical anthropologist Greg Denning believes there is a psychological need for people to use objects as witnesses to, and markers of, disturbing historical events as prompts to other individuals and societies to make change (Brown, Frederick and Clarke 2015). Evocative objects act upon their users (Fuglerud and Wainwright 2015), forming partnerships with us and helping us to make decisions (Turkle 2007). They can be a call to action (Laird 2001) through their triggering of memories, ideas, inspiration, and imagination (Bedford 2014; Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011; Chatterjee and Noble 2009). In our research, participants demonstrated the evocative power of objects to prompt us to move forward toward a goal, make change, or take impactful action in our personal or social lives: a quilted garment on display triggered a visitor to reconnect with an estranged sibling
32 Our primal dialogue with objects
Figure 2.1 It could change our relationship in a good way. Used with permission from Alexander Joseph.
(Figure 2.1); children’s wartime toys were the deciding factor in a young woman’s choice of career; and the appreciation of a delicate wine glass helped a young woman realize the need to change her busy life schedule: Seeing the exhibition made me realize I want to do work with refugees… Now I realize I want to do more for myself and others. I had an idea of that before but now I know for sure. It’s become more real. I now understand that I need to take more time out of my day to take quiet time for myself. I now appreciate that time for myself is sacred and needs to be cherished. Just now I got the idea—based on the quilt garment in the show… the connection of the clothing triggering the solution to share with my sister… It could change our relationship in a good way. Characteristics of the evocative object are at the heart of Object Stories: Artifacts and Archaeologists (2015), in which editors Steve Brown, Anne Clarke, and Ursula Frederick provide a collection of essays from
Object scholars and the literature 33 archaeologists about objects that have made deep personal impacts upon their lives, free from scientific classification or value attributable to age, rarity, or provenance. Throughout the book, the authors declare a love for their objects (Lydon 2015, 209), and their essays range from first-person autobiographical stories to stories told from the point of view of objects. In one essay, a darkly lustrous, smooth and sweet- smelling, century-old cake of spinifex resin lying forgotten in an archive compelled essayist Heidi Pitman to provide it with an imagined life story rich with experiences, life contexts, and emotions (Pitman 2015, 94). To Pitman, the object possessed the evocative quality of narrativity, embodying memory and reflection, and she was prompted to imagine a past to share with others (Bedford 2014, 102). In its story, Pitman’s cake of resin is a repository of memories of the nineteenth-century Australian Central Desert at night, serves as a witness to the indigenous women and their children at work, and is the protagonist in an ethnographic object biography of making, trade, and travel, filled with unfamiliar and strange people. These evocative characteristics of the cake of resin impel Pitman to ponder—through the voice of the object—questions that are core to human identity and the shaping of our feelings of self, power and value. The intimacy of the object’s story and its evocative characteristics lead Pitman to ponder the meanings of lost potential, abandonment, and a newfound connection. The story shows how “empathy remains an essential tool that grounds our moral and historical imaginations” (Lydon 2015, 217). The interplay of evocative object characteristics, Pitman’s projected emotional and intellectual associations, her activity of writing in the subjunctive mood, and her dynamic empathy all speak to the therapeutic nature of object interaction. The remarkable human-object experience and the object’s ability to evoke and provide connection, and the prompting of action, are key factors in the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics. Evocative objects are potent, they are life-serving. The numinous Originally a term from seventeenth-century Roman paganism, an evocative object that is numinous is inhabited by a spirit or a numen; it has transcendent and spiritual qualities that call forth and evoke in us a reaction of awe and reverence (Maines and Glynn 1993). Numinous objects are not necessarily sacred or religious items. Even mundane and everyday objects can be numinous, spiritual, and creative agents of humanity (Salom 2008). In Jungian tradition, numinous object characteristics are products of the unconscious that carry a deeply affective emotional charge (Harding 1961), a feeling that “cannot be taught, only awakened or evoked in the mind” (Wood and Latham 2014, 85). Numinous objects are materially present but also elusive; they reach beyond themselves (Meyer 2015).
34 Our primal dialogue with objects Even museum objects in formalized settings that bear no personal connection with a viewer can possess numinous characteristics that move us: The lamps illuminate me… my mind, heart, creativity, says a museum visitor interacting with ancient oil lamps. The numinous object characteristic is key to understanding heightened and transformative impacts upon people in their dynamic engagement with objects. Among all the evocative characteristics that are vital to our everyday health and our stages of healing, it’s the numinous that underpins transpersonal experiences, deep insight, and transcendence. Numinosity and flow The impact of evocative object characteristics on humans in regular life and in museums can be subtle and brief. And, in the case of the numinous, those impacts can be life-changing, ongoing, and tremendous. Indeed, in numinous object experience people can make deeply personal and lasting connections with the self that significantly influence their lives (Wood and Latham 2014). Numinous experiences with objects can directly connect us with places, times, historical events, and even transpersonal feelings (Salom 2008). In a variety of historic museum environments, anthropologists Catherine Cameron and John Gatewood examined the causes and impacts of numinous object experiences on visitors. They identified three dimensions of experience: deep engagement or transcendence; empathy; and awe and reverence (2003). In their findings, numinous experiences were specifically sought after by visitors, and despite having limited personal knowledge of history, visitors were driven to explore and experience the past with a desire to experience transcendent feelings of connection to history. In survey responses from American tourists, visitors reported being less interested in pleasure-seeking and more focused on pursuing meaningful feelings of connection with people and events in earlier times (Cameron and Gatewood 2003). These findings resonated with our own research, as when a museum visitor spoke about deep spiritual connections with the ancient past as a result of viewing cultural artifacts from the Middle East and Africa: I feel passion, spirit, past lives, mission, ambition. Probably this will be a museum that I will never forget. Engagement with objects that evoke numinous characteristics can activate flow state5 in a person as well as interrelated experiences of the object knowledge framework (Wood and Latham 2014). Flow experience is an absorbed state of presence in the moment; a kind of immersion and mindfulness. It is directly linked to wellbeing, and according to psychologist Andree Salom, can be meditative in nature. When a person in a deep state of focus releases themselves from preoccupations and preconceptions, the
Object scholars and the literature 35 person “fades away for a while, and finds out they are still there” (2008, 4). In her studies of the transpersonal and therapeutic potentials of museum visits, Salom describes flow-like meditative experiences that visitors can experience often without realization: As visitors walk through an exhibit, they may feel invited to let go of strong emotions and thoughts produced by one piece or aspect of a museum, in order to be able to experience whatever is coming next. This type of contemplation can help illustrate the process of letting go that is part of many schools of meditation. (Salom 2008, 3) Flow experience was also described by our participants in various ways, both in connection with personal objects as well as with the tactile experience of holding a museum object: The association of that struggle [of learning] and to take the risk. Sometimes there’s frustration that comes with learning. I sat and played almost as if I were possessed. Being in a state or a zone. [I feel] contentment when holding it. You lose yourself in the activity. Numinous experience, flow, and the object experience themes comprising the object knowledge framework are highly interrelated. In her ongoing research and evolution of the object knowledge framework, Kiersten F. Latham draws direct parallels between the structures of numinous object experiences in museums and the elements of flow state. In “Psychological Flow and the Numinous Museum Experience,” Latham identifies a set of universal characteristics of flow experience that correlate with numinous experiences, including merging of action and awareness; limitation of stimulus field; loss of ego; control of action; and autotelic nature (Latham 2016). Underlying these characteristics of flow experience are structural elements including a type of flow experience called the “aesthetic encounter,” which is defined by interrelated perceptual, emotional, intellectual, and communicative dimensions of experience. The aesthetic flow experience can occur in one or all of these dimensions, and is characterized by elements of its own (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson 1990) including Attentional (focus on the object, limitation of the stimulus field, and loss of ego); Existential (human connectedness); and Temporal (sense of wholeness and freedom). In light of the universal and underlying characteristics of flow experience and structural elements of the aesthetic counter, Latham argues that the numinous object experience in museums is indeed a type of flow experience, and can be identified via direct comparisons between the object knowledge framework and the characteristics of aesthetic flow: Unity of the moment correlates with Csikszentmihalyi’s “sense of wholeness, clarity, freedom” (Temporal).
36 Our primal dialogue with objects Object link correlates with Csikszentmihalyi’s “object focus” (Attentional). Connections bigger than self correlates with Csikszentmihalyi’s “human connectedness” (Existential). Being transported correlates with Csikszentmihalyi’s “loss of ego/transcendence” and “limitation of Stimulus Field” (Attentional). In our interviews, we heard numerous examples of these interconnected, heightened experiences between people and objects in museums, as well as with personal objects of their own. Object Link/Object Focus (Attentional) This museum visitor experienced a deep personal memory by seeing an exhibit object’s pattern, and connected her experience with a personal object from her childhood: The toile patterns reminded me of being a young girl and my grandmother gave me a sewing kit. I remembered the box and it felt sweet in that moment. I need to call my mother and find out about it. I hope it’s still there. Connections Bigger than Self/Human Connectedness (Existential) This object contributor’s personal statue of Ganesh has otherworldly qualities: It gives me a strength. Whenever I look at this idol I feel that some superior force is helping me out. Being Transported—Loss of Ego/Transcendence, and Limitation of Stimulus Field (Attentional) In a gallery of mundane cultural artifacts from the Middle East and Africa, one visitor felt the sensation of time travel back into history, while another felt a bodily sensation of making a clay lamp with her hands: It [the object] takes you back to the ancient times — a transportation. I feel rapture over everything! With the oil lamp I feel like I could almost be making it. Unity of the Moment—Sense of Wholeness, Clarity, Freedom (Temporal) This visitor was surprised by her heightened emotional state while looking at ordinary childhood objects and how the objects made her feel as though she was actually with other people in the gallery. She described how her encounters in the exhibition triggered feelings of compassion and empathy and a desire for physical action: I cried a lot here. I laughed a lot here. When you see the objects it feels like you are with the people. Not like other museums where things are artifacts. Here everything becomes alive around you. The objects are
Object scholars and the literature 37 familiar. It makes it easier to understand the stories and respect them and suddenly you just want to hug the people who donated; to be with them. This visitor’s experience illustrates the interconnectedness of the elements of numinous object experience within a museum environment, and how encounters with ordinary objects can become a heightened transcendent experience of resonance with individual objects as well as entire exhibitions (Bedford 2014). Latham refers to this as “imagined empathy”: Through imaginative empathy, people described an active conjuring process, trying to bring to the surface the actual people who once encountered the same object they now stand in front of. (Latham 2016, 10) To our participant, these were objects of remembrance, respect, and love. She formed a transpersonal unit with the people they represented, “reaching out beyond the constraints of self-interest narrowly defined to establish bonds that enlarge the being of the individual and unite people” (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981, 242). It was a tremendous moment. Awe and empathy The experience of awe is cherished, sought-after, memorable, life affirming, and life changing. It can be the result of seeing the remarkable—wonders of nature, beautiful works of art—but also can be found in the ordinary. This was the experience of many of the participants we interviewed. Awe is directly related to increased ethical decision-making, generosity, pro-social activity, and helping behaviors. It is a direct pathway from the self to the larger collective interests and needs of society. In studies on awe and its relationship to empathy, psychologists Paul Piff, Pia Dietz, Matthew Feinberg, Daniel Stancato, and Dacher Keltner defined the moment of awe as one of “small self”: feelings of elevation, wonder, amazement, and a loss of ego (2015). This matches Wood and Latham’s Being Transported as well as Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson’s Loss of Ego/Transcendence. In the awe experience, a person loses themselves in the moment and feels diminished in the presence of a larger force, often societal, spiritual, or humanitarian in nature (Piff, Dietze, Feinberg, Stancato and Keltner 2015). Individuals in moments of awe lose focus on themselves and seek out means of participation or collaboration in collectives or groups. In so doing, they experience feelings of openness, empathy, and gratefulness. Latham indicates the link between awe and empathy in her studies with museum visitors: They indicated a feeling of smallness or a sudden understanding of the grandeur of the meaning of the world around them and their place in it.
38 Our primal dialogue with objects This element of a numinous experience… speaks to the basics of what it is to be human. (Latham 2016, 10) We found museum participants having the experience of awe in a number of highly self-aware ways. For example, seeing personal childhood objects from wartime fostered reverence and awe in many visitors: I can get overwhelmed and I expected it would touch me. It gives me a change of perspective. Our problems are small. I thought the people who donated were very brave people. It’s brave to give after so many years. To be able to share their stories is very brave to people you don’t know. For object donors, the link between their personal objects and powerful pro-social behavior was also evident: They belong together; they are pieces of a puzzle. The photo personalizes the form and puts a person to it, to get the empathy from the visitors. They will see this was a child along with the hospital form… me, a child wounded. My scream [object] is a small scream. Together in this whole picture with the other objects it’s one big message to never do this again. The things, they scream so people — the decision-makers — don’t do this again. This is a process of waking up this empathy. Objects give voice to our innermost selves. They bring forth from us a spirit, a belief, a power that we might not have realized was there. Through them and with them, we can feel included, we can know the beauty of true empathy (Rogers 2003), and we can experience reverence and awe. Objects cultivate within us experiences of mindfulness, resilience, and gratitude that contribute to our wellbeing. Object physicality Environmental and somatic sensibilities The brain does not live inside the head, even though that is its formal habitat. It reaches out to the body, and with the body it reaches out to the world (Wilson 1998, 307). The Arms and Armor exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a grand exhibition boasting 15 centuries of weapons, including a collection of elaborate and bold rifles, shotguns, and pistols. One quiet afternoon, a featured Colt revolver, proudly suspended in a glass vitrine at the far end of the exhibition’s open and brightly-lit atrium, breathed life into two boys who had
Object scholars and the literature 39 been dragging their feet during a family tour. At the sight of the powerful gun, poised in its case, ready for action, the boys took off—pouncing, ducking, and bending around the casework, shooting at each other with sharp eyes and fast fingers. Meanwhile, off in a subdued side gallery, a tall, silent man stood in front of an elegant crossbow, softly lit to highlight its pristine engravings and mechanics. Despite its age, austerity, and physical inaccessibility, the crossbow was in communion with the visitor, who pulled back his arms, as though gripping the bowstring and stretching the arrow along the crossbow’s body. No one had to prompt or instruct the young boys to imagine a scenario and jump into whole-bodied play. No label suggested to the man that he imagine and emulate the use of the crossbow. An evocative object captures our attention; memory and imagination are activated, and we engage in its narrativity (Bedford 2014). The body plays its part, reading the character of the environment and joining in the story. The visitors connected with the meaning and potential of the objects, and in phenomenological fashion, their other senses sought engagement. Our bodies have a somatic sensibility; they move, emulate, and physically participate throughout life with subconscious intentionality as part of our lifeworld, constructing meaning through holistic and unified experience. “We know nothing, if not through our physical position in space and our bodily senses” (Dudley 2010b, 1). Indeed, the body knows. Unselfconscious somatic knowledge is registered deeply within the body and memory. Through physical engagement with the things and places around us throughout our lives, we evolve an understanding of the identity of our environment—its characteristics—strengthening our emotional connections with them (O’Neill 2010). Surface and stickiness In an exhibition titled “Tools: Extending Our Reach” (2014–5), the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum displayed a small cluster of ancient stone-carving tools crudely made roughly 1.5 million years ago. These were positioned above a slick new Swiss Army knife and a smartphone. They were handsome companions, telling us pretty much everything there is to know about who we are: the story of an evolving mind and an opposable thumb, next to the story of an evolving mind and an opposable thumb. The ancient stone tools floated above the contemporary ones in the display, elevating them both literally and symbolically. Both the composition of the display and the tools themselves were evocative, powerful, and resonant. These tools were “things we feel at one with” (Turkle 2007, 9), familiar in form and function, their meanings and usages seamlessly integrated within our lives. Tools, whether ancient or contemporary, are perceived as extensions of our bodies through somatic engagement: “The relation between brain, hand and tool is at once evolutionary, physical, neurological, psychological, cultural and social in nature. This multifaceted relation holds the key to what makes us human” (Marchand 2012, 266). Seeing the crudeness of the
40 Our primal dialogue with objects stone tools, their texture, and the marks made in their shaping, connect us with their formation and their histories. Anthropologist Sara Ahmed refers to this evocative characteristic as “stickiness,” in which an object’s surface shows its life, where it has traveled, and what it has come into contact with over a long duration (2010). We see a tool made by the hand, and for the hand, and we connect with the evocative. We see the marks of an object’s making and our hands long for their purpose. Haptic perception, touch, and self Identity and the self are infused with the materiality of our world (Fowler 2005), and it is through our receptive senses, especially the texture and temperature-sensitive receptors in our skin and our kinesthetic engagement with size and dimension, that we shape our very understanding of the world. Physical contact with objects triggers neurological impulses that inform us about our tangible surroundings, support homeostasis, and affect emotional systems (Critchley 2008). Touch is phenomenological and inwardly focused; through touch we connect, or bridge, the outer world with our inner affective states (Wood and Latham 2011). We connect with and unlock the meaning of our lifeworld through sensorial access to the physical and material characteristics of objects (Dudley 2010). And, as described by the following museum visitors, when we see an object’s physicality, texture, and tactility, we yearn to make meaning holistically; we desire to reach out, touch, and fully connect: I wanted to touch the dress and the material because you want to become a part of it. When you touch it, it becomes real. It’s the tactile. The wonder of it [old stone tool]. The history. I think of others’ hands holding it. Reality, in this regard, is defined by the tangible, lived experience between people and objects (Wood and Latham 2011). Through touch and physical engagement, an object enters our consciousness, becoming knowable and real. Museum scholar Sandra Dudley’s concept of materiality acknowledges that we exist in a physical world in which thought, action, and meaning- making occur within and between our bodies and external material things. The ways in which we use our senses to experience the physical characteristics of objects enhances their meaning and implicit value (2010). The role of haptic engagement with objects in our lives extends beyond perception and meaning-making to include the enhancement of short and long term memory and information retrieval (Gallace and Spence 2008). Throughout our studies, memory and the evocative nature of the tactile were enmeshed; just seeing the cotton cloth of a child’s dress on display could evoke a visitor’s personal memories and associations: “[Seeing] the texture of that fabric brought back a lot of memories.”
Object scholars and the literature 41 The triggering of memory and reminiscence during encounters with museum objects can impact feelings of self-worth and wellbeing (Kavanagh 2000). And, in experiences where further connection is made via touch, the dynamic engagement between an object’s material properties and personal reminiscence can prompt awe, amazement, and therapeutic outcomes (Ander et al. 2012). For a number of our participants, there was no question about the healing impact of touching objects. When describing the associations of especially meaningful personal objects in their lives, the evocative characteristics of the objects were inextricable from their materiality and healing properties: The biscuit tin had lots of buttons in it and when I was extremely ill as a child I would touch the buttons and imagine where they were from and that’s what healed me. I associate it with getting well. Materiality and the relationship between touch, object handling, and meaning-making were powerfully experienced by all of us during one interview in which a participant shared their deceased father’s belt buckle: You can touch it — so you can fully see it, get it. There was no question in the mind of our participant that in order for us to truly perceive and understand the meaning of her deceased father’s belt buckle, we would have to touch it. It was the first thing she said as she took it out of her bag and placed it in the middle of our small interview table. To her, touching the buckle would enable us to perceive its significance. Haptic perception and experience—the need to lay our hands on an object, to touch, and to hold—is phenomenological and part of our creation of meaning, reality, and belonging (Ratcliffe 2008). There was a feeling of immediate connection and intimacy in that moment. We were transported into her moment of vulnerability through a haptic experience with a precious and deeply meaningful object: “Touching an object is a two-way process… I not only touch, I am touched too” (Dudley 2010, 2). Meaning-making experiences with objects are incomplete without external embodiment (Dewey 1934). As with our experience with the belt buckle, meaning-making is literally an embodied and holistic experience, including knowledge acquisition and emotional responsiveness (Chatterjee, Hannan and Thomson 2015; Critchley 2008). Having foreknowledge of the buckle’s history and relationship to our participant enabled us to broaden our perception of the object’s meaning through touch to include an affective connection we wouldn’t have had otherwise. The interconnectivity of physical and intellectual experiences directly connected with the emotional: our participant was visibly moved and vulnerable as she shared her object, encouraged us to touch it, and told us its meaning. We connected with her, understood her mindset, and empathized with the sadness she
42 Our primal dialogue with objects was experiencing.6 As explained by archaeologist Jane Lydon, “The physical experience of touching or handling an object becomes a path towards empathy” (2015, 216). As Danish psychotherapist Lisbeth Marcher notes, the physicality of the body offers a unified experience in which our basic drive toward connection with others is facilitated by our bodies and our physical interactions. “Opening relationships,” says Marcher, “is the essence of therapy, of life … and I can’t separate my understanding of relationship from the body and body awareness. It is through body awareness that we sense ourselves in relation to one another” (Marcher 2004, 94). Awareness of the body, and of the body’s relationship to our environment—objects, people, the world—is our vehicle and our pathway to the self. Objects and psychological health Objects play a central role in the spark of human consciousness and the material world that ignites it. Via the existence of objects, we comprehend our own existence and construct a psychological life that extends beyond the functions of recognition and comprehension of the tangible and temporal to one that embodies meaningful connectivity to ourselves, others, and our concept of the world as a whole. With objects come physical, intellectual, and emotional experiences that support our life journeys—from the mundane to the transcendent—that keep us steady, propel us onward, and lift us higher. In a description of the life of a wooden chair, philosopher Hannah Arendt juxtaposes the resilience and endurance of made objects that are used, and over time, experience wear (as opposed to decay), alongside the state of psychological stability in the continuum of human life. A durable, well-used and well-worn object illustrates strength and independence in its wear, as we likewise show signs of wear with age and life endurance and demonstrate strength and resilience alongside our objects. Says Arendt: If left to itself or discarded from the human world, the chair will again become wood, and the wood will decay and return to the soil from which the tree sprang… While usage is bound to use up these objects, this end is not their destiny… What usage wears out is durability. It is this durability which gives the things of the world their relative independence from men who produced and use them, their “objectivity” which makes them withstand, “stand against” and endure, at least for a time, the voracious needs and wants of their living makers and users. From this viewpoint, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human life. (Arendt 1958, 137)
Object scholars and the literature 43 Feelings of resilience, power, and endurance are essential elements of ongoing psychological health, and these characteristics and functions of material objects—their very existence and independent life cycles—provide us with tangible embodiments of these factors, serving as points of reference and differentiation, reminders, and reflectors. Our research into the healthful impact of objects draws from an understanding that material objects participate in an ongoing psychological balancing act of living, co-existing around us, and extending our reach into other things, places, and times that would otherwise be unknown, unreachable or un-makeable. Objects share, resemble, and objectify our growth, change, and awareness of life, including moments when our awareness of being alive is about having been spared an untimely death, such as with these museum object donors: They make me think of the people that perished. This [object] survived, they didn’t survive. And I survived like them [the objects] too. The [object] shows that I got a second chance. It shows what happened and that I’ve moved on. I got out alive. These objects of tragedy and war provided a tangible place for containment and focus of our participants’ traumas, enabling them to comprehend and form an awareness of their experiences in their own terms and at their own choosing, including the final step of releasing the objects from their lives. Although this form of human-object relationship and activation of characteristics can be painful, the objects help facilitate healing (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011). In particular, object interactions and sensations play an important role in trauma recovery (Levine and Frederick 1997), in the complex interactions of the body, self, and other. The competencies of mindfulness, and self-regulation are essential to the healing process and psychological stabilization (Baumeister and Tierney 2012; Ekman 2008; Levine and Frederick 1997). Simply taking notice is an element of wellbeing, in the form of an action of mindfulness with an evocative object, or as a deeper moment of reflecting upon, recognizing, and seeing ourselves as living things that matter within the world (New Economics Foundation 2008). The scholarship of mindfulness and emotional self-regulation (Ekman 2008) consistently confirms this deep integration between awareness, embodiment, and healing. As our participant notes: These objects are about my healing journey. I’ve become acutely aware of my gratefulness. Things that were once negative can now be positive. These things help me build myself up through a bad time. Each item represents a part in my healing journey. Our lives are not static, nor are the objects living with and around us. As we grow, survive, and endure, we reshape, rebuild, and reform—as do the
44 Our primal dialogue with objects objects in our lives. We repair, recycle, and repurpose objects, throughout the course of our own lives and sometimes across generations, and in so doing we experience materiality of wear and depth of meaning of durability. We connect with an awareness that we too can repair, rebuild, and repurpose ourselves. The following museum visitors were struck by seeing clothing on display that showed wear and alteration; the marks of time and interrelationship with the people who have kept them, adapted them and changed them over many years: I remember mostly the garments that have been changed over time. One of the garments has been modified many times over the years. It really is emotional. Clothing and materials are valuable and purposeful — seeing how they go from generation to generation… it’s all about transformation. Understanding that we can adapt, make change, and continually find and create purpose is another necessary element of health, healing, and wellbeing in which objects can show us the way. Seeing the changed and altered garments on display struck a chord with visitors; the objects showed their durability and transformative qualities, reflecting our own ability to transform (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011). Objects invite contemplation and can enable us to effortlessly cross boundaries. Their functions and meanings can be transmutable; they can embody the aesthetic experience of mystery that is a part of life transformation (Turkle 2007). And these transformations are not only in our perceptions and meanings; they also change the brain and the body. The scholarship of neuroplasticity (Doidge 2015) shows that psychological practices in creativity, meaning-making, and symbolic representation have physical manifestations that change us in fundamental ways. As we change, heal, and grow, our self-awareness and self-efficacy increase. We become more organized, efficient, dependable (Levitin 2015). And self-awareness is, of course, fundamental to wellbeing. And, in order to facilitate self-awareness and personal growth, the meaningful objects in our lives require support and nurturing—just like we do—so that they can enable us to develop greater competencies and understand our need to care for ourselves: The objects in the exhibition made me think of caring and repairing. I could get more life out of the things I own. Care taking is something I get better at as I get older — you’ve got to show up, you have to take care. We have the power to care for ourselves, to be present, to address the things that need our attention. Objects remind us, instruct us, and activate our confidence and self-efficacy in doing so (Levitin 2015). The relationships we cultivate with objects, and with our environment in general, are signals about the coherence of our inner and outer worlds.
Object scholars and the literature 45 Objects join us to the outer world, supporting our need to connect with others, communities and societies. They act as triggers that expand our focus and concern, “making the wider world more accessible” (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011, 155). They help us to form pathways for healthy relationships. The experience of connection to others is, of course, essential to wellbeing (New Economics Foundation 2008), and throughout our study we encountered many examples of the ways in which ordinary objects were specifically used as a device for prompting conversations with others. Often these prompts emerged in the form of worn objects such as clothing or jewelry, or via prominent display of objects in the home: People will notice them [jewelry] and we get to talking. I get to feel proud of my children! Other objects [that I didn’t donate to the museum] I framed and put on my wall. I want to look at them. I want to think about them. I show them to people who come to my house. Found objects and healing Psychologist Paul Camic, researcher and academic at Canterbury Christ Church University, has provided a highly relevant examination of the relationship between found objects, health, and clinical therapeutic practice. Found objects are defined by Camic as items that have been abandoned or discarded, and that are typically found in places such as trash bins, attics, or the street. They can also be natural items discovered in nature, or fragments of something once whole. The unifying factor of the treasured found object is that it has personal significance for the finder. In “From Trashed to Treasured: A Grounded Theory Analysis of the Found Object” (2010), Camic posits a found object process that defines why and how people seek, find, and use found objects. This process involves “the interaction of aesthetic, cognitive, emotive, mnemonic, ecological, and creative factors in the seeking, discovery, and utilization of found objects” (81). The theory was developed via a survey utilizing a qualitative questionnaire from 65 adults across eight countries, asking how participants located objects, described their personal significance, and used them subsequent to finding them. The resulting found object process is defined by five superordinate categories including discovery and engagement; history and time past; symbolic and functional; psychological processes; and ecological affirmation, which altogether provide a conceptual structure for understanding found object use. Found object process is highly related to our research into Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, as it is an active, multidimensional meaning- making object-based experience that produces healthful impacts. The process begins with either the intentional search for an object or the finding of an object by chance, in which “a kind of preaesthetic emotional arousal” occurs (88). This process includes the act of subjective meaning-making,
46 Our primal dialogue with objects associating with the place of discovery, transforming the object, imagining or reflecting upon its future use, and deciding to use it. “The interaction between finder and object is an attempt to make meaning of an object that has been found, and by being found and desired becomes transformed” (90). In his study, Camic’s participants described the experience of finding an object as triggering creative impulses, increasing their sensory attention, impacting positive feelings, enhancing memory, deepening emotion and cognition; and creating opportunities for positive social interaction. Camic’s theory has tremendous potential for clinical applications in individual and group therapy for adults with mental health diagnoses. A 2011 research study with participants experiencing a range of challenges such as schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive behaviors, anxiety, and depression, discovered that encounters involving found objects enhanced engagement in the therapeutic process, increased curiosity, reduced difficult emotions, increased physical activity, and positively impacted interactions with therapists (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011). Participants’ responses to found objects emerged in three thematic groupings: as a psychological bridge, in which objects connect the inner and outer worlds of experience; curiosity/enthusiasm, which manifests as a palpable, positive response to therapy; and associative experiences, in which connections are made between past and present, such that current psychological challenges are linked to a hopeful future. According to Camic, in therapeutic sessions “The objects were the third part of the triangle in the room and became a trigger for and repository of emotion” (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011, 157). Camic’s theory and his preliminary evidence suggest that found objects have a role to play in therapy. For the purposes of our own research, the action of finding objects is an avenue of further exploration for the future development of the Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics framework. In an interview with Paul, we discussed his current work with objects in clinical settings and what he believes are the critical issues in research and practice with objects in psychological health:7 Objects are not neutral, and in psychotherapy they can spur discussion, spark curiosity and imagination, and expand agency in patients. With his innovate approach to mental health practice, Paul has developed a number of promising initiatives. Currently he is interested in the problematic rise in social isolation and loneliness. His theory of found object process (2010) offers useful pathways toward this goal. Activities and reflections focused on seeking and finding objects have yielded remarkable results: People in treatment have been shown to deeply associate with found objects, which can lead to further progress in therapy. The object can be spoken through, providing a means to talk about themselves and their experiences in a safe way.
Object scholars and the literature 47 We discussed national efforts in the United Kingdom to bring together the mental health and museum communities through Social Prescription initiatives, which connect public mental health services with heritage resources and museum engagement for those struggling with depression and other mental health challenges. Therapeutic activities include visits to museums to view objects, programs with collections touch boxes, or found object processes in which patients identify and associate with exhibition objects to be integrated within the therapeutic process. Of course, as with any new initiative, there are challenges to be surmounted: There is a need to think preventatively, which is not a focus of the initiative, and a need to consider that resources in more remote regions and smaller communities are few. Healthful object experiences with museums Connectivity to a museum via objects—either through object donation, engagement in volunteerism, programming or exhibitions development—was cited by participants throughout our research as being directly linked with their wellbeing and healing. Volunteers assisting with the preparation of objects for display at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery described their participation in the museum as an ongoing source of wellbeing and healing, as did object contributors to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and the War Childhood Museum. Individuals who were enabled to participate with the formation of an exhibition or collection, or serve in an ongoing capacity as an interpreter using objects in galleries, spoke clearly about the impacts the experience(s) had on their feelings of connection to others and states of wellbeing: Being in the museum and being a part with the objects [contributing] improves my life. I enjoyed the experience of this [sharing a personal object with the museum]. This is a continuing process of therapy that I share these things. I wanted to be a part of something, a group. You feel valued. Here there is a sense of purpose and achievement. Connecting with people. In museums, individuals can establish personal relationships with objects and experience feelings of connectivity via participatory engagement such as contributing to collections, gallery activities such as wandering and contemplating, or facilitated programs that encourage physical interaction such as touching and making. From a psychosocial perspective, these forms of connectivity can be seen as a communication or communion between the individual and the museum. Drawing from object-relations theory,8 psychologist Lynn Froggett describes the evocative museum object—one we
48 Our primal dialogue with objects identify and endow with personal significance—as the “aesthetic third” in the visitor-museum environment-object relationship (2014). This resonates with Paul Camic’s notion of objects in therapy as “the third part of the triangle” (2011). The evocative object serves as a symbolic mediator between the individual and a wider social or cultural domain. The object, as a third presence within the person-object-museum experience, has a vitality of its own and meaningfully connects the individual to the world. It supports, via its very existence and potential within the museum setting, the element of connection that is instrumental to wellbeing. Museums are places of shared and collective knowledge. They include shared stories, collective histories, and communal practices that represent broader cultural values (Wood and Latham 2014). As places that collect, store and protect culturally meaningful objects, museums hold and contain (in the psychological sense) cultural meaning; they expand the symbolic capacity of a shared culture. The exhibition environment becomes a forum for an individual to feel a part of a social group, included within a culture, and engaged with these concepts at a pace and in a manner that is personally constructed. As the aesthetic third, museum objects support the psychological function of containment, enabling visitors to focus their attention and emotional responses, especially if their personal connection with the objects is sensitive (Froggett and Trustram 2014). The creation of the stories and meanings of mass atrocity at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and the War Childhood Museum, via donations of personal objects, demonstrates these forms of connectivity for donors as well as visitors. The role of the museum as repository and protector of the objects and their stories contributes to the healing process for those who donated as well as for visitors, enabling them to shape new identities directly connected with the museums. This relationship, and the enactment of objects as the third presence in the creation of the collective story, makes these institutions therapeutic allies: The museum is a better steward of the object than me. The museum is a protector of the objects. I can see them anytime. Museums are increasingly using exhibitions and objects to enhance wellbeing, social inclusion, identity development, and learning with a variety of audiences (Ander et al. 2012). The contributions of museums to health and wellbeing are expansive and include medical and science museums using collections to communicate public health issues; museum spaces incorporated within hospital environments; and medical and healthcare collections in training of medical students in university museums (Chatterjee and Noble 2009, 34). The unique environments of museums offer great therapeutic potential. The power of museum objects to elicit responsiveness, to reinforce connection among communities, is especially important among constituencies who are often overlooked (Silverman 2002).
Object scholars and the literature 49 Even seemingly inconsequential engagement with museums and cultural arts activities directly impacts mental health, wellbeing and quality of life (O’Neill 2010).9 On a global level, the United States plays a leading role in recognizing the value of museums in promoting health and wellbeing. The American Alliance of Museums10 (AAM) has published a 2018 report entitled Museums on Call: How Museums are Addressing Health Issues. The report highlights the ways in which museums in all 50 states address healthcare issues and notes that museums provide programs, activities, and initiatives focused on a wide range of health and wellness challenges: mental health, autism, disease prevention, health literacy, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, visual impairment, and nutrition, among others. Additionally, AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums11 features ongoing museum initiatives focused on exploring cultural, political, and economic challenges and has been increasingly highlighting the arena of mental health as an area for museum research and practice. Another influential organization currently leading efforts in forging relationships between the museum and mental health communities is the Happy Museum Project.12 Based in the United Kingdom, Happy Museum focuses on providing a leadership framework for museums to develop a holistic approach to wellbeing and sustainability. The project re-imagines the purposes of museums as stewards of people, place, and planet and supports institutional and community resilience in the face of global financial and environmental challenges. Happy Museum supports and facilitates museum practices that place wellbeing within an environmental and future-facing frame, rethinking the role that museums might play in helping people to be more resilient and creative. The organization has funded creative interventions in heritage and cultural institutions across the United Kingdom, developed case studies and research programs (for example the Cultural LIFE survey,13 which measures the value of happiness in museums), and shaped public policy in health and wellbeing. Happy Museum’s international affiliate network is currently leading the international museum community to measure impact and change, forge partnerships with mental health services, and develop practices in economic and environmental sustainability. Museum objects, touch, and wellbeing The healthful and healing power of touching objects emerged through our qualitative research via verbal responses and in participant behaviors during interview sessions. Touching objects is an impactful part of everyday life with ordinary objects, and in the museum world those impacts can be even more far-reaching. Encounters with museum objects have the capacity to provoke memory, emotion, imagination, feelings of calm and peace, reflection, hope, and other psychological processes, particularly when
50 Our primal dialogue with objects touched and held.14 Current research and clinical studies utilizing museum objects in museum and healthcare settings have been increasingly articulating these notable impacts. Our explorations have included identifying initiatives and programs that look specifically at the impacts of handling museum objects. Noted programs involving the use of museum objects to enhance mental health have emerged from institutions such as the Glasgow Museum, Bolton Museum and Archive, The People’s History Museum, Portland Basin Museum, Manchester Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, and Salford Museum and Art Gallery. These community-focused programs incorporate the use of handling museum objects as a means to enhance and improve wellbeing with a range of constituencies seeking and receiving mental health treatment of various types. The results of these projects show a connection between object handling and relationship-building, improved self-expression, and enhanced self-esteem (Chatterjee and Noble 2009). The examination of the healthful impacts of touch and museum objects is foremost in the work of Professor Helen Chatterjee at University College London. Her work focuses on accessing and increasing the role of museums in mental health practices, enhancing the interest and skills of museum and healthcare professionals in using objects with patients in hospital and healthcare settings, and identifying measurable outcomes of museum object handling on wellbeing. Two significant studies led by Professor Chatterjee have been particularly influential in our work with Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics and have informed the incorporation of the healing impacts of touching objects into our framework. The Healing Heritage research program (2006–7) included a series of workshops that engaged a range of participants including academics, volunteer organizations, museum professionals, and the public in discussing the role of museum objects as instruments in health-focused social programs. A subsequent volume of essays, entitled Touch in Museums (2008), features theory, public policy and research into the role of museums, objects, and healthcare. In the essay, “Enrichment Programmes in Hospitals: Using Museum Loan Boxes in University College London Hospital” (215–223), Chatterjee and Noble explore the impacts of touch and object handling with patients and caregivers in healthcare settings and provide insights into the therapeutic potential of museum collections. Their unique research incorporates evidence-based techniques, standard quality of life and wellbeing measurements and utilizes a qualitative and mixed-methods approach to evaluate the outcomes of the museum object handling experiences. The Heritage in Hospitals project (2009–11) expanded upon the outcomes of the Healing Heritage research program by investigating the benefits of individual museum object-handling sessions for hospital patients (Chatterjee and Noble 2009). The three-year study was a collaboration among academics, museum practitioners, healthcare providers, patients, residents and staff and sought to examine the benefits of museum object
Object scholars and the literature 51 handling on psychological and subjective wellbeing and happiness in over 300 hospital and healthcare facility patients. Following a mixed-methods quantitative and qualitative research methodology, including a model of wellbeing informed by criteria of the New Economics Foundation, the study resulted in evidence of a museum’s potential to foster health and wellbeing through interactive social encounters and support for broader social resilience and capital. The therapeutic outcomes derived from the object handling sessions included increases in participants’ positive emotions such as optimism and happiness, improved perceptions of personal health, and improved relationships among patients and their caregivers. Further international research into the scope of museum programs focused on health and wellbeing (2011), and continued work with over 20 museums and organizations developing a wellbeing measurement for museums (2012–13), resulted in a toolkit for institutions seeking to evaluate wellbeing in their constituencies.15 This museum-wellbeing measure and toolkit has been used with museums, hospitals, disability centers, senior care homes, and residential shelters engaged in object-handling activities. Professor Chatterjee’s ongoing survey of programs and research into the potential of museums in healthcare and social intervention, including best practices for museums working with the mental health community, are the subject of Museums, Health and Wellbeing, co-authored with Guy Noble (2009). We had a conversation with Professor Chatterjee on the theme of objects and psychological health, where she addressed a variety of mental health challenges in her work with objects including dementia, stress, anxiety, and depression. In our discussion with her,16 she emphasized the need to bridge the heritage and mental health sectors, and to work with like-minded colleagues to develop integrative approaches to health and healing: We set up the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance 17 to provide ideas and models for care, prevention and intervention, and think about how to form these partnerships and create support mechanisms for health and wellbeing… The best action I’ve seen is where wellbeing is part of the strategy and intent of the institution. Change can happen when museums shift towards a social and ethical mindset, making their collections and resources even more accessible to the public. We discussed the ways in which cultural and heritage institutions can focus their energies and resources toward impacting health and wellbeing, and Professor Chatterjee spoke about addressing gaps that exist not just among sectors, but within programs and activities: There is a need to find opportunities in museums, arts, and nature- based activities for fostering critical thinking with physical, social, and
52 Our primal dialogue with objects emotional experiences. If you are designing or deploying creative opportunities, you need to attend to the gaps among those elements and create moments for synergy among them. Helen views natural settings as being especially key to these moments of synergy, and she encourages the mental health, cultural, and heritage communities to find opportunities for increasing partnerships with natural heritage resources. Clinical practices In their article “Material objects and psychological theory: A conceptual literature review”, Solway, Camic, Thomson, and Chatterjee (2016) provide a conceptual summary and critique of psychological theories and research concerning the use of material objects and their possible role in clinical work. The study identified six categories of research for the use of objects in clinical therapy: psychoanalytic thinking and transitional objects; found object theory and clinical use; developmental and neuropsychological perspectives on touch; valued object choice; the relationships of material objects to identity; and museum object handling interventions (82). Looking across the research and practice between museums and mental health providers, the incorporation of objects in both clinical and non-clinical therapeutic programs has been found to positively impact the healing process in measurable ways. To these scholars and the constituencies with whom they work, museum and mental health collaborations are obvious and necessary. They are forums where theory in psychological development, phenomenology, and the intellectual, spiritual, and material power of objects coalesce, positioning museums as places of life and for the living. Blurred, blended, and interconnected Among the disciplines that comprise and influence the study of objects, and the literature that has guided our own work, scholars driving research and practice continue to form bridges and interconnections with great purpose and imagination. The gaps between fields in the study of objects are few, blurry, and at points, indistinguishable. Even the non-expert participants in our case studies would in their own words, blend and fold together theories and ideas across different areas of scholarship, interrelating object factors with elements of experience, and connecting them to their own psychological wellness. Throughout our interviews with participants and scholars alike, personal object stories, remembrances and accounts brought to life the theories presented throughout this chapter. The ideas of Dewey and Csikszentmihalyi, Silverman, Latham, and Wood were not philosophies or theories, but ever-present living entities in the human story as told by
Object scholars and the literature 53 objects and those who hold them dear. The power of objects in our lives is a consistent theme throughout the body of scholarship, and it is a universal experience among those who find meaning in them. For us, and—as we would come to learn—for many others, the question was why?
Notes 1 Perception in lifeworld refers to kinesthetic, bodily lived experience and cognition of the external world, and unification of our affective, motor and sensory capacities (Merleau-Ponty 1945). 2 Heidegger’s term Thingness (much like Husserl’s definition of phenomenology) refers to an object’s materiality, context, and its subjective perception (Gendlin 1967). 3 Objectworld refers to the spectrum of human experiences in relationship to an object’s physical properties, material characteristics, and its interpretation within the museum context (Wood and Latham 2014). 4 Where multiple anonymized quotations are shown together, as above, each individual quotation is un-indented and is separated from quotations above or below by a single blank line. 5 Flow, or Optimal Experience, was presented in psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s landmark book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990). Flow is directly related to studies in wellbeing and refers to a state of deep focused concentration accompanied by feelings of strength, alertness, control, transcendence, and loss of ego. Flow experience often results in heightened creativity, productivity, and achievement of goals. 6 From a therapeutic perspective, the invitation to touch the belt buckle demonstrated the participant’s trust and willingness to be vulnerable in our interview, enabling her to experience self-exploration during our time together, and allowing us, in turn, to more fully “see,” as she put it, the meanings of this object in her life. 7 Paul Camic, in discussion with Brenda Cowan, Jason McKeown, and Ross Laird, December 2018. 8 Object-relations theory refers to an individual’s progressive store of practical and emotional associations with everyday objects, beginning in infancy and continuing throughout life. Our understanding of reality, the material world, ourselves, others, and our capacity for relatedness to, and acceptance of, things outside ourselves is constructed via an internalization of our engagement and interrelationship with objects in daily life (Froggett and Trustram 2014). 9 Mark O’Neill summarized the research of mental health benefits as a result of cultural attendance in his 2010 article “Cultural attendance and public mental health—from research to practice.” 10 https://www.aam-us.org 11 https://www.aam-us.org/programs/center-for-the-future-of-museums 12 http://happymuseumproject.org 13 http://happymuseumproject.org/life-survey 14 The neurological theory of hypnoglyph (Critchley 2008) examines how skin receptors in the body convey sensation to the emotional regions of the brain, stimulating positive emotional power and a notable calming impact. 15 https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/sites/culture/files/ucl_museum_wellbeing_ measures_toolkit_sept2013.pdf 16 Helen Chatterjee, in discussion with Brenda Cowan and Ross Laird, December 2018. 17 https://www.culturehealthandwellbeing.org.uk
3 The power of objects
The prom dress made me cry but I don’t know why. It was just hanging there alone. It’s fragile and loaded with meaning. I don’t know why. (Case Study Participant) My whole life is wrapped up in these objects. I don’t know what’s triggering all this. (Case Study Participant) Why is one of the more frequently asked questions raised by participants in our interviews. They seem to ask it mostly to themselves, or to some unseen source, at times of their objects, and occasionally of us. As we have come to learn, why is more than an intellectual question. It is deeply personal and emotional, especially when delving into the role and purpose of objects in our lives. It is a question that prompts inward thinking, and, in our case, initiated the premise that has directed our research and exploration into the underpinnings of the human-object relationship. Like so many others, we too are curious to understand the why of objects, and unpacking what it is that makes them meaningful and essential. Objects cultivate an innate and primal dialogue, an inextricable meaning- based relationship that functions in the manner of a continuous—and often subconscious—nonverbal process. Objects can extrinsically communicate our own concepts and thoughts with intent. Conversely they can internally translate complex concepts, thoughts, and actions. They can prompt memory, connect us with others, help us access experiences and emotions, foster transpersonal experiences, heighten creativity, deepen self-awareness, and prompt us to action. Objects can control the conversation with their tactility. Try picking up a loved one’s sweater and not lifting it to your cheek with remembrance. Feel your heart quicken as you look at a sculpture you made as a child, or see a small blue dress hanging in an exhibition. In a dark hour, submit your deceased husband’s suit to a museum filled with
The power of objects 55 strangers, knowing that its release will help you in your grief. Objects live with us and around us, remembering, reminding, relieving. They finish our sentences where words fail us, and they keep us together when we are continents apart. The affective power of objects in museums was at the heart of an interview with Leslie Bedford, a museum scholar and practitioner with an expertise in storytelling, imagination, and wonder in exhibitions.1 She shared her insights and perspectives on the powerful role that objects play in dynamic museum exhibitions. Our conversation covered her personal and professional experiences with objects and what she views as their relationship to meaning-making and the narrative experience. Reflecting upon the exhibits and object encounters that have deeply affected her, in some cases for decades, Leslie suggested that the ultimate factor in meaningful object experiences is that of a shared humanity. She spoke about the exhibit of hominids Lucy and Desi—in the American Museum of Natural History—who walk together, tenderly, heads uplifted, eyes looking to the world around them. She described the resilient scrap of a faded photograph that escaped in the shoe of a woman fleeing the Holocaust and survived to tell its tale. She remarked upon the stone artwork that comprises The Wall that Went for a Walk in New York’s Storm King Art Center. For Leslie, these objects capture an engaging spirit of nature, of people, and of humanity. Their stories have inspired her, as have the contexts in which their narratives are shared. Context and the human story are essential — and often overlooked — in museum exhibitions. Without these aspects of experience, the object is meaningless. Objects acquire meaning for others, including visitors, when they come with a vivid narrative. People respond deeply to story — fi nding and creating one. And then the object embodies the story and can speak to the visitor on a deep and powerful level. What matters are the people who are coming to the museum — what matters to them.
Humanness I am absolutely fascinated by the inner world of people and contemplative moments.2 Kiersten F. Latham is a museum scholar, academic, and expert in the phenomenology of objects whose career has become an ever-expanding exploration of understanding what objects are and why are they so important in our lives: I’m still learning and I’m still answering those questions. Those questions will keep me going for the rest of my life.
56 Our primal dialogue with objects In a conversation with Kiersten about what makes objects powerful in people’s lives, she recalled the “rush” she felt in graduate school when she was introduced to phenomenology and started thinking about objects not as museum-quality or as being right or wrong but as parts of our world and lived experience. She described it as an opening to a whole new way of thinking about how human beings need objects, and how objects are like people — every one is unique, and each one their own. In her work, Kiersten continues to look deeply into the role of objects in the inner worlds of people. Her current research takes an auto- hermeneutics approach towards capturing what is happening in the moment of person-object transaction and what this looks like. These inquiries have led her to investigate how awareness works in the experience of meditation: In meditation you aren’t in the past or thinking about the future but being mindful in the moment, and I am exploring what that experience can teach us about moments of lived experience with objects in museums. In this approach she glimpses a pathway to further understanding Lois H. Silverman’s work with meaning-making and the magic between people and objects: That’s what we should be looking into. Museums are not just about learning but about the magic encounter between people and objects. Both inside and outside of museums, we live in a dazzling and intricate object world, a living and evolving system that supports our individual and social development. When we unpack the human-object relationship we see its multidimensionality and the interrelatedness of its many elements: the emotional, intellectual, and physical human factors that cannot be isolated, each impacting the other, often simultaneously. Objects are essential to cognitive perception and meaning-making; their materiality and semiotic attributes help us decipher the tangible world around us and understand the populations that inhabit it. Their evocative characteristics enable us to connect with society, other individuals, and with our fundamental selves. Objects capture and focus our attention, engage our curiosity and imagination, and open us to awe and aesthetic experiences. Objects are connectors that enhance our empathy and awareness of our relationships. Objects shape us, and throughout our ever-changing lives, enable us to see who we are. In a conversation with museum scholar Elizabeth (Elee) Wood about why object encounters can be powerful, she described how objects elicit core
The power of objects 57 feelings of life and of humanness.3 Elizabeth told a story of her early career with object exploration, about a study of childhood objects and why they were kept by their owners: Interviewees revealed the idea of an object’s being-ness. The object contained their sense of being, of being alive. This idea has influenced Elizabeth’s thinking for decades. As a professor, practitioner, and expert in museum object experience, she believes that with objects we can say: “I am, I am alive, I am here. With objects I exist.” In the museum world we can strive to create moments, Elizabeth says, where people connect with objects — to stop in the moment, experience curiosity and wonder, and to think inward about why they are having this experience. Why this connection with the object is happening. We need to find that miniscule moment in time for consciousness to happen. For thinking about why the thing matters. For the meaning-making experience and the awareness that meaning-making is happening. Elizabeth shared a concern about over-attention to the materiality of objects, and possible confusion that an object’s practical features, provenance, or cultural value are its meaning. From her perspective, this approach misses the mark: It is their human element, their narrative, contextualization, and ability to connect with people on a personal level that matters. Creating context and human story, encouraging the possibility for magic between people and objects, and reaching beyond the aspects of material culture drove the creation of Agents of Faith: Votive Objects in Time and Place, an exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center.4 The exhibition featured modest handmade objects, everyday objects, and rare artifacts which tell universal, intimate stories of faith, the sacred, and gratitude in the form of votive offerings. In a discussion with the exhibition’s creators, 5 Associate Professor Ittai Weinryb, Chief Curator Marianne Lamonaca, and Exhibition Design expert David Harvey, they described the urgent need to merge the sciences and the humanities when interpreting objects—to reveal the human story. Through the creation of Agents of Faith, Ittai, Marianne, and David emphasized the need for curators, designers and academics to break free of siloed and taxonomic thinking, and instead exhibit the stories of objects in ways that “talk to people.” Ittai explained: Historical objects speak to the hopes, dreams, aspirations and anxieties of people, and provide an emotional lens into our shared history.
58 Our primal dialogue with objects These objects are vessels and surrogates. They communicate for you, continue to live on after you, and have a life of their own. These objects penetrate history through voices from the past. The object literally represents the human being and through it we can reach to the past and connect it with today. As curators and academics, we need to break out of the mold of what is expected and tell a moving story about the human within history. The group expressed reservations about exhibitions that attempt to force emotional experiences. Marianne emphasized that: We can’t know how people will connect, but need to focus on making room for connection, sharing object stories within a context of place, time and meaning. And David underscored the message of human connection: Design needs to work in collaboration with curation, and when the focus is on teasing out the object on display and freeing it from an overabundance of text or visual distraction, we can focus on bringing out the human story. The universal, personal story that reaches people on an emotional level and a learning level. A human level.
The universal Individuals in our research—regardless of their cultural or ethnic background, geographic location, or socioeconomic status—tend to share the same types of object associations, connections to object characteristics, and manners of engagement with objects. Attachments to objects as symbols of self, connectivity, and differentiation seem to be universal (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011, 152). Through objects we see and share our humanity. The people we have encountered through our work are so different from each other: the lives they lead, the experiences they have had, the beliefs they hold to be true and the ways in which they see the world—and yet, their thoughts and feelings, behaviors and responses, and object experiences have consistently presented a unified human voice. A young man from Asia sees his jeans as family, just like a Caribbean grandmother’s pieces of jewelry are her grandchildren. A pair of ash- covered boots are a September 11 rescuer’s twin boys, and a statue belonging to a Zimbabwean refugee living in England is his kin: I have jeans important to me. Like you have a spouse that stands alongside you for life. This object is like that. I will keep them forever. I always carry my children with me. I like having my family with me. I can show them I appreciate them.
The power of objects 59 They are like my twin boys. They belong together, they are a family. It associates me with my tribe, my clan, my ancestors. It’s like I carried my ancestors with me. My having next of kin with me in a foreign country, I draw a lot from that. A Syrian refugee’s expression of regret over not preserving family objects as a child is barely distinguishable from that of a woman of privilege in the United States: I feel bad because I remember my grandmother and I used to throw away everything instead of preserve our objects. I felt so ungrateful that I was so cavalier and didn’t preserve anything from my grandmother. I had things and used them but never saved them. A war survivor from Bosnia sees her donated object as having “life” as a result of being placed in a museum setting. Similarly, a visitor to a museum in New York sees life in a child’s garment on display. So too, a Syrian refugee living in England sees life in a collection of ancient Middle Eastern cooking utensils: It got life. Now its story is out there. I’m proud I didn’t throw it away. Now it has purpose. The story of the child’s bodice and the whole life of that object just stood out, brought back a lot of memories. Suddenly everything has life and I will appreciate better. I will be more present. The value of the familiar was another unifier among the many people with whom we worked. A Bosnian war survivor was excited to see a childhood toy on display because she had owned one too; a child’s dress resonated with a New Yorker through its similarity to ones she used to wear; and the astute observations of a curator in Derby, England perhaps best describe the powerful qualities of visitors connecting with familiar objects on display: The magic wand toy. I was so excited because I had one too. The food containers because my mom would tell me about them and also because the packaging was familiar. The bodice of the childhood dress really resonated with me. It reminded me of my childhood and similar dresses my sister and I wore. There are a breadth of ages and ethnicities, and arousal of wonderment and love. People directly relate to the use and depth of meaning of things similar to their own objects. The psychological complexity of engagement with exhibition objects is stunning, as are the outcomes of those experiences. The dynamics are intricate,
60 Our primal dialogue with objects and when investigating the grounds of what is tested and known—as is the nature of exploration—further questions emerge: why are we so impacted by our experiences with objects? What accounts for the necessity for meaningful object relationships in our lives? Our premise is that in consideration of their inextricable link with the many facets of human psychological development and cognition, meaningful engagement with objects is a fundamental factor in supporting psychological health, healing, and wellbeing. The healthful impacts of museum object engagement in programmed settings are well proven, as are the impacts of object-based therapies in clinical settings. These provide a basis for our premise and lead us to ask whether health and healing occurs naturally in human-object engagement, absent a predetermined, structured, or facilitated experience. We believe it does. Objects in daily activity exert their influence on the body, mind, and spirit. Our emotional, intellectual, and physical involvement with them is inherent, primary, and fundamentally therapeutic. From that perspective, we can explore the ways in which museums foster—often subconsciously—mental health, and, when possible, enact the stages of healing. From this premise the question then becomes: what do these primal, underlying object-based therapeutic factors look like, and how do they work? The journey began with these questions and thoughts about the human- object connection between objects, health, and healing. But it didn’t begin in museums. In fact, it began as an unexpected moment of personal insight in a time and place quite unrelated to museums.
Notes 1 Leslie Bedford, in discussion with Brenda Cowan, December 2018. 2 Kiersten F. Latham, in conversation with Brenda Cowan, December 2018. 3 Elizabeth (Elee) Wood, in discussion with Brenda Cowan, December 2018. 4 Agents of Faith: Votive Objects in Time and Place, the Bard Graduate Center, New York, September 2018–January 2019. 5 Ittai Weinryb, Marianne Lamonaca and David Harvey, in discussion with Brenda Cowan, December 2018.
The theory of psychotherapeutic object dynamics
4 Creation of the theory Brenda Cowan
I had finally reached the bluff. Its gentle slope of pale gray granite was littered with patches of scrub grass and a haphazard collection of Table Mountain pines. The short, scrappy trees looked like they’d had a rough night, although their brutish flat tops made it clear that they were there long before me and would most certainly continue to hold court long after I’d gone. It was the third day of my field research in North Carolina. I stood high on a ridge overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. My companions— nine teenage girls and their field guides—stood with me, resting after our long hike. It was a summer’s midday in 2015, and far off in the distance the undulating mountains rose softly green, quiet; imperturbable. They too had been here well before me. In the time that it took me to wrestle off my 20-pound backpack, the group had already deposited their—considerably heavier—hauls around the perimeter of the clearing and were settling in as if home from just another day at the office. The girls lounged across the stubbled rock surface, comfortable and familiar, stretching out their legs and taking in the majestic scene as if it were simply a chunk of ground and sky. These were teens in a group named Alpha, working through a wilderness therapy program at Trails Carolina. Alpha’s nine young women ranged in age from 15 to 17. Some had been moving through the phases of the program for several months, whereas one young woman was starting her first week. They were there for various reasons, each one facing psychological challenges or traumas that prevented them from leading healthy lives elsewhere. Trails was leading them through a therapeutic curriculum in which they would be reintroduced to themselves: their identity, primal power, and relationship to society and the world. Theirs were long and challenging journeys, yet their composure and ease on the bluff belied the reality of their struggles. Alpha group’s therapist was on her way, and in the few moments before she arrived, I was circled and inundated with questions about who I was and what I would be doing. I was caught off guard. What should I tell them and how much should I share? I wasn’t sure if there was a right or a wrong way to introduce myself, beyond explaining that I was a professor
64 Brenda Cowan studying objects used in wilderness therapy. I could give them my personal story, that of a mother whose child had been in this same spot some years prior, or keep a greater distance and share instead my fascination with the role that objects play in health and healing. As it would happen, Alpha got the full story out of me: a tale of a woman on a sojourn, revisiting places she had once traversed weighted with fear and uncertainty, outfitted now with the wisdom gained by having survived a personal trial and on a new journey toward understanding the mystery of how objects are core to healing. My world is museums and the objects that nest within them. To me, objects live, they breathe, they are memories and moments in time. They lie, they tell truths, they rattle history’s cage shouting out its endless acts until their throats are raw. Objects hold us and remind us who we are. They secret, they tease, they seduce. Despite my years and my calling, I’d never thought about objects in relationship to healing, nor had I seen how the basest of them can help someone find their way through a trauma or stay well. The objects in my world of museums have gravitas, they are ornate, they have seen the world. In North Carolina, sticks and rocks don’t have gravitas. And yet: oak leaves, quartz stone, and simple little beads used in wilderness therapy are powerful protagonists in the healing process. They serve an underlying purpose far greater. During my initial time at Trails as a parent, I was struck by how much the therapists made use of the phenomenology of objects I was so familiar with in my professional work. I was amazed at how emotional a teen would become when receiving a small plastic bead representing a milestone achievement in her therapy. I was entranced by seeing the love, care and attention given to crafting a wooden bow that would someday help create fire. These objects were essential—filling the need for growth and healing in these young lives—and it was tremendous to watch. All around me I saw silent connections between people and objects, playing out like an invisible dance in perfect syncopation that I called primal dialogue. My professional fascination with objects had been awakened during that first visit, but that had not been the right time or place for exploration. Instead, I trusted that someday I would be fortunate enough to return and explore objects in therapy as a museum practitioner. And so it was that two years later I would find myself on a bluff with nine teenage girls. § As I prepared for the field research at Trails, a dear friend recommended I meet with one of her colleagues: a clinical counselor and psychotherapist in British Columbia, Canada, who uses objects in therapy and writes about creative process as a means of healing. Her connection with Ross Laird was invaluable, and in his book Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft (2001) there is a likeness to the therapies at Trails Carolina
Creation of the theory 65 and a perspective that broadened my mind about what healing with objects might mean. Ross writes about the numinous experience, the marvel of the spiritual and transcendent characteristics discussed so much in the literature on object studies. Inspired, I included a visit with him in my plans. I was following my premise that objects are core and fundamental to health and healing, and approaching the process of exploring the idea heuristically,1 intent on letting information slowly unfold and develop while resisting the desire to predetermine outcomes. My focus was on being present and immersed in the experience, seeing where the premise might be revealed without forcing a theory. My time to explore was precious and limited; answers would come later. I broke out of my comfort zone and went with whatever each day would bring. This is a leaf from the wilderness therapy playbook which requires making peace with the unfamiliar, trusting that I would see a unique perspective about objects and their meaning. I would go to North Carolina, and I would go to British Columbia; two countries, two woods, one whole new world of objects.
Encounters in the wild The sprawling campus at Trails Carolina is beautiful: green rolling hills, pasture land, mountains massed with trees. I was exhilarated to be free from my chaotic urban home. Over the course of a week I would interview staff including Shane Maxson, Field Director; Jason McKeown, Clinical Director; and Brian Hannon, Director of Student Life. I would observe various forms of therapy in the field. My research focused on learning how meaning-making with objects occurs in therapy, and what associations, characteristics and experiences are part of the healing process. This way of looking at objects—as evocative and elemental to meaning-making—is based in phenomenology and the literature in museum studies, and I was curious to learn how much crossover there would be in the therapies at Trails. With hopes that I would see these experiences as much as hear about them, the interviews and observations were fairly open and shaped around the following open considerations and questions: People have a primal dialogue with objects: an inherent non-verbal relationship in which objects elicit memories, emotions and ideas that enable us to discover and articulate our thoughts, intentions and identity on a psychologically fundamental level. How are objects used in therapy to utilize or activate that inherent relationship? Objects can foster transpersonal experience and connection with internal energy and creativity. This experience can be referred to as a person’s
66 Brenda Cowan unique aliveness, such as what someone might feel when meditating or experiencing flow state. What do these moments look like in wilderness therapy? How are objects used in therapy to foster feelings of empowerment? Are there common indicators that tell you that someone is feeling empowered? What are the differences in experience when students receive objects representing milestone achievements in therapy, successfully make and use the tools needed to create fire, and find an object in nature to use in a therapy session? Do adolescents ever take any of their objects with them after completing the program? Why might that be? My week of observing and sharing with students in the field, in therapy sessions, and speaking with staff both formally and informally, was moving and illuminating. The therapies I observed were intentional and made use of students’ natural meaning-making process with objects to awaken their need and desire to address their life experiences and feelings of self. Often the objects were from nature, such as sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves found and gathered by the students from the woods where their sessions were held. Sometimes the objects were human-made, such as the small plastic beads used to mark therapeutic progress and achievements, or even the students’ own field clothing and gear. The type of object used didn’t appear to make a difference in the therapeutic experiences, although I was mindful of the potency of natural objects and wondered at times how much the action of finding and using objects from the woods impacted students’ healing journeys. This became a consideration I would pursue in further research. The openness of the staff and therapists to using a wide range of objects interchangeably in various therapies demonstrated the flexibility, deftness, and focus on personal associations and experiences that inspired me the most. As is often the case when examining human-object relationships in the museum setting, meaning-making and transformative experiences are more about what the person brings to the encounter than the subject or provenance of the object itself. At Trails, it was the materiality of the objects, the associations ascribed, and the specific form of engagement with the objects that were at the heart of the healing process. The therapists and staff demonstrated how important this understanding is when looking at the power of objects. While reviewing my notes from the interviews and observations, as well as my personal journal, several themes emerged that began to shed light on the ways in which objects impact our health and healing.One enlightening revelation involved my observation that there was a continuity between the ways in which objects were impactful in the lives and healing journeys of the students in therapy, and the ways in which
Creation of the theory 67 staff shared many of their own personal life journeys. Objects were used by students and staff in various ways, sometimes with intent, at other times unknowingly, as catalysts for self-reflection, reminiscence, thinking about the past and imagining the future. Objects were instruments in the creative process and enhancers of flow experience and mindfulness. In the stories I heard, there was always a multidimensional dynamic among personal object associations, evocative object characteristics, and specific actions that triggered healing experiences. This dynamic experience was recurrent across the formal therapy sessions and was discussed at length in informal moments and the interview sessions. It was from these emergent themes that I addressed my premise, formed the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, and developed its framework. The following highlights from my experience at Trails served as a place of origin for what would subsequently become a long-term exploration and ongoing research. Unburdening When students are challenged with overcoming trauma or an experience that is blocking their ability to progress, they will be given a rock by their therapist as a metaphor for that burden. Instructed to carry the rock along with their gear in their backpack, they are told that when they are ready to release themselves from the burden that the rock symbolizes, they can relieve themselves of the rock. Students will carry the rock for days or even weeks, despite the extra weight, until a moment arises when the student is ready to let it go. It might be ceremonially tossed into a fire, thrown off a cliff, or simply dropped on the ground. However, the rock is disposed of, the act of having it and then letting it go is therapeutically powerful. Jason McKeown described: The memory of the object and the act of letting it go are essential to clinical growth. The student is granting themselves permission to move forward. People hold onto things out of fear or hate, and this limits their ability to start living their lives differently. The act of using an object to destroy or release those feelings and experiences becomes a reminder that they are now different, that the memory or experience no longer holds power over them. Possibility and potential are what drive therapy and moments of connection. Hope and potential In my interview with Shane Maxson, he spoke about the process of making a backpack from scratch. He had made his own—lovingly
68 Brenda Cowan crafted and cared for—and he used it as a motivator for the students. The backpack embodied and demonstrated potential and the possibility of achievement. Students wanted to be able to create a backpack of that level of quality. [Through the pack] I was nonverbally communicating that I care about craftsmanship, I care about quality and taking my time, and I can teach you how to do this too. In the therapeutic process, students need to experience feelings of hope and come to recognize their own potential to heal. Jason shared that from a clinical perspective: The biggest part of change and transformation is when the client develops the sense of hope again. They realize there is a hope and a future beyond self-harm or divorce or hurt. Power Many students at Trails struggle with feelings of inadequacy and the inability to command their own lives. The therapy used to activate a student’s sense of personal power is the process of creating fire. Making the necessary tools—the bow-drilling kit—from natural objects and then using them to create fire is a challenging process, requiring intentionality, determination, and long-term focus on a goal while managing moments of success and failure along the way. To the students, the bow-drilling tools are deeply evocative objects that over time come to embody their feelings of self-control and personal power. When talking about the bow-drilling kits, Brian Hannon described how they are simply inanimate objects that when decontextualized are meaningless. However, when the objects are in use, they take on personal meaning as implements of action and control. They activate in students’ thoughts and feelings of self-efficacy they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. Measuring intention is an important part of the clinical process, and nightly records of which students achieved making fire, and what was involved in that achievement, are used to help determine psychological progress. Jason says: Bow-drilling wouldn’t be important if it didn’t have all of the struggle and tears, times of failure and then going back to it… A transformative part of healing comes through knowing that there will be some discomfort, just enough to allow us to learn something new. Even now, years later, I think about the bow-drilling objects and their ordinariness. They are potent, life-giving, and alive (Figure 4.1).
Creation of the theory 69
Figure 4.1 B ow-drilling. Photo by Jason McKeown.
Co-creation The psychological connections between self, family, and society are critical to personal development, and I watched and learned about how beautifully co-creation can foster that development. Shane described how in traditional cultures object-making happens in a group, or as a mentored experience in which the meaning of the object is inherent to the communal act of its creation. In turn, Jason likened this concept to the ways in which we co-create many aspects of their lives. I observed co-creation in a tandem bow-drilling exercise between an instructor and a student who was completing her therapeutic program. It took many, many attempts before the two of them could coordinate their movements together and establish a rhythm. However, the teen was completely at ease with the physically awkward challenge of making fire collaboratively with someone else. As she faltered, she didn’t get upset or frustrated. She didn’t give up and she didn’t blame him. Instead, she simply kept working. I watched as she focused and drew upon her feelings of confidence and trust in herself, the instructor, and in the objects that she had created (Figure 4.2). Shane described: If we go back to ancestral cultures and transitions into adulthood… the act of creation laid the framework for social relationships and building trust, and co-creation illustrated that you are not alone, teaching interrelatedness and interdependence in life.
70 Brenda Cowan
Figure 4.2 Tandem bow-drilling: a process of co-creation. Photo by Brenda Cowan.
Giving and receiving Students sometimes gift their bow-drilling kits to their parents as they complete their therapy and graduate from Trails. Shane described this experience as an act of the student sharing their story and their feelings of power within the family. In receiving the gift, the parents assure their child of their love and connection. It is a literal act of acceptance. Giving objects to others is an aspect of personal growth and representative of our need for connection and continuity in life. The action of the gift being received is one of acknowledgment and affirmation (Mauss 1967). Jason spoke about times when a student wants to take with them objects from their experience and the parent/caregiver disallows them: When a parent rejects their child’s object, it’s like rejecting their child. The object is part of the child’s story. Resilience Objects can be symbols of resilience. This theme emerged through stories about students’ relationships with their field shirts and pants. Brian spoke of
Creation of the theory 71 the importance of the students’ plain and utilitarian field clothes, and how they can come to represent feelings of protection, endurance and resilience: The clothes were a part of a deep protection. They are less about the exciting things and more about the things that protected them and went through the experience with them. They are reminders: this is how I take care of myself. Jason likewise mentioned that participants will sometimes receive photos, from graduated students, of their Trails shirts with holes and stains, in shadow boxes displayed on their walls. This theme of objects as symbols of endurance, resilience, and continuum specifically related to clothing emerged many times throughout our subsequent case studies. Nonverbal communicators Using objects as a means of communicating ideas, feelings, and life experiences is common in wilderness therapy. In many ways, wilderness therapy as a whole is one big act of making, creative thinking, and nonverbal communication. This was clearest during my observation of Alpha groups’ therapy session on the bluff. Their therapist had the teens composing labyrinths out of found objects from the woods. The only instruction was to have the labyrinths represent their life journeys, and three things were immediately striking. First, these savvy young women—who back home were being schooled through technology and multimedia—had no difficulty placing their innermost thoughts and feelings in the hands of mere leaves and sticks. Second, the labyrinths were surprisingly different from each other: one was open to the point where the pathways were almost indistinct, while another had so many blockages and dead ends that it was more of a trap than a place with a possible exit. Third, the girls entered into the exercise unquestioningly. There were no hesitations or debates, and when presenting the labyrinths to each other, they used few words. There was an inherent honesty to the objects, which in turn enabled the meanings and interpretations of the compositions to be the predominant focus. The simple displays of stones, leaves and twigs clearly communicated students’ feelings of personal restriction, lack of options, or self-direction. In this exercise, the objects provided freedom from preconceptions and judgment; they offered an intrinsic challenge in our culture with spoken or written words. I found myself deeply moved by this therapy in particular. It was as if the girls were speaking plainly and loudly in their compositions of objects from the woods. As I watched, the meanings of the labyrinths became obvious, their language clear: this is my path, these are my paths. However, I walk or if I run, or maybe not move at all, these paths are the paths for me to take—or not. These walls are my walls to mind or move through. These exits exist if I choose them to (Figure 4.3).
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Figure 4.3 A labyrinth: one center, many pathways. Photo by Brenda Cowan.
Among the totems Ross Laird teaches counseling, psychology, expressive arts, and creative writing. He works as a clinical supervisor to social service agencies focused on mental health, addictions, trauma, childhood development, and related themes. He is a master craftsman with wood and stone, and his expertise with creative process is imbued within his approach to healing and therapy with objects. Ross and I met at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver during the final leg of my field research. While weaving through an immense forest of Indigenous totem poles, we discussed his work as a clinician and educator, and of course where objects fit into the whole picture. I approached our interview much like I did at Trails, with overarching points of inquiry and an openness to seeing predominant themes emerge through Ross’s therapeutic practice and insights into the core of the object experience. My interview questions were slightly different from those at Trails so as to incorporate key elements from his publications and to prompt information that I believed would support what I had gathered from Trails. My questions to Ross began with my concept of the primal dialogue with objects: I believe that objects can speak to us, for us, and alongside us, and in their silence relieve us of the burden of spoken or written language. This nonverbal relationship enables us to connect with objects and
Creation of the theory 73 ourselves, free from preconceptions or judgment. Does this idea resonate with your own work? In Grain of Truth you describe walking among the totem poles and “gazing at these ethereal faces staring back from a lost age … hearing that whisper spiraling out from the primordial source of things.” You say that the “spirit of creative work calls to whomever will listen.” These elegant passages resonate with the idea of primal dialogue with objects, and I wonder about a person’s ability to “hear the call” as you say. How can a person enhance their ability to gain awareness of the meaning of objects in their lives? Objects can foster transpersonal experience and connections with internal energy and creativity. This experience can be referred to as a person’s unique aliveness, such as what someone might feel when meditating or experiencing flow state. What do these moments look like in your work? I wonder about the potency of tools in people’s lives. You describe your own tools very powerfully as “reminders to remember, and to act.” Can you talk about the relationship among tools, objects, and feelings of empowerment that you have experienced or witnessed? In A Stone’s Throw, you say “In countless guises, the instinct for beauty prevails.” At the Met in New York you reflect upon fragments of sculpture that have survived—endured—for millennia amid death and destruction. Do you think that the indomitable spirit of these objects speaks to people’s need for stability and personal endurance? What is the relationship between an object’s ability to endure through time and tragedy and our own abilities? Objects can be powerful because they bear witness to life, events, and times. They become repositories of stories. In this light, objects can live beyond ordinary perception and become transcendent. They can evoke empathy and inspire feelings of awe. This is described as numinous experience. How can a numinous experience with an object be part of a therapeutic experience? As I listened to Ross respond to my questions and talk about the healing journey of working with wood, I recalled watching—at Trails—the graduation instructor’s hand envelop, assure and encompass its young dependent— steadying the top rock together while making fire—and feeling the potency and depth of the kindness of hands. Ross talked about the power of the hand, about the need to integrate our modes of development through working with objects and by exploring the world with our hands. He mentioned the work of neurologist Frank Wilson (1998), and he described how the hand has played a foundational role in our development as a species: We have evolved in such a way that changes in the human hand come before changes in the brain. The hand is our primary instrument. The hand has taught the brain how to understand the world, to understand ourselves. The prevalence of screen-based surfaces in our modern age
74 Brenda Cowan has greatly reduced the tactile, sensory-based way in which people explore and learn. The homogeneity of those screen surfaces limits the information that can come to the brain and body via touch. These impacts are particularly harmful in childhood. I think about how we might move forward, as a society, if we do not understand the primary role of the hands in all that we do, all that we are. Ross consistently returned to what is a core theme for him: the underlying unity between diverse expressions and domains. “The world of mental health,” he says, “and the world of personal development, the world of creativity—they’re all the same pathway.” Ross says, of the creative process: People have to meet blockages and work through them — to have confrontations, to go through steps in the creative process in order to make progress. If therapy follows the creative process, we will encounter the steps and emotional challenges we face in life; they are the same. In our interview, when speaking about a person going through a therapeutic process, I asked him about how he knows when a person is making a breakthrough, or is experiencing growth and healing, and he spoke about readiness: its unpredictability and dynamic character. Ross works extensively in the field of addiction, and he emphasized the similar mystery of that process: Sometimes people simply turn a corner, and there is no way to predict or facilitate this. It’s something we talk about at the clinics: the mystery of it, of how suddenly a shift happens inside, as though a part of the self awakens after a long and inconvenient sleep. As though the wanderer finally returns home. Recovery strategies do not always play much of a role in this process, nor do emotional pressures and the exigencies of daily life. Nothing works but readiness, and readiness is like the sunshine that melts the wax for kneading: it comes, or it does not. The emotional power and resonance of tools is a pervasive and enduring theme among craftspeople (Glynn 1998; Hack 1997; Jerome 1997; Krenov 1980; Nakashima 1981; Pirsig 1974; Pye 1968). Ross shared his enthusiasm and regard for the well-made and well-purposed tool (Figure 4.4): Tools hold tremendous potential and potency. If used properly, they instruct us in their use. We can learn how best to be with them, as our companions. In many ways, tools are carriers of power: extensions of the hand and mind. They carry resonance, possibility. In the therapeutic process, as in the creative process, tools are a reminder to remember and to act; they are a call to action.
Creation of the theory 75
Figure 4.4 H and-plane made by Ross Laird (woods: maple, cocobolo, and Lignum vitae). Photo by Brenda Cowan.
Ross discussed the experience of watching people while they are making objects, and the sense of joy and discovery—and challenge—that can be seen: When a person begins to forge a connection with an object — a creative and personal connection — it’s important for me to get out of the way. Making objects is a very personal and intimate encounter. The process itself offers a kind of guidance. It provokes and demands of us that we go deeper, that we learn more, that we open ourselves to experiences we would not otherwise have. The creative path assigns us the hardest and most important task of all: facing ourselves. And yet it does so gently – at least at first — playfully, kindly, through simple discoveries and engaging moments. Later we must face our vulnerability, our trauma, out intransigence, and creativity guides us through these as well — if we listen. We talked about the totem poles in the museum, and how they are from a culture that thrives, sustains, and connects itself to the spiritual and ancestral worlds. They are in themselves a “call to action.” Every time a totem pole is created there is an element of both past and present within it. Poles
76 Brenda Cowan are crafted, in part, to tell the stories of self, society, culture—to remember the past, reinforce the present, and kindle the future (Lévi-Strauss 1982; Macnair 1989; Nakashima 1981). And this, in turn, helps to ensure the survival of the people. Totem poles are an aspect of the life continuum; they are a part of the endurance of a culture. They embody resilience. They possess, in Ross’s words, “an indomitable spirit.” In his books, Ross has written about the power of the numinous particularly with regard to wood: This wood, these bones, trace the nature and purpose of a vast awareness, a living spirit in the grain, each knot and every growth ring a secret hieroglyph worked carefully into many layers of meaning. The echo of leaves is here, the resonance of damp fields half submerged in twilight, of dark soil and tales of night. And long, interwoven strands of time knitted together by wood and human hands. The wood has been coaxed into shape — whittled, chiseled, sculpted with broad, incising strokes — by tools of utmost antiquity, by weapons, by stones, by meteors, by fragments of ships: countless forms oiled by luminous skin. (Laird 2001) Ross works primarily with wood because he feels a deep reverence for it and its potential, of what it can be. He is driven to make objects because of a love of the materials and the resonance within the emerging object, of the people he wants to share the object with, of his connection with a culture that is born out of the process of making. The numinous is inherent in the material, in its potential for becoming, and in the process of making.
Genesis of the psychotherapeutic object dynamics I had brought an idea about objects into the pine forests of North Carolina, and into the forest of totem poles in British Columbia. An idea about objects and human life. Of a living essence that links us, that is self- perpetuating and intrinsic. At Trails Carolina I learned that the element of inherent dynamic action is central to the meaning of objects in therapy. My experiences from this initial exploration revealed that activation is key to therapeutic engagement with objects: activation of the individual and of the object itself. When an object’s associative properties and characteristics are actively engaged, the object becomes catalytic. A pathway is formed toward health and healing. Objects in therapy are instrumental as catalysts to think, feel, relate, and act in a literal or representational sense. In doing so they serve and enable psychological healing. There is a chain of phenomenological experiences and interactions, in facilitated object-based therapy, that can also be observed in non-facilitated, inherent actions between people and objects. By nature, consciously and unconsciously, we actively and
Creation of the theory 77 intentionally engage with an object’s associations and meaning-making characteristics in physical, intellectual and emotional ways. We stimulate, on our own, object-based therapeutic activities that impact our health, wellbeing, and the stages of our healing. Reviewing the themes from the field research through this lens, I identified five specific human-object dynamic interactions that are therapeutic in their nature: Associating, Composing, Giving/Receiving, Making, and Releasing/Unburdening an object. Based on subsequent empirical research studies, I generated a framework comprised of seven dynamic interactions, with the additions of touching and synergizing. Each action is dynamic, each dynamic demands an object, each object dynamic has the power to heal. I titled the theory Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics. Associating is when students bring their shirts home as close companions in their new life chapters. Associating is the milestone achievement bead that a student will lace on her sneaker and wear every day, long after her experiences at Trails, and see as a receptacle of those memories, a reminder of her growth. Composing is when nine young women transmute twigs, leaves, stones and flowers into labyrinths; ordinary portents through which they communicate their loneliness, fear, anger and pain free from the abstraction of words. Giving/Receiving is the story of a teen who visited Trails long after his graduation from the program. He was given a fire-making steel striker by the staff to show him how much they cared about him. In an act of acceptance and reverence for the object and its meaning, he held the simple piece of steel and wept. This simple object dynamic showed him that he would continue to be a part of this circle of life, love, and healing. Making is seen in a teen who experiences the resilience and skill necessary to craft a bow-drill kit and achieve the creation of fire. Carving the bow from a tree branch, feeling its resistance and distinct texture, patiently making the tool: these experiences revive her power, control, and hope. Releasing/Unburdening is seen when a teenager in Trails can’t let go of her grief, and she is given a rock that represents it to stuff into her backpack. She carries this burden, along with 40 pounds of gear, until the moment she realizes she can throw her pain into oblivion, crush it into dust, burn it, or simply leave it behind. Each of the Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics exhibits the fundamental psychological and sociological concepts of power, self, and connection to society. Each necessitates subjective associations. Each has one or more attributes of the phenomenological object characteristics inherent to meaning-making. And each dynamic embodies positive therapeutic impact. Through the lens of the theory, I could further embrace the idea that there is a primal dialogue between people and objects, and explore the ways in which objects can influence healing within museum exhibitions. The first leg of my journey was completed. And the theory had only just begun.
78 Brenda Cowan Through subsequent museum-based empirical studies, featured in upcoming chapters, the theory would grow and deepen. Two additional dynamics would emerge—Synergizing and Touching—and the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics would become a clear framework of seven inherent human-object dynamic actions that can be directly linked with healthful outcomes. As a theory it is at once complex and simple. As you will see next, it is an organism with distinct parts, grounded in a multifaceted body of scholarship that is in itself complex and true.
Note 1 The heuristic approach (Moustakas 1990) describes a shared humanistic experience in which researcher and subject follow personal insights and discoveries, relinquish preconceived ideas, cultivate a deepening flow of conversation, and explore unanticipated paths of inquiry.
5 The theory and framework
Human experience is both interpretive and relational. We are always situated in context. To understand reality we must understand the detailed experience of life and also how it relates to the bigger picture. Factors such as identity, society, communication, temporality, events and history enable us to experience and explore this context, to learn what it means to live in a world that is experienced by each individual in their own way (Brooks 2015). Intentionality is a key part of the structure of our lifeworld: we possess an innate drive toward perception and engagement in meaning-making with objects, events and our environments. The potency of an object’s intentionality is likewise key to wellbeing in object-based therapy, in which the exchange of meaning between an object and a person becomes a lived experience of deep reflection, mindfulness, containment, social engagement, and a tangible means of shaping past, present, and future narratives (Camic, Brooker and Neal 2011). When conditions are enabled or triggered that assist with and foster these living elements of the meaning-making experience, psychological health is nurtured. In this sense, objects are core elements of our psychological metabolism. Meaning is made in the transactions between a person and an object, and the manner of engagement is significant. These transactions are psychic activities, in the sense that they are not simply physical behaviors but aesthetic experiences in the Deweyian sense. Something new arises in these moments of experience. Psychic transactions occur in the immediate present and are not exclusively mental or physical, subjective or objective, but a coalescence of all, and particular to specific situations and contexts (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981). Object-based therapeutic methods utilize the powerful dynamics of psychic transactions and intentionality. Such activities focus on exploring the characteristics and attributes of an object’s subjective meaning and personal associations, and in so doing trigger the object’s catalytic properties that awaken perception, emotions, imagination, and memory. In turn, these activate and foster healthful experiences such as self-reflection, mindfulness, and self-awareness. This process altogether nurtures healthful and healing competencies such as self-efficacy, empathy, containment, confidence, and
80 The theory of psychotherapeutic object dynamics resilience. This same chain of phenomenological experiences and interactions, seen often in facilitated object-based therapy, can also be observed in unfacilitated, inherent actions between people and objects. By nature, we actively and intentionally engage with an object’s associations and meaning-making characteristics in physical, intellectual, and emotional ways. In so doing we stimulate our own object-based therapeutic activities that, in turn, impact our health, wellbeing, and healing (Figure 5.1). The theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics defines the inherent and inextricable coalescence of object associations, attributed characteristics, and dynamic interactions that result in healthful and healing outcomes. These correlations, interactions and impacts are automatic, selfdriven, and simultaneous. Through our research we have identified a set of universal patterns of engagement with objects. These patterns form the Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics framework via seven dynamics: Associating, Composing, Giving/Receiving, Making, Releasing/Unburdening, Synergizing, and Touching. The dynamics are inherent, multidimensional, catalytic, human-object relational experiences and are therapeutic in nature. They occur in everyday life as well as in therapeutic settings. Based on our research, they also occur in museum settings and situations. Each of the dynamics is comprised of overarching object characteristics and corresponding inherent therapeutic activity. The following definitions indicate the nature of each therapeutic activity and the attributed characteristics as drawn from the literature (and reinforced in data from our case studies).1 The definitions also show the corresponding therapeutic competencies resulting from dynamic engagement as drawn from theory and practice, and likewise, reinforced in the data from our case studies. Relevant scholars are shown in parentheses. Each dynamic definition is followed by an illustrative example from our data.
Health & Healing Object Associations
Figure 5.1 Dynamic interplay of object characteristics, associations, and actions.
The theory and framework 81
Associating The action of maintaining, and keeping within close physical proximity to, an object in an effort to perpetuate the knowledge, and memory of the object’s associations (including experiences, states of being, places, and people). Object characteristics Human Connectedness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson, Marcher) Bearing Witness (Hoskins) Companion in Life Experience (Turkle) Connections Bigger than Self (Wood and Latham) Silent Partner (Spitta) Therapeutic competency Self-efficacy (Levitin) Mindset (Dweck) Mindfulness (Ekman and the Dalai Lama) Self-regulation (Baumeister, Ekman) Trauma recovery (Levine, van der Kolk) The dynamic of associating is particularly resonant with the object characteristics of “companion in life experience” (Turkle 2007) and “silent partner” (Spitta 2009). It is the most common of all the object dynamics we identified, and has several variants. Associating is dependent upon physical proximity, and in many cases, this is demonstrated via objects that are worn or carried on, or with, the person on a near daily basis. Sometimes the dynamic is illustrated by an object that is kept in a person’s home either in a prominent place where they see it every day, or stored where it is not seen regularly but the person knows it is there at all times. Themes of keeping the object safe via this dynamic action came up frequently in our studies, often when the object was associated with another person, as with the concept of “human connectedness” (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981). In other cases, people drew personal comfort, energy, confidence or power from the proximity of the object, and experienced empowering or even enlightening elements of “connections bigger than self” (Wood and Latham 2014). Sometimes, associating was a dynamic action that precipitated intended subsequent action, and keeping the object near was essential for the person to become “ready” to address it more fully. In the following example, a museum volunteer has kept a comfort object for almost 30 years. She articulates the definition of associating very well with her use of the word “constant.” This example matches the ways in which associating often involves being in continual physical connection or
82 The theory of psychotherapeutic object dynamics proximity to an object: to perpetuate the object’s meaning and to stay in touch with the feelings, thoughts, sensations, and experiences it activates. It’s very constant. I used to hide it (when a child) so no one would take it. I will never get rid of it. It’s under my pillow every day.
Composing The action of juxtaposing objects with the intent of forming and expressing a concept or idea in order to coalesce, examine, and convey a meaning that cannot otherwise be fully explained or expressed. Object characteristics Unity of the Moment (Wood and Latham) Bearing Witness (Hoskins) Provocations of Thought (Turkle) Perrisological Resonators (Lemonnier) Sense of Wholeness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Therapeutic competency Self-expression and communication (Rogers) Self-awareness and self-efficacy (Levitin) Mindfulness (Ekman and the Dalai Lama) Containment (Marcher, Levine) Trauma recovery (Levine, van der Kolk) The dynamic of composing has variants. It can be seen in the form of a collection for which meaning is dependent upon every object being present, and typically in a particular arrangement. It also emerges in the composition and juxtaposition of as few as two objects. It can be a sequence of objects as in a timeline, or a set of objects manipulated into different juxtapositions at different times. At the core of composing lie communication, expression, and the psychological concept of the “perrisological resonator”: the active juxtaposition of objects and the messages conveyed in their coalescence (Lemmonier 2012). In many instances in our research, composing was explicitly enacted in place of language (written or verbal). The form of the composition was intended to communicate a deep truth, emotion, or abstract concept: There are values and meanings that can be expressed only by immediately visible and audible qualities … to ask what they mean in the sense of something that can be put into words is to deny their distinctive existence (Dewey 1934, 77). In the following example, an object donor to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum describes the dynamic of composing. He relates how the objects in context with each other communicate his experience accurately. Accuracy,
The theory and framework 83 truth, and proof of the event were predominant concerns among participants in this case study in particular, and engagement with their objects and with the museum was dependent upon keeping the objects together. This participant’s objects embody a sequence of events of his morning. In his interview, he spoke about his need to compose them in sequence so that he can remember the order of his experience and communicate his thoughts and feelings accurately to others. It’s important that they stay together and are displayed in a group. It accurately reflects what the experience was. You can’t fake that.
Giving/receiving The action of donating or offering to another person or people an object with the intention of its being accepted, and the resultant act of its being received with its attributed meaning being mutually understood and held intact. Object characteristics Unity of the Moment (Wood and Latham) Bearing Witness (Hoskins) Connections Bigger than Self (Wood and Latham) Provocations of Thought (Turkle) Sense of Wholeness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Human Connectedness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Therapeutic competency Resilience (Jarlnaes, Marcher) Stabilization (Levitin) Perspective-making (Ashton) Trauma recovery (Levine, van der Kolk) Connection with family/society (Neufeld) Human connection is at the heart of this dynamic. The object transaction is deeply symbolic and meaningful. The moment of giving and receiving is respected, reverent, emotional, and personally and socially significant for both the giver and the receiver. It is the literal act of connection via opening oneself to another, and of being told yes, I am with you. Gifts retain something of their givers (Mauss 1967). Some variants of this dynamic include the common yet powerful convention of giving and receiving gifts, 2 giving and receiving objects that identify and mark personal achievements or milestones, and passing along objects within a family or community across generations. At both the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the War Childhood Museum, object donors spoke with us extensively about the manner in which
84 The theory of psychotherapeutic object dynamics they prepared and transported their objects as part of the donation process. Museum staff described the moments of receiving the objects with great reverence. In most of the examples of giving and receiving from our case studies, this ceremonial action created a lasting bond, either literally or figuratively, among the individuals involved as well as between the donors and the institutions. The dynamic action was openly stated as a significant aspect of trauma healing and directly linked with self-identity. In the following example, an object donor provides an excellent description of giving/receiving. He experiences a visceral reaction to the memory of offering to the museum his childhood eyeglasses, which were received with great care and understanding: This is not just an object… When you give something to another person it’s important that they see the object, that they treat the object like a present. When you come here — this gave me goosebumps just now — it’s that they treat the objects like gifts.
Making The action of generating an original or newly formed object as a means of experiencing and implementing the phases of the fundamental creative process. Object characteristics Being Transported (Wood and Latham) Loss of Ego (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Materiality (Dudley) Hypnoglyph (Critchley) Sense of Wholeness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Unity of the Moment (Wood and Latham) Object Focus (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Therapeutic competency Self-awareness (Kahneman, Levitin) Endurance (Baumeister) Stabilization (Baumeister, Levine) Emotional grit (Duckworth) Mindfulness (Ekman and the Dalai Lama) Resilience (Dweck) Containment (Levine, van der Kolk) Self-regulation (Baumeister) The experiential characteristics of flow, and the evocative and transcendent attributes of the numinous, are particularly strong in the dynamic experience of making. So too is the connection with primal power: attainment
The theory and framework 85 of goals, achievement, and mastery (Nguyen 2011). In our research, this dynamic emerged in three predominant forms: the actual activity of making an object and experiencing flow and the efforts of the creative process first-hand; observing another person making an object with a feeling of reverence, awe, or deeply felt appreciation; and seeing evidence in an object of its making and feeling a sensation of its origin, with feelings of reverence, awe and wonder. The dynamic of making is one of the more multifaceted of the dynamics, explicitly interrelating mind, body and emotion. Its variations engage the individual in a primal connection with personal power. The dynamic can be extended to the use of an object as a tool to create something else. According to anthropologist Trevor Marchand, the haptic relationship between the brain, body, and tool is neurologically and psychologically primal and is key to the definition of being human (2012). In Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (Turkle 2007), archaeologist David Mitten describes a deep somatic experience with the dynamic of making in his observations of a 5,000-year-old stone axe head found on his grandfather’s farm. Mitton imagines the life of the axe head, in which its ancient maker “chipped and pecked and ground away much of the cobble that he had found, transforming it … into a well-crafted object, highly suitable for cutting and chopping and a work of beauty as well” (2015, 122). In a state of “deep attention” (Bitgood 2015), 3 a visitor to the Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology became absorbed by a series of evocative knit garments on display. Reflecting upon her experience, she described the dynamic of making as an observer: the knits on display evoked a connection with the act of making via deep personal memories of watching her aunt knitting. The visitor experienced interconnected feelings of amazement, love, and wellbeing. I thought about the knits. They are special because I think of my aunt knitting and the making and it was amazing to watch. I could tell how she loved us. It’s such a warm feeling. It’s why I still love that wine color” [of the sweater she knitted].
Releasing/unburdening The action of releasing an object from a state of highly associative ownership into another place or state to permanently remove it from its former association, meaning, or state of ownership. Object characteristics Unity of the Moment (Wood and Latham) Bearing Witness (Hoskins) Companion in Life Experience (Turkle) Sense of Wholeness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Silent Partner (Spitta)
86 The theory of psychotherapeutic object dynamics Therapeutic competency Resilience (Baumeister) Self-efficacy (Levitin) Containment (Levine, van der Kolk) Self-awareness (Ekman, Jarlnaes, Marcher) Empathy (Piff, Dietze, Feinberg, Stancato, Keltner) Stabilization (Baumeister, Levine) Self-regulation (Baumeister) Mindfulness (Ekman and the Dalai Lama) The dynamic of releasing/unburdening objects from our lives is as commonplace as discarding or donating objects in a flurry of spring cleaning, returning an ex-boyfriend’s belongings after a breakup, or even sometimes when we thoughtfully re-gift. This dynamic is rooted in intent, heightened and deliberate action, and a determination to make or recognize change. In our research with object donors to museum exhibitions, every example of this dynamic was deeply emotional, profound, and catalytic. The range and multidimensionality of the dynamic action of releasing/unburdening can be aligned with the four object experience elements comprising Wood and Latham’s unified experience, including unity of the moment, object link, being transported, and connections bigger than self (2014). The object is burdensome; its associations and attributed characteristics—a memory, experience, concept, person, place, time, event, etc.—are prohibitive. The object’s presence delays or thwarts personal growth, health, or healing. The object is therefore evocative, or even numinous. Its depth of meaning is expansive, bigger than the individual, and can even feel spiritual or supernatural. The dynamic activity of releasing/unburdening is a unification of all of these elements in a single, decisive, active moment commonly accompanied by feelings of relief, empowerment, openness, and transcendence. In our many examples of releasing/unburdening, participants were able to articulate clearly the meaning of their object, its associations, their decision-making process and intent, and the impacts of their experience. This dynamic comes with a particularly heightened state of self-awareness, as articulated by this object donor to the War Childhood Museum: It was a relief giving it away. When I gave the doll away I realized the gravity of it, the burden of it. And I felt the relief when giving it away. I’m not materialistic, I’m more spiritual, and doing this I feel liberated. It’s peaceful.
Synergizing The action of contributing an object to a collective in which combined components produce a meaning larger than the individual alone.
The theory and framework 87 Object characteristics Unity of the Moment (Wood and Latham) Bearing Witness (Hoskins) Provocations of Thought (Turkle) The Transpersonal (Salom) Perrisological Resonators (Lemonnier) Sense of Wholeness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Connections Bigger than Self (Wood and Latham) Awe (Piff, Dietze, Feinberg, Stancato, Keltner; Latham) Human Connectedness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Therapeutic competency Resilience (Duckworth) Endurance (Baumeister, Duckworth) Wholism (Marcher) Perspective-making (Levitin) Stabilization (Baumeister, Levine) Empathy (Piff, Dietze, Feinberg, Stancato, Keltner) Mindfulness (Ekman and the Dalai Lama) Connection with society (Marcher, Neufeld) The dynamic of synergizing has a significant connection with studies in awe, reverence, and empathy. It is seen in different variations, in quotidian experiences as well as powerful museum-based experiences. Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton speak to the experience of synergizing in human development as a transactional experience of the “cosmic self,” the portion of the self whose ultimate goal is interconnection with the larger harmony of things (1981). Synergizing is an action of creating shared or collective knowledge (Wood and Latham 2014). The impacts of the experience— whether an individual donates an object to charity or gifts it to a museum— illustrate the connection between the “small self” (Piff, Feinberg, Deitz, Stancato and Keltner 2015) and “connections bigger than self” (Latham 2016). The dynamic of synergizing helps people develop prosocial behavior, compassion, empathy, and an awareness of collective social emotion (Piff, Feinberg, Deitz, Stancato and Keltner 2015). In the following example, synergizing is experienced by an object donor to the War Childhood Museum. The simple act of contributing an object to a collection of other objects from the same event rendered larger meanings than the object on its own: I was a casualty but the world is in this. This is me putting something in its rightful place. It’s simply going where it belongs. They are among other objects that have a similar cause. They fight. This is our scream, with others all united. My scream [object] is a small scream.
88 The theory of psychotherapeutic object dynamics Together in this whole picture with the other objects it’s one big message to never do this again. The things, they scream, so people — the decision-m akers — don’t do this again. This is a process of waking up this empathy.
Touching The action of touching an object either consciously or unconsciously while thinking or speaking about its meaning. Object characteristics Hypnoglyph (Critchley) Materiality (Dudley) Object Focus (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Unity of the Moment (Latham and Wood) Primal Power (Nguyen) Sense of Wholeness (Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson) Object Link (Wood and Latham) Therapeutic competency Resilience (Duckworth) Endurance (Baumeister) Wholism (Marcher) Stabilization (Baumeister, Levine) Mindfulness (Ekman and the Dalai Lama) Emotional grit (Duckworth) Containment (Levine, van der Kolk) Self-regulation (Baumeister) Empathy (Latham, Rogers, Marcher) Two main variants of the dynamic of touching emerged in our study. The first involved the literal act of touching objects in a wide variety of settings. The second was related to the thought, anticipation of, or resonant memory of touching an object. Both forms of sensory experience were deeply connected with emotions, memory, elements of flow experience, and in many cases feelings of awe and reverence. In a number of illustrations from our studies, particularly where the object concerned was old or historical, participants described their attraction to the object via its visual materiality. This was often related to its use and wear over time—or “stickiness,” as described by archaeologist Sara Ahmed—whereby an object shows marks of its history (2006). Many participants lovingly described the texture, shape, surface, and feel of used and aged objects—mostly domestic—that they had not actually touched. Similarly, participants described memory associations with tactile and haptic object experiences in which prior engagement
The theory and framework 89 with an object—a “tactile memory” (Gallace and Spence 2008)—was activated and served to connect them with the object they were observing. Feelings of nostalgia, warmth, comfort, and joy resulted from this particular type of experience, most commonly in our study related to clothing. The literal experience of touch, with personal objects in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, evoked the wellbeing and happiness impacts of touch as demonstrated in the research of Paddon, Thomson, Menon, Lanceley and Chatterjee (2013). In the following example, a volunteer at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery works with collections objects every day. She also engages museum visitors in touching objects, even rarefied objects (such as ancient Syrian hand-made clay oil lamps). The impact of touching objects was significant, for herself and in her descriptions of the experiences of others. Her simple statement below was one of many relating to powerful connections between holding objects and feelings of wellbeing. Something like this bowl feels good. The texture, the tactile. When I hold it I feel contentment.
Psychotherapeutic object dynamics interrelationships The Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics work in an interrelated fashion. One human-object relationship or experience can exhibit two or even more of the dynamics, as seen in the following case study examples: Relevant dynamics are shown in square brackets. [I] took part in a shamanic fire ceremony. We had a period of self- reflection and created a totem (the object that has had meaning in my life) that represented what we felt was a particular obstacle to growth and development in our lives [Making]. The objective was to create a physical manifestation of an emotion or situation and offer it to the fire, asking for release and reflection on why it was an obstacle [Releasing/ Unburdening]. Grandmother’s Gloves, Grandfather’s Handkerchief, Father’s Broken Watch, Mother’s Ashes I never get on an airplane without them [Associating]. I imagine them as angels holding the plane up. The gathering and building of objects [Composing] from relatives that have passed away makes me feel they are still with me and still with each other [Synergizing]. They make me feel safe. The Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics framework supports current understanding that there is a natural, and even necessary, museum- wellness connection. Seen through the lens of the theory, and as explored in our empirical research, museum objects inherently foster health, healing, and wellbeing with museum participants in a myriad of ways, even
90 The theory of psychotherapeutic object dynamics beyond facilitated therapeutic programming. Our empirical studies have focused on examining and identifying what this inherent relationship looks like in various museum settings. Later in the book we explore the museum-object-wellness connection in greater detail, and consider how our work facilitates ongoing dialogue between the therapeutic and museum communities. Viewing the museum connection via the lens of the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics -requires an awareness of its foundations in object-based therapeutic practice in wilderness facilities, education, and other environments. In the next two chapters, co-authors Jason McKeown and Ross Laird describe—in their own words—the ways in which each of them utilizes object processes in clinical and professional practice.
Notes 1 The object characteristics listed are each cited with primary sources. However, as noted in our chapter on the literature, in certain areas multiple scholars and practitioners have made significant contributions. For the purposes of defining the elements of our theory as clearly as possible, and in keeping with our interdisciplinary approach, the object characteristics are cited with the sources that most accurately define our meanings. The identified characteristics serve to define the dynamics on a basic level and are not exclusive. 2 Even in seemingly common or ordinary giving and receiving activities, the engagement of the elements of lifeworld are heightened, in particular the factors of self in relation to others. The interaction of giving and receiving describes the conditions of the lifeworld elements of self in relationship to other. Through the act of giving, the giver defines a relationship with another, and the resulting impacts of the expression of gratitude are extraordinarily sensitive. Feelings of gratitude and acceptance fortify the meaning of the gift as affirmation of self (Ashworth 2013). 3 The display of the knit garments in this example demonstrates the element of “engagement” in Stephen Bitgood’s “Attention-Value Model in Museum Visitors” (2015). In her state of deep focus and subsequent object engagement, the visitor’s experience activates personal memories, strong positive emotions, and responses to the making and materiality of the object.
Therapeutic object practices in clinical and educational settings
6 The wilderness within Jason McKeown
On the first day of my first job as a budding wilderness therapist, I met up with a wilderness therapist at a trailhead. I was there to shadow her work with a group of students with whom she was working. As we began to hike the trail, I asked, “How long is this hike going to be?” A simple question, and reasonable under the circumstances. But I was taken aback by her answer: “Well, I see you are quite the information gatherer. Sounds like wandering and wondering are uncomfortable for you.” Those words stayed with me. Beneath my frustration and pique, I recognized my defensiveness and uncertainty. I needed to know what was happening. How much longer? How far? How steep? I was like a child on a road-trip, calling out insistently from the back seat. I spent the rest of the hike trying to wonder and wander. It was not easy. I went slow. But after much stuttering and distraction, and many false starts, I eventually discovered something lying in wait behind my chattering mind: a sense of peace. I felt an unfamiliar connection with my surroundings, a greater degree of comfort, a sense of immersion into rather than simply a passage through the wild and fragrant landscape. When finally I arrived back at my car, sitting forlorn and dusty at the trailhead, I realized that my first day on the job had impacted me in profound and lasting ways. In that single day I had changed a lifelong pattern within myself—a pattern of distraction, of impatience, of always reaching beyond the present moment. I had settled into myself, and I knew that wilderness therapy would be my path. Wilderness therapy is as old as humans have been wandering the landscape. Shamanic journeys, vision quests, walkabouts: all are warp and weft of the ancient and modern yearning that humans experience in relation to our environment. Contemporary approaches in psychotherapy have drawn practices from many traditions and have applied them in diverse ways. Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound, is typically credited with developing the style of wilderness therapy most commonly found in North America and Europe (Veevers 2011). Hahn believed strongly in the power of nature experience to access and develop the best aspects of human nature. He perceived people to be fundamentally good and healthy; in his view, disaffection from nature was a root cause of human distress. Hahn’s ideas
94 Jason McKeown blossomed throughout the twentieth century and inspired nascent wilderness therapy programs developed by Larry Olsen and Ezekiel Sanchez (White 2017) as well as many others. These programs were initially denoted by the term adventure therapy. Eventually the sub-discipline of wilderness therapy grew out of adventure therapy as a means of deepening the mirroring between the physical landscape and the internal landscape of the self. Today, wilderness therapy is a well-established and thriving model for psychological treatment and healing. Wilderness therapy is distinct from other forms of psychotherapy not only in terms of its physical context. Uniquely, the approaches of wilderness therapy are not focused on therapeutic sessions of defined length and structure. Most therapeutic models are designed with a particular form in which a client attends a time-defined session (often an hour) and is intended to leave the session with a shift in awareness and tools to use in their lives beyond the session. In traditional therapy, therefore, the session is the context for personal growth. Conversely, in wilderness therapy, individual or group sessions (which can take place anywhere) are not the vehicles for personal growth and change. Rather, the experience of the participant between sessions is the context in which changes happen. This distinction, which can be subtle and even confusing, took me a long time to understand. I had to learn how to conduct therapy in such a way that the change happens outside of sessions, not inside them. This required me to learn how to create a wide range of experiences and activities in a wilderness setting. As I eased into working with adolescent participants in a week-long wilderness program, I had to think mindfully about how best to shift my own practice to meet the treatment goals of the program. I came to understand that in wilderness therapy, the actual therapy sessions are conducted in a way that solidifies, or gives meaning to, the experiences and tools participants learn on the land. The land is the teacher. Therapy sessions contextualize that learning; they help participants express the ways in which the tools they have learned, during their week in the wilderness, can be applied to other parts of their life outside of nature or this moment. Pack a backpack, walk with it, unpack it. Pack it up, walk again. Unpack. What can we learn from these experiences? Build a fire, then put it out. Build another one, in a different location that is windier or wetter or more isolated than before. Do it 20 times. What do you learn? Stand on a summit. Look out across the slumbering landscape. What do you see? How is the landscape like your inner life? Move to another summit. What do you see? Do it again, and again. What do the summits teach you about yourself? The trite phrase wax on, wax off is apt. Wilderness therapy is like learning karate; the teaching is often hidden, and seemingly mundane, and surprising. Just as Mr. Miyagi does not teach karate directly—but instead assigns tasks such as cleaning cars or painting fences—the wilderness therapist does not teach therapy directly. Experiences in the wild that might seem unrelated to depression, anxiety, substance use, self-harm, and other
The wilderness within 95 problematic behaviors are discovered to be true teachers for dealing with life issues and making real change. I use objects extensively in my practice, primarily as a means of obviating the instinctive habit of humans to use words as a means of avoiding direct confrontation with the self. As Albert Mehrabian’s research (1971) has shown, the verbal content of communication accounts for a surprisingly small amount of what is communicated (roughly 7%); voice tone, body language, and a host of other factors play a much larger role. Our interactions with objects tend to be more physical, often more visceral and emotional. Many non-verbal expressions become activated in the body and the mind when we interact with objects. In this sense, objects provide us with pathways of communication that are more direct than words can provide. These pathways and experiences can be utilized in the process of health and healing. Objects can possess meanings in at least two different, yet complementary, ways. An object can carry a powerful story on its own, and our experience of the object is to bear witness to its story. For example, touching a pot made by a machine yesterday may not offer the same depth of experience as touching a pot made by hand, hundreds or thousands of years ago, and feeling the imprint of the thumb of the maker in the clay. A second way in which objects can encourage powerful experiences involves the projection of our own story into the object: a memory, a feeling, a place, a moment from our own lives becomes embodied in our experience of the object. The object bears witness to us. In my own practice I tend to utilize the latter approach extensively. Most objects in the wilderness (branches, stones, water, etc.) do not possess a story that is immediately accessible to us, and so we easily and seamlessly project our own narratives onto objects we encounter in nature. When you are walking across a landscape, and you come across a lone tree standing high upon a ridge, you might ruminate upon the history and resilience of the tree. Or, you might think about your own life, your meanderings and your sense of place, your struggles and triumphs. Either way, the tree is an object in which you can both encounter the world and, in doing so, encounter yourself. “When we have learned how to listen to trees,” says Hermann Hesse, “then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy” (1972). The various dimensions of the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics express themselves in a multitude of ways in wilderness therapy. The following sections explore each of the dimensions, with examples from the field.
Releasing heaviness Jason asks if a statement should be made that names of adolescents have been omitted to protect their privacy. Is this a standard?
96 Jason McKeown For most people, the mere act of stepping into the wildness requires a significant level of releasing and unburdening. At the outset of any expedition, for example, participants will pack the basic essentials. At this point, their tendency is typically to pack what they want as opposed to what they truly need. They might want a pillow or a soccer ball (being adolescents) but instead are encouraged to pack a water filter and clothes to stay warm and dry. Due to the weight of the objects one requires in the wilderness, it quickly becomes clear that participants must make decisions (sometimes hard, emotional, stressful decisions) about what not to take. The minimalist lifestyle required in the wildness comes with feelings of loss and longing for what participants no longer have. However, as time goes on, most participants report a new-found level of freedom, autonomy, and weightlessness (both actual and emotional) as they become aware of the ways in which those objects they were required to leave behind did indeed weigh them down—mentally, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually. In my work with adolescents, I encourage them to not worry about time or future information, to instead release the mental pressure of having to worry about the future and focus their energy toward other endeavors psychologically or behaviorally. When participants are able to release their anxieties about time and the future, the quality of their attention and intention to the task at present improves. Whether the group journeys on a hike of 2 miles (3.22 km) or 8 miles (13 km) is not fully realized or discovered until they arrive at the destination. Letting go of the outcome—being open to any outcome—offers significant psychological implications for healthy living and healing. This was my first lesson as a wilderness therapist, and still, for me, one of the deepest. Anxieties, attention issues, impulsivity, and opposition all decrease as participants release and unburden themselves of watches, external information, and objects not relevant to the present experience. I worked with an adolescent who was enrolled in wilderness treatment for major depression. He had undergone several forms of mainstream psychological treatment with little success. During one of our therapy sessions (in the wild, not in an office), I asked him to find a rock in camp that best represented the shape, size, look, and weight of his depression. Half an hour later he found one. It was a hefty rock, about the size of a football, with a variety of muted gray colors and a blend of smooth and rough parts. He described the rock as being big enough to be noticed but not overpowering, heavy enough to be reckoned with but not too heavy. You could carry the rock anywhere, as my client carried his depression with him everywhere. It impacts both the rough and the soft areas of his life. The rock was a concrete, physical representation of his depression: burdensome, but at the same time he was strong enough to carry it. I asked him to carry it in his pack. I also asked him to write the word depression on the rock. He agreed, and he carried the rock with him wherever he went, sharing the experience with others and writing about it in his journal.
The wilderness within 97 His awareness grew. He became more fluent in speaking about his epression with others, describing how his depression affects him and d others, noticing how much of his life has been taken up by this constant, friendless, companion. His language began to change: he began to describe the depression as an external challenge rather than an internal state. When he spoke of his depression, he would look at the rock and refer to the depression as it rather than my depression. He seemed to feel more in control of himself rather than a victim to the depression. He moved forward, releasing and unburdening. But the following week, there was a noticeable shift in his mood. He was no longer enjoying the experience. He began to leave the rock behind, forgetting it at campsites. The staff had reminded him to take his depression with him. One afternoon he shared with me that he felt he was over his depression, that he was tired of caring it around everywhere. It was heavy. He could not do the things he wanted because the rock limited his mobility. He told me that he would roll over onto the rock at night, and it would wake him. When I asked him what he wanted to do with his depression, he replied, “I want to let it go! I don’t need it anymore.” He retrieved the rock from his pack, hefted it to a ridge high above the camp, and tossed it into the void. As it fell down the mountainside, he called after it, saying “I’m done with you!”
Making and tending fire Although minimalism is becoming an emerging lifestyle for many today, it is a necessity while living in the wilderness. A significant aspect of wilderness therapy involves nomadic traveling; participants can only carry so much with them from location to location. Consequently, moments often arise in which participants do not have what they need. Of course, nature provides the opportunity to make what you need. A common refrain in wilderness therapy is that we often have to go without to go within. The same is true of creative work; scarcity can provoke innovation. For many participants, the journey to healing, health, and self-discovery starts with the struggle of not having and going within as a precursor to making. Bow-drilling is an excellent example. This primitive yet effective way of making fire is one that has many significant meanings for participants. It usually takes several days to make a bow-drilling set out of natural materials. Participants first make a fire-board from a log, then a spindle from a branch, then a bow from a rhododendron plant, and finally they carve a socket into a stone the size of their palm. Quite a bit of difficult and detailed work is involved, and many participants find the process to be deeply challenging as well as fulfilling. There is a deep self-agency in the skilled work of hands. Participants often keep their bow-drills for years after leaving the program. Sometimes they make several sets and find great joy in the making. Some make sets for family members to give as gifts, and many
98 Jason McKeown participants will display their bow-drill set in a shadow box, or on a shelf in their room to see and admire. But these are objects not just for display; they are for human use, for survival in the wild, and the craft of making them can be sustaining and abiding. I’ve learned two significant lessons from bow-drilling. The first involves the adage that you have to have a coal in your soul before you have a coal in the hole. This metaphor helps participants learn about intrinsic motivation, overcoming anxiety, and manifesting a primal desire to craft—from the intangible—a tangible and powerful tool. The unique benefit of making such tools is that participants apply their internal energies to the external world in a direct and ancient way. The process is a conduit which connects two worlds in a primal dialogue. And this is the second lesson for me: the dialogue is more primal than we realize. Participants do not say, as the fire catches, “I made a coal.” Instead, they often speak of birthing a coal. This term birthing is not commonly used among adolescents. And yet, they apply it almost universally across the program and across genders. Although I found this word to be strange at first, it is now among my favorite of the phrases the participants use—because they really have brought a part of themselves into this world. Reactions to the process vary, of course. Sometimes participants ask why they have to do so much work to accomplish a task that is so straightforward in their regular world. Some participants quit, try to get around it, blame someone or something, try to cheat, and so on. When participants journal about the frustrating aspects of the experience, they typically dwell upon their feelings of powerless, anger, inadequacy, or resentment. The simple (but difficult) acts of making a bow-drill provoke an avalanche of thoughts, feelings, reflections, and insights. Participants often come to see that they are quick to blame others, to give up, to judge themselves, and to focus on the negatives. As they think about these behaviors in their lives— while striking a fire with tools that they have built with their own hands— they often see a spark, a new beginning, both internally and externally. They can use a fire to cook, to dry their materials, to warm themselves both physically and emotionally. And then, perhaps, when challenges come their way in the future, they might practice more, give themselves a break, share how they feel, accept the process (Ratey 2013). If they can make fire from a rock and pieces of wood, so can they build a meaningful life. They can look into the flame of that process and glimpse what they can be.
Beads, letters, and photographs Adolescents yearn for ceremony and rites of passage. Often they seek out unhealthy experiences to do so. In wilderness therapy we seek to reverse that trend and to offer adolescents creative and meaningful ceremonies and rites of passage. One approach that I have found very effective involves the use of beads which are given to participants to signal their passage through
The wilderness within 99 milestones of competency or maturity. Participants do not receive beads for compliance or as a wilderness version of a token economy, but rather as an object that represents a life lesson, a moment of personal discovery, or an experience of pushing past the limits of their beliefs about themselves. When I first began to use beads as gifts to adolescents in ceremonies of closure and transition, I was heartened to see that the beads were greatly appreciated and valued. Then I found that they wanted more beads, and more. My colleagues and I soon began to employ beads in various ways, as symbols and reminders. And participants began to display them in an interesting manner: on their shoes, tied into the laces. They weren’t making bracelets of beads, which is what I would have expected; no, they chose instead to place and arrange them in an unexpected place. When participants would meet with me in session, they would share with pride the different beads on their shoes and what each one represented for them. It was almost as if having those beads in a unique location made them all the more powerful. And, although I did not expect participants to carry this practice into their lives beyond the program, some have done so, placing beads on the laces of their street shoes as a shared and secret signal to others of their hidden and wild nature. One participant with whom I worked—Judy—was completing a phase of the program which she found to be very challenging. My colleagues and I wanted to create for her a rite of passage to signal her triumph over struggle. That night, while she lay asleep in her tent with her hiking boots outside, we placed a new bead on one of Judy’s boots. A simple gesture. The next morning, when she tied her boots, she did not notice the new bead. But, as the day wore on, she expressed dismay and frustration that her efforts to surmount her challenges had not been seen and acknowledged by me or my colleagues. She grew increasingly upset. No one mentioned the bead that was already on her boot. Later that afternoon, Judy asked to take space—a few moments to be by herself and collect her thoughts. As she reflected upon her feelings, she looked at her boots and noticed a bead she did not recognize. She immediately looked up at me, and I signaled her with a smile to rejoin the group. We circled up, and I asked her to describe what had happened, what she noticed. I then asked the group if they could think of times in their own lives when they felt that something should have happened but did not, only to discover that it was there all along. We discussed situations of peer conflict, personal struggle, and themes involving the distance between perception and reality. I asked if there were other lessons we might glean from this situation. A participant who had become close friends with Judy shared that she viewed Judy as a gifted and strong person but worried that Judy did not see these traits in herself. Judy began to cry. In fits and starts, she shared with the group that people all her life had told her how strong and talented she is—but she never believed it. I mentioned that the bead had been on Judy’s boot since last night, but she did not notice it until close to
100 Jason McKeown dinner time the next day. So, I suggested, perhaps the bead carries lessons about seeing and noticing ourselves, in addition to what other people see and know about us. That bead became a talisman for Judy, a signal of significant growth and change. Similar symbolic associations often appear in letters that participants send home to their families while in the wild. To cultivate the immersion and reflection that wilderness experiences offer, adolescent participants do not have access to digital technologies while in the program. Instead they write letters, by hand. This is often a difficult adjustment, of course, not just for participants but also for family members back home. Therapeutically, the art of letter writing allows participants and parents to have the time necessary to abide with their thoughts and feelings without being able to impulsively react to the letter they received (as they might do with digital technologies). The pauses and reflections of letter writing by hand encourage participants to understand and work through emotions. As a result, letters tend to be more genuine, responsive, and heartfelt than they might otherwise be. The act of writing letters transforms intangible words into tangible objects on the page: imprints in ink, shaped by a human hand, on a physical page. Words written in this way often seem more powerful, more lasting, and the letters themselves can come to be objects of great meaning and power to those who write and read them. Many participants with whom I work keep all the letters written to them by their family. They will often fold the letters carefully, gently, and methodically, keeping them safe and secure in a dry bag, holding them close to the body at all times. Sometimes they will read and re-read letters, as a kind of ritual of connection and remembrance. The care extended to keep letters close, accessible, and safe speaks to the power of the associations the letters represent and how the written word can impact human experience. Images in photographs exert similar associative resonances for the participants with whom I work. Perhaps it’s true that a photograph might capture a person’s soul. Sometimes it seems that way, especially when I see how much participants cherish the making and receiving of photographs. A photograph can hold an experience in time, and the sharing of that moment builds a bridge between the inner and outer worlds, between the distant and the proximate, between this moment and all the potential others. In our interviews for this book, when participants were asked about the objects they would save if their home was on fire, the most common answer was photographs. In wilderness therapy, participants are able to send letters as well as photographs (typically of themselves). This sharing of images tends to be very impactful for family members. Perhaps a photograph can speak a 1,000 words. In wilderness therapy programs it is standard practice for families to see photos of their child and the work they are accomplishing while in nature. In my work, participants also receive photos of their families back
The wilderness within 101 home and the work they are doing as well. Participants can initially feel that they have been sent away to be fixed. I try to encourage them to view their program as focused on discovery rather than fixing. When parents share photographs of their own work back home, individually and as a family, this encourages participants to feel that they are part of a larger project, that they are not isolated and cast off but rather cherished and participatory. Everyone is working together, toward the same goals. Photographs can express this with great effectiveness and very personalized meaning. Much like letter writing, photographs can also facilitate unique, primal, and unspoken dialogues. Participants often hold photos of their family close, keeping them (and their families, by extension) safe, looking at them and visiting them often in their mind’s eye. And, for families back home, parents will often look at photos of their child in the wilderness, at different stages, and will be able to see the changes in their smiles, demeanor, and appearance. Although many parents cannot articulate precisely what it is that they see, they do express a sense that something is different—perhaps a level of contentment, or confidence, or engagement. The photographs are signposts, markers upon a long trail in which the family can see and share with one another. Photographs encourage them to join together in their journeying, to travel across the inner and outer landscapes, to find the unity in their diversity.
Symbolic objects The simple fact of scarcity of personal resources in the wild—going without to go within—facilitates giving and receiving in many simple and powerful ways. I often begin by encouraging participants to focus on giving and receiving within themselves, before focusing on others. Many participants benefit from reflecting upon their own habits of judgment, divisiveness, or impatience toward themselves. Giving permission to oneself, receiving compassion from oneself: these acts are common challenges for adolescents as well as adults. Exploring how to develop greater skill in these areas, greater fluency with how we treat ourselves, is an important aspect of health and healing. I often use small objects, such as pebbles, to help participants explore these themes. For example, I recently worked with a young woman, Emily, who struggled with her tendency to be passive-aggressive in her communications with others. She was frequently impatient and sulky with staff, testy and withdrawn in her interactions with other participants, and angry but soft-spoken with her family. Her parents had become exhausted by her behavior and had developed the habit of tuning her out. They spoke to me about their discomfort with the family dynamics and their bewilderment at not being able to improve the situation. (This is a common and persistent scenario among many families with whom I work.) I asked the staff
102 Jason McKeown to help Emily become more aware of the impact of her behavior, using a strategy involving pebbles: every time Emily was passive-aggressive toward staff or other participants, a staff member would give her a pebble; just a regular, tumbled pebble from the ground (not a polished and shiny bead). However, we did not tell Emily the purpose of the pebbles. We simply handed them over to her, one at a time, at each instance of passive- aggressive behavior, and asked her to carry them. We wanted to avoid the potentially punitive messaging that would have been implied if we had told her about our aims. If we had given her pebbles as a passive-aggressive attempt to point out her passive-aggressiveness, our actions would have been inappropriate and incongruent with her treatment goals. Instead, we just gave her pebbles, without comment, whenever she demonstrated a certain kind of behavior. At the end of the first day, Emily had too many pebbles to carry in her hand. We gave her a bag in which to keep them. Of course, she wondered why we kept giving her pebbles, and eventually she figured it out—but not until almost a full week had gone by, by which point she had a hefty collection of pebbles in her bag. When she finally made the connection, she said, “I know what you’re doing now! You’re giving me a rock every time I’m passive-aggressive. That is the stupidest thing I have heard … I mean, I get it, but it’s stupid!” A staff member then reached down, picked up a pebble, and handed it to Emily. The next morning I talked with Emily about her bag of pebbles. We discussed her tendency for passive-aggressive communication, and she responded by minimizing and normalizing her behavior by saying that all teens talk this way. I then poured out the pebbles from her bag, and we counted them together: 124 pebbles. At this point, the extent of her behavior became clear to her. She began to talk about how hard it was for her to express her feelings without hurting other people. We discussed the importance of discovering different ways for her to meet her needs and those of others. We talked about her family, her struggles, her attempts to heal from her own harm. And, after a while, she said “I need to learn to speak my truth and do so kindly.” The pebbles were a small nudge, a reminder, an opportunity for Emily to practice self-awareness and to improve her relational skills. She gathered them up and placed them back in her bag. I asked her to keep them, but to try something new: every time she practiced speaking her truth and doing so kindly, she was to empty a single pebble from the bag. The bag was soon empty. Pebbles act as symbolic reminders, as do many other objects that can be used in similar ways. For example, when participants complete the program—confident of their progress but grappling with doubt about whether they can maintain those gains in the future—I sometimes give them a compass. The metaphoric implications of such an object are obvious and perhaps even clichéd. However, for participants who have lived in
The wilderness within 103 the woods and have used a compass for survival, this tool holds a deeper meaning. I typically offer two suggestions to participants when I give them a compass: the first is to remember declination, which is the difference between true north and magnetic north. The second suggestion is to remember the importance of waypoints. A compass can only guide a person to what they want. For participants with whom I work, notions such as true north and moral compass are not simply metaphors from a bygone era; they are, instead, concrete references to their experiences in the real world, the wild world. If former participants lose their way, a compass will perhaps remind them that they know how to find it again. Many participants will place their compass around their neck, or on a school backpack, as a constant reminder of where they are, who they are, and where they are going. Adolescents often struggle with uncertainty. In some ways, this is a defining feature of their age. Fear of the unknown, lack of knowledge, and, sometimes, lack of motivation, are all typical themes in their lives. Objects can provide powerful means of grappling with such themes. I will often share with participants that I have something that could help them move forward. I carry honorary medals with me in the field for specific use in these types of conversations. One of the medals (which I received as a result of my participation in a musical band) has a purple ribbon, which is associated with courage and bravery. When a participant does not wish to discuss an important issue, I acknowledge their anxiety and their desire to avoid discomfort. I remind them that in moments like these people can find courage and bravery. I also share that sometimes our courage and bravery need help to come out. Then I show them the purple medal, and I describe how this medal has helped many people find their bravery. I encourage the participant to hold the medal and to find the courage to explore the difficult themes they have been struggling with. Touching, holding, and resonating with this object often provokes strong reactions in participants and helps to open the way for insight and growth. I also use a large magnifying glass. When a participant does not know something important, I share with them that the magnifying glass was given to me by a family with whom I worked and that it has helped many participants move toward greater knowledge and awareness. I ask participants to look at something nearby, first without help from the magnifying glass. What do they see? Then, trying again with the magnifying glass, what do they see? I ask them to think about how we might apply this approach to their lives. If they are stuck, or uncertain, or ignorant of something important, how might a closer view help? Many participants are keen to concentrate, to take a different perspective, to discover that the skill of looking at the world in a different way can be applied to themselves. They know more about themselves than they think. The magnifying glass in their hand can be a reminder that there is another magnifying glass inside of themselves, waiting to be used.
104 Jason McKeown
Natural sculptures Nature provides endless opportunities for creating and composing with found materials. Crafting natural sculptures is therefore a common approach in wilderness therapy. The process is straightforward: I ask participants to spend some time wandering, opening themselves to what they might discover in the landscape, then collecting and composing those materials into a temporary structure that embodies whatever meanings might be important to the participant at that moment. I often facilitate this process in a group setting, with collective sharing and reflection. No two sculptures are alike. The self-expression and uniqueness of each sculpture—and each participant—stand distinctively among all the others. Participants can come to perceive one another in new ways and can discuss their shared struggles and insights. The meanings embedded in the sculptures provide pathways for communication and reflection, often in a surprising and revealing manner. John, one of the participants in a recent group session, was typically shy and stoic. In my interactions with him he seemed to be on the cusp of authentic personal work but not yet ready to commit himself to it. I had mentioned this to him and had encouraged him—in the days leading up to the session on natural sculptures—to think about what it might mean to be ready. He worked quietly as he and the other participants used rocks, logs, sticks, leaves, water, and other materials to build their sculptures. John’s sculpture was simple: just two circles of small rocks, one inside the other. During the sharing portion of the session, John listened to the reflections of the other participants but did not speak up. I was not sure that he would say anything at all about his own creation. But he did. He paused, then he began to describe the ways in which the stone circles represented his inner and outer lives. He had chosen stone because of its hardness, as a mirror of how hard it is for him to let things on the inside get out—and vice versa. He spoke haltingly but purposefully. He asked the group to look closer, to see the words he had written with tiny twigs. In the outer circle, the twigs composed the word invisible. The word on the inner circle was loss. John went quiet. Then another participant asked John a question: What has been lost? John paused again, then said he was not ready to answer that question. A third participant mentioned that although the rocks are hard, there are spaces between them, areas of yielding in the circles. The circles might connect, along those zones of yielding. John said that he had not thought about that before. Then a group member pointed out that if you look closely, you can see a flower growing inside the word loss. John went very still, then looked at me and said, “I think I am ready now.” It was, for me, a very touching moment, a poignant reminder of how powerful simple objects like rocks and twigs can be, a confirmation of the importance of safe sharing in groups.
The wilderness within 105 The confluence between natural materials and personal growth often extends beyond the wilderness therapy program. Many participants and their families create keepsakes—shadow boxes and the like—as reminders of the experience. Participants will often take great care in preserving and showcasing their bow-drills, journals, tinder bundles, bandannas, and beads. Sometimes they will compose various objects into a cohesive, sculptural project. One of the participants with whom I worked described to me how she devoted an area in her home to showcasing a shadow-box with her bow-drill, her letters to her family, and her trail bandanna; all composed with intentional care.
The potential of therapeutic objects As we’ve seen, the wilderness is not only a place of mystery and challenge but also one of infinite possibility for the use of objects in education, therapeutic process, personal development, and healing. The tools and approaches that I use with adolescents1 can easily be applied (often with little or no modification) to adult populations and to urban contexts. Making a bow-drill is just as hard to do in the wild as in a museum atrium, and just as rewarding. Making object sculptures with the materials of city life— cutlery, paper, coffee cups, string, tiles, pieces of metal, carpet—can be just as illuminating as using sticks and rocks. Beads, of course, are made by humans and can be used anywhere. And rocks are everywhere. The wilderness environment is rich, often pristine—and, for most people, stressful (at least at first). This results in a consistent intensity for activities involving natural objects. And because those objects are easy to find—such as pebbles just lying on the ground—object activities are straightforward to do in nature. They may not be easy to facilitate (a fact that we explore in the last section of this book), but the environment itself encourages us in the use of objects. When you go to the beach, do you not instinctively pick up a rock or a shell? But natural environments are not unique. Every environment through which we travel, every niche we inhabit, calls out to us with objects in a multitude of forms. The next chapter explores a different environment— education—and the opportunities for working therapeutically with objects in a domain where trees and rocks are replaced with walls and chairs.
Note 1 In the examples above, all identifying information has been removed so as to protect the confidentiality of clients.
7 Creativity and the true teacher Ross Laird
I stand in the dark, watching the lighted lamps pass. Lantern-bearers follow one another upon the spiraling path. They glide through the darkness, almost silent, their faces dimly lit by the glow of the lamps. Beyond the edge of the labyrinth, with its ever-turning gyre and folding paths, the winter night stretches toward a horizon of shadow and rain. I watch the participants pass, singly and in small groups, their faces barely visible above the illumination they carry. I imagine our collective light as a single point, visible from high in the darkling sky, a ship of amber upon a vast sea. An ancient thing, this. Old beyond measure. The lofting of the light of community, camaraderie, connection. An alchemy of sorts shared and passed along the tumbled line of humanity. These days we tend to spurn the archaic, to place ourselves beyond the reach of simple acts of crafting and carrying hand-made objects. We march onward, not sure of our destination but committed nonetheless to erasure of our past. We’ve reinvented ourselves, in this modern age. We’ve turned away from who we once were. Our light presses forward in different ways. But the light along these ancient paths is still vibrant to us. I see it now, in the faces of the lantern-bearers, in their mindful movements as they follow the path with slow and soft steps. I see the many designs of the wood and paper lanterns—some are festooned with images, colors and cutouts, while others are simple vessels of illumination—and I am heartened by the creativity of our community. A spirit of purposeful play, of authentic engagement, of curiosity and wonder shines through these small and fragile lamps. These pilgrims have come from all over. Many are participants in my classes, some are visitors from other parts of the university—learners, faculty members, administrators—and a few have come by way of friendship, family ties, or simple curiosity. We’re a mixed and motley bunch, joined by this shared experiment in creativity but otherwise disparate and disconnected. We’ve built a makeshift community here, just for this one night. And yet, as I watch the faces pass, it’s obvious that many of the participants are deep in thought and feeling, their heads tilted forward as they wend their way. They are not just walking. I wonder what each of them finds, among these turns.
Creativity and the true teacher 107 The lanterns are simple. We spent less than an hour making them with colored construction paper, scissors, wood, glue, and an assortment of decorative beads and baubles. A single votive candle rests at the center of each one. Now, as we walk the labyrinth together, more than 60 participants carry their creations, lighting the way for one another. Few of them have done anything like this before—at least not since childhood, when learning and play were the same thing. But now, for most of us, learning and play have become estranged, their alliance broken. Play is no longer welcome in the house of learning. But play is here, tonight, among the lighted lamps and moving figures. Deep play. The play of dreams and shadows, the play of mirth and truth, the play of the real. Angela passes by. Her lantern is of blue and yellow paper incised with geometric patterns. She walks with careful steps as she holds her light aloft. Earlier in the day Angela came to help a small group of us build the labyrinth. We sat on the floor and talked about how to make it work: where the lines of tape should go, how the curves might bend upon each other, what the center should hold. We talked about myth, astronomy, religion, and the many roles that labyrinths have played in human culture. We discussed the Fibonacci sequence and the logarithmic spiral. We tried to draw our intended shape on paper, then found that the dimensions of the room— though vast as a gymnasium, almost—thwarted our efforts to reproduce our imagined design. We tinkered with masking tape, reworked various stretches again and again, and tried to calculate how many folded paths would fit in a given width. When finally we were done, the paths of the labyrinth began and ended at a door facing the street. The pilgrims began outside, in the cold, and entered the darkened room with their lanterns. The path carried them ever inward and around, switch-backing upon itself until it was impossible to know how far one was from the center or the end. The inner space of the spiral became a zone of uncertainty, perhaps of disorientation also, a space in which all coordinates are fleeting and personal. Within this zone, our relationship with ourselves is the only reliable guide. For thousands of years labyrinths have been used in this way. They’ve been built by hands with stone, wood, and soil. They are among the oldest objects crafted by humans. The image of the spiral—in art, ritual, science, and symbol—is one of the most enduring motifs of human expression. And yet our gathering this evening seems somehow subversive and heretical. We are in a university conference center, a place of rationality and decorum. The space itself is empty and faceless: no decoration, no distinctiveness, nothing but industrial carpeting and beige walls. We have entered this space and made of it something entirely new: fireflies of illumination and individuality passing across an anonymous landscape. This is not the normal use for such an environment. People come here to sit in chairs, to listen to experts, to chat with colleagues in the protected discourses of rationality. But we’re doing something different—primal and immediate, more fragile
108 Ross Laird but also more robust. Our world tonight is one of feeling, metaphor, and symbol, all facilitated by way of our relationship with the objects we’ve crafted with our own hands. It’s a journey that is perhaps more inward and direct than outward and analytic. We’re searching for the whole person along these paths. The line of pilgrims meanders across the darkened space. I glimpse several of my students who have gathered together into a loose knot as they amble along. The light of their lanterns weaves together, spreads across the shadows, and illuminates their faces. They are animated, joyful, yet purposeful. They wear the kinds of expressions we see often in our activities and which are so far removed from the stereotypes of bored young people in university classrooms. This space, so modified from its intended purpose, is our learning environment for tonight. And these people, who have come from all over to participate in this unusual event, are the members of our learning cohort. We are not using rows of tables and chairs, or digital projectors and write boards, or computers and texts. Instead we are walking, working together creatively, sharing our knowledge and perspectives about the possible fusion of ancient and modern human cultures and practices. We are building this environment together, with the help of peers, friends, mentors, and community partners. We don’t make distinctions between the domains of the academic and the real, between scholarship and daily life, between study and play. For us, learning is the act of engagement—with ourselves, with our communities, with the universe—and this is our classroom.
Inner and outer worlds It’s no wonder that learners come alive in this type of activity. It is radically different from the learning environments they have been accustomed to since they were children. None of that passivity is here, none of the lethargy and withdrawal that seems to pervade so many educational experiences. What we’re doing is purposeful and fun, and people respond to it. They enjoy it. They find many kinds of deep meaning in these experiences. And not just here, during this night of the labyrinth, but in many similar adventures we create together using objects: rock sculptures on the beach, slate tablets with inscribed writing, driftwood carved into symbolic forms. Working with objects encourages us to expand what it means to be a learner, to go beyond the conventional boundaries of what university students can do. I see Jonas walking alone, gathered in thought, his simple lantern carried at his side. He is nearing the center of the labyrinth, where a single sheet of paper taped to the floor asks the question “who are you?” I think of the stone carving he completed last semester, made from diorite and decorated with symbolic cultural and personal motifs. Diorite was a stone much valued by ancient craftspeople for its dark and glistening sheen (the Code of Hammurabi was inscribed in a pillar of diorite). But it was hard for them to shape, and is difficult to work even today. Jonas spent many hours in his
Creativity and the true teacher 109 garage, working and thinking and shaping. The stone became a map of the landscape of his own life. Its contours flowed into the topography of his dreams, and somehow became a symbol of everything. The correspondence between the inner and the outer worlds, the dissolution of the artificial barriers between thought and emotion and dreams, the recognition of the many uses of metaphor and symbol: these are common themes in our work together, and objects help us to recognize and cultivate those themes. Objects guide the paths of creativity and imagination, pointing the way to new discoveries and illuminations. Our hastily-crafted labyrinth is intended to be a kind of sacred space. Most of us don’t engage with the sacred much anymore. It’s a subject of great awkwardness and uncertainty for many people. And yet, the urge to experience something akin to the sacred seems fundamental to the human animal. That urge takes many forms and answers to many names, but each one wends its way back to ancient and archetypal ways of knowing. And those ways—vastly old, easily forgotten, strangely persistent—are the usual means by which we undertake our adventures. Old and resilient things persist for reasons beyond inertia and time. They reach across our fractured horizons and remind us of what we must remember. Our sacred space tonight is simple and rudimentary. It does not possess the gravitas of ancient sacred places—such as St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where pilgrims enter by climbing steps of diorite—but our simple labyrinth does mirror the spirals crafted by many cultures. The slow gyre inward, the mindful and purposeful steps, the stations for reflection and contemplation, the center of stillness: these are all common features of labyrinths throughout the world. We’ve built ours to offer—through darkness, imagination, and fleeting light—resonances of all these others, as though we walk archaic trails laid down for us by invisible teachers. Faces pass, lanterns flicker, sounds of laughter and quiet conversation echo in the dark. I do not carry a lamp. I want to pass unnoticed here, a shapeless shape in the shadows. I’m not teaching anything, leading anything. I’m just another pilgrim, full of questions and uncertainties. I do not wish to make suggestions, or to talk with others about their experiences— not now, not yet. These are the moments of encounter, of grappling with the shadows and lights inside each of us, and I cannot be anything more than a witness. I meander across to check the stations, where pilgrims can rest and entertain the posted questions: what do you know, where are you going, what must you remember? Each question is taped to the wall, or to the floor, with a single candle to mark its place. I see small groups of pilgrims huddled at each station, some silent, others talking together, while lanterns move behind and beyond them, following the track toward the center. I wander to the center, where perhaps 20 people are gathered. Some are utterly quiet—just standing, alone in thought—while others are chatting and watching the procession pass. This is a good vantage point from which to view the unfurling and switch-backing of the entire group. It is like a
110 Ross Laird long line of lighted ships upon the ocean, at night, each one nudged and jostled by the ceaseless waves. I scan the room for anything that might require my attention: someone in distress, or overwhelmed with emotion, or anxious about the dark. This, perhaps, is my only job right now: to get out of the way, but to be ready to come forward if needed. I spend much of my time in this way, trying to be invisible, making space for the emergence of things; deeper, more powerful things than anything I could provide. One track leads in; one track leads out. The final track, the one that leads out of the labyrinth and back to the lighted room, is a straight line. It begins at the center and ends at the door. Among those gathered at the center, many are hesitant to take that track, to leave this sacred space and return to the modern world with its pressing and harried exigencies. They want to stay here, bathed in the glow of this stillness, accompanied by friends and strangers of like mind, grasping their hand-made creations like talismans. Sometimes people do stay, in these sessions, for an hour or more, soaking up whatever illuminations the darkness brings them. They return ruefully, at the end of the night, as we prepare to dismantle the labyrinth and head home. But most pilgrims remain at the center for roughly ten or twenty minutes. They barter and banter with themselves, negotiating the balance between their impulse for stillness and their curiosity about the sounds from the other room. Big, loud sounds, made by drums and hand-made rhythm instruments of all kinds. Played by people who, for the most part, have no musical training in the instruments they hold. Sometimes a group rhythm emerges, a pattern we can all follow. During those moments, in which the cacophony is punctuated by the rhythmic blasts of African drums, the sound moves through the space with restless vigor. The music is visceral, palpable, loud enough that no conversation is possible. Players seated beside one another in the circle can communicate only with gestures. A multitude of hands strike the skins of drums, or shake simple rattles, or swing bells or clacking wooden blocks—and the faces of the players shine with inarticulate joy. This is simple, awesome fun. Most of the participants have not played music in this way since they were small children. For others, these moments of carefree self-expression are a kind of catharsis, an outpouring of passion or rage or s orrow—of whatever emotions their passage through the labyrinth provoked. The sounds we make—more than 50 people, each with a loud instrument, each leaning into it with gusto—are far louder than any other sounds I hear at the university. University culture is, in general, a quiet culture, committed to ancestral values of scholastic silence. Libraries (and museums too, in general) emphasize quiet reflection. Classrooms are generally silent save for the voice of the instructor. Hallways are hushed passageways from one undisturbed space to the next. In my experience, learning tends to be a loud and messy business, so the enforced quiet of the university bothers me. I am irked by it. I like to make noise, and most of the learners I work with also like to make noise. Tonight we have the freedom to do so.
Creativity and the true teacher 111
Vulnerability and care As the first pilgrims enter the labyrinth, volunteer drummers take up their instruments in the adjoining room. As the labyrinth fills, the two rooms become suffused with different kinds of creative energy: loud and turbulent rhythms on one side, and mindful, contemplative perambulations on the other. The wall between the two rooms is a sliding partition that allows much of the sound to pass through. Pilgrims within the labyrinth walk in a darkness that is alive with the vibrations of sound from the other room. And it is a primal sound, something old and elemental, the beating of the human heart amplified and shared. It comes from a distance yet is intimately close, resonant, a voice in the shadows. Amy kneels on the floor at the center of the labyrinth. She is motionless, pensive, wrapped inside her own silence. Probably she is thinking about her past—which has been fraught with trauma—or her future, which is promising but still shrouded by the weight of lingering duress. She has been through too much already. But she moves forward, ever hopeful, seldom daunted, strong in the ways she needs to be. Earlier today she told me she was finding ways to enjoy being 22 years old: people, places, moods, moments. She has begun to move beyond her old self, the girl who came into my class two years ago, listless and lost. I kneel down beside her to make sure she is doing alright. She looks at me sidelong, with a slight grin. I give the thumbs-up sign, along with a questioning look. And she raises her thumb in return. All good. Then she gestures again, turning and taking the whole of the darkness in with her outstretched arms, following the meandering spiral of the pilgrims, raising her face in the illuminated shadows. It’s a dramatic flourish, to be sure, but it is wonderful to see. She is energetic, clear, and expressive. She has, over these last years, found her way out of being lost. She has sculpted wood, turned clay, crafted simple and sustaining objects to carry her through into healing. I smile, raise my hand and thumb again, and this time jab the air for emphasis. She laughs, and I move on. Even though the sounds of the drums are somewhat muted here, and it would have been easy to talk, neither one of us has said a word. Amy has climbed up and out of the deep well she found herself in—that so many people find themselves in. Most don’t climb out; instead they remain, huddled, wounded, and bewildered. But she has found a way forward. She will surely be wounded again by the seeming indifference of the world, but I suspect she will not again be crippled by it. She is defiant now, and resilient. She has found solace in the many experiences of connection, community, and creativity that form the basis of all our adventures. At the same time, her growth and healing are entirely her own, and have taken place in the manner of so much healing: in the encounter with the deep self, in the places inside ourselves we no longer have names for, in the forms we no longer call out to except in time of great need. We are, after all, creatures of myth and faith and mystery, and those old voices are still strong whether or not we listen to them. Objects, of course, remind us to listen more keenly.
112 Ross Laird
Engagement and play The power of purposeful work with objects can be deep and authentic learning—the kind of learning that teaches us why we are in the world and that takes place anywhere people are open to it. Facilitating that openness, encouraging it, waiting for it, getting out of the way when it happens: these are my core tasks. I have to be sure not to make too much noise, or carry too bright a lantern, when I fulfill these tasks. Other people are working, crafting, making; I need to shut up so they can hear the real teacher. The drums and rhythm instruments are growing louder, as more people leave the labyrinth and take their places in the music circle. It might have taken a pilgrim half an hour or more to navigate to the center, but the return path is a straight walk of no more than ten seconds. It is, perhaps, and intentionally so, an abrupt transition. But the pressing momentum of the drums eventually overtakes the inertia of even the most stalwart pilgrim. The drums beckon in ways that we seldom hear in modern life. We drum as often as we can, and typically we do it here, in this conference center, during the middle of the day. Even when we close the doors, people open them to look in, to find the source of these strange and compelling sounds. Usually they want to join us, and always we ask them to. They enter from that environment of the silent university into a world of bellowing, booming, clanging, thumping, cracking, whistling—into a foreign soundscape that seems strangely familiar. I hear a voice from the next room as someone punctuates their playing with a shout of delight. The sound penetrates the dark. It is a beacon, another kind of lantern, and I turn toward it, wondering whose voice it is. One of our more boisterous learners, no doubt, someone with a flair for performance and improvisation. Our learning community includes many such members, who find their way to us from many diverse places within the university. Most are searching for whatever it is that lies beyond their known horizon. Some have no idea what they are searching for; they know only that their voices are too silent. A few stragglers remain along the spiraling path: the meditative folks, the ones who would stay here all night, those for whom this activity is a ritual of self-discovery. A few of the pilgrims have rushed through, perhaps anxious about an activity so intentionally archaic and personal. A few have ambled, alone or with companions, and they have gone now too. I count six more, along with Amy at the center. I stand at the center and wait for them, nodding to each as they pass by. I listen to the sounds from the other room—jovial now, sometimes chaotic, often clamoring. And finally, Amy rises with her lantern and makes her way forward once more, this time to the exit and the sounds of the drums. She knows where she’s going.
Facilitation and attentiveness Now the room is empty of pilgrims. Eight scattered candles mark the stations, and the center, and the door which serves as both entrance and
Creativity and the true teacher 113 exit; otherwise the space is completely dark. I am alone, and I have perhaps three minutes until someone comes to look for me. The sounds of the drums are rising again, now with everyone taking part, and the rumble of those rhythms has the texture of wind in this open, empty room. The space seems cavernous now, large as a cathedral, though I have measured the longest side and I know that it is only 44 feet. The labyrinth was built by measuring the length and width of the room, then drawing the lines in segments that reach inward from the walls and toward the center. As a consequence, I know the dimensions of this room very well; but still, it seems dimensionless now, it seems to stretch out toward the matching darkness of the night, out and onward, toward those other lights, far and remote, that speckle the sky. I stand here, at the center, and for a moment I loosen—ever so slightly— my grip on the strategic considerations that are always central to my role. I stop thinking about what’s happening in the adjoining room, I stop tracking, in my mind, the most vulnerable participants, I stop listening for the sounds of strangers or interlopers who might disrupt our sacred space. I stop worrying over the innumerable small details that I must manage while also trying to be invisible. I stop, for a moment, and just let the process stand on its own. They don’t need me over there, not right now. They’re doing fine. They have their voices, and their companions, and enough common purpose to carry one another wherever they might go. No one will wander into the street, or collapse in terror, or cry out in fury. I must trust their process. And I do. But sometimes, over the years, people have wandered into the street, and collapsed in many ways, and they have cried out with every imaginable pain. And these expressions often come at unexpected moments, when I soften the edge of my vigilance or am drawn into self-satisfaction. Yes, things typically go well, but they do so only when I prepare for them to be otherwise. And so, my moment of reflection and stillness lasts for perhaps 15 seconds. Then I head for the door, make a single turn, and enter the room of sounds. It is bright—overwhelmingly so after the darkness of the labyrinth—and the sounds of the music are astonishingly loud. There is movement everywhere: clapping, dancing, swaying, and the blur of many hands on (no hyphen) drums, wood, and steel. So much is going on that I must stand still, gazing at the gathered company, scanning and thinking for several minutes until I have a clear sense of what’s going on. Everyone is safe. No one has retreated into themselves or out of the room. Federico is bashing wildly at a massive drum, his face a fleeting sketch of joyful abandon as he moves rapidly and rhythmically with the music. I glimpse Ameena, talking with her boyfriend as they both play small hand-made maracas. Jonas has his notebook out, and is writing with determination. Amy sits in the circle with a rain stick, listening to the pebbles fall. The new participants—those who came here tonight for the first time, with friends or family members—even they seem comfortable and at ease. They’ve moved beyond social awkwardness.
114 Ross Laird They flow seamlessly with this strange, seemingly chaotic gathering that is precisely and purposefully built for finding what lies behind the chaos. But it’s not chaotic. Sure, it’s different, vastly different from what people expect from a university experience. There is no formality here, none of the machinery of protocol, no canon. Or perhaps there is; an older canon, one that reaches back much farther than the modern mind. A canon of culture, memory, objects, and experiences. The first canon, the one we carry without realizing it. But it emerges, easily and effortlessly, in moments such as these, when we allow ourselves respite from the modern urge to be sharp and dull. Simple creative play. That’s all we’re doing. But creative play is not simple: it provokes, nudges, calls, yearns, demands. Creativity is an exemplary teacher of all things useful to learn. It is the source of all of our human tricks, the root of every advancement, innovation, and folly. All of humanity is the result of the creative urge at play in the world. And here we are, tonight, each of us snatching a thread of that great, interlocking knot of human inquiry, each of us finding our own symbols, associations, ideas, dreams. We pull on the thread and it comes, bringing with it, up from the deep, a cargo of mysteries. Pulling on these threads is the essence of what we’re about; it’s really the only thing we do. We can’t stop doing it, even when we pretend we’ve stopped. The thread is always there, and the deep, and the urge to pull. Sometimes the weight of that cargo pulls us overboard, and down into the deep, where we flail and cry out and try to find our way. It’s dark down there. It helps to have a lantern.
Empowered participants I step into the circle, select two rhythm sticks from the jumbled pile of instruments, and begin to play. The music rises and falls, the energy ebbs and flows, and we share this language of sounds. Like most of the participants, I am not a trained musician. But notions about musical training and expertise are mostly modern conventions. People have been playing, just playing, for 50,000 years or more. Even today, in many places where piano lessons are not part of youth development, entire communities play music together. Typically, they don’t worry about perfect pitch, or recital skills, or music scholarships. No, they just play. The community is nourished by that play, is made whole by it, is carried by its sanctity. Without that music the world would disappear. At least, that’s the belief of many people who belong to cultures that still preserve ancient ways of knowing. It’s not something most of us can believe, even those among us who do believe in religious narratives in which the world is formed by words and sounds. Perhaps, in the beginning, words and sounds made our world. But most of us aren’t so sure anymore. We don’t know what to believe, or we believe in nothing. But still we pull on those threads, and still we play, and still we walk in the darkness with our lighted lamps. We are consistent, even when we have forgotten who we are.
Creativity and the true teacher 115 Amed, who studied drumming as a child in another country, slaps his drum in a rising rhythm. It’s a simple pattern that most of us can match, and as he drives up the volume, the entire group begins to follow. Amed’s hands strike the skin of his drum precisely on the beat—punctuating, leading, calling. Most of us are much less proficient, and our slaps ring out slightly before or after those of Amed. Our collective rhythm pulls and pushes itself around the room, reaching forward and falling behind as participants instinctively follow the sounds of their neighbors—close, immediate, pressing—rather than the tight, clean, slaps of Amed’s fingers. I sweep the circle with my gaze and I see many different kinds of expressions: concentration, abandon, chagrin, wonder, caution, joy. But all the expressions are connected, by gesture, word, and sound, to one another. And all are inseparable from the collective roar that we are trying to shape and capture. We are moving toward something. And then, for ten or twenty seconds, it’s there: a resonant, conjoined rhythm that is one vast, integrated sound. Each percussive beat rises from the turbulent noise of the many players, curls into life like a cresting wave, thunders across the room, then retreats. The room takes a breath, then the thunder claps again. And again, onward into the night. From this unschooled, spontaneous group of players we have managed to coax a concise, singular expression, a voice that is unmistakable. That voice hangs together, seems to call out with the moods and feelings of everyone in the group. It is, for a short time, the perfect embodiment of our gathering. And, as I watch Amed’s hands and try to match him beat for beat, I recognize that this moment cannot be captured. No recording could replicate it. This immanence is fleeting. And then it’s gone. We begin to slide away from our collective resonance. Hands tire, slight shifts of body posture move us away from precision, people become distracted by thinking about what they hear. Some of us retreat from that perfect percussive sound; it is too direct, too personal, as though each slap of the drum cracks us open a bit more. And it does; after all, this kind of resonant play brings us ever closer to one another, without the scrim of words. There’s a vulnerability here, as though the rhythm reveals us. Music, as many old myths say, discloses the authentic shapes of things. I raise my hand, wait for the group to notice, then slowly lower it. The volume eases down, but the rhythm tightens up now that we are all focused on the single task of closure. We slap lightly, shake the bells gently. We become quieter. We gaze around the room at one another, poised over our instruments, some of us now laughing at our careful gestures. Quieter still, and more again, bringing the sound down to a whisper, then down again. Tiny taps against skins, wood, and steel. Then silence. I breathe. I look around the room at this brief community of friends, mentors, and strangers. I think about the radical strangeness of this kind of activity in our modern world so devoid of play and ritual. I think about the differences between competition and play, between ritual and habit,
116 Ross Laird and I consider the great gulf that we’ve constructed between our modern convictions and our ancient wisdom. I wonder about the price we’ve paid.
Emotional safety We end the evening with conversation about our experiences, our surprises, our insights and illuminations. Participants reflect upon the construction of their lanterns, the surprises and challenges of creating objects with their own hands, their moments of sharing and illumination, the meanings and associations of their objects, their feelings about giving and receiving with one another. They describe delicate and yet powerful feelings of releasing and unburdening as they walked the labyrinth, carrying their own light in the darkness. They share their appreciation of the communal aspects of this night, of the trails of light we’ve made together, of the symbolic and perhaps sacred shapes we’ve inscribed upon this quotidian space. They speak of discovery, clarity, and the sudden recognition of their own tasks of healing. We talk about the spiraling path, its ancient roots, its metaphors and invitations. We share some humor about lights snuffing out, becoming lost, and the persistent cynicism of the modern self toward such metaphoric paths. We discuss the importance of openness, and the tendency for cynicism to vanish in the darkness. Amy describes her experience while sitting in the center, watching and thinking. She talks about her growing sense of belonging in the world, of the memories and fears that have dogged her, and of her commitment, finally, to being here. Jonas talks about recognizing himself in the many turns of the labyrinth, seeing his strong and simple light, crafted by simple touch. A participant I have not met before begins to cry as she describes her utter amazement at the evening’s events. She has connected with a part of herself entirely forgotten, older and much younger, a part of herself that remembers vital, elemental things. She describes a moment of childhood in which she walked across a rocky beach. In that moment she saw and knew everything—and then, somehow, she forgot it all. And now, tonight, she found herself there again, walking, touching, searching, sharing. The conversation rolls around the room. Various people share stories and insights, vignettes and moments from the evening and elsewhere. We don’t have a particular goal or outcome in mind; we’re just talking, opening the space, inviting. The rhythms of our drumming are translated into gestures, our movements through the labyrinth are translated into speech, and we continue to build with whatever we can find. I look at the participants with their laughing and genuine faces, I think of the deep learning that was done here tonight, and I wonder what would happen if this type of activity was more common. And, as the conversations wind down and we prepare to end the evening, I become aware of my own deep learning, my gratitude that in our world of fractured thrashing the impulse for illumination still thrives. I think about the many young people who are here tonight, and I
Creativity and the true teacher 117 marvel at their openness and creativity. I think of the culture of the university, the vast distance between a traditional classroom and our adventures in this space, and of the strangeness of our presence here. But here we are, outliers and wanderers, making a claim for a kind of learning that is old beyond reckoning. And yet, that learning calls upon us to be younger, less hidebound, more in tune with our connections to ourselves, to one another, to the world. As we begin our farewells, each of us heading out into the welcoming night, I pause for one final moment of gratitude and wonder: this, right here, is all we need. This community, of anyone and everyone, this shared intent of purposeful discovery, this opportunity to craft and carry our own light into darkness and mystery. This sharing, and the intimate profusion of insights and clarity. It’s all here, everything we need.
Inward and onward Making and sharing objects in this way is a foundational part of my practice as a psychotherapist and educator. Crafting lanterns and walking with them in a provisional and constructed space is a typical activity for me. Sometimes the activity takes place in a park, or on a beach, often with a roaring fire fed by objects scavenged from the forest. Sometimes I work indoors, in corporate and formal spaces, where participants are unprepared for the vulnerability that object work typically evokes and for which, therefore, I must provide the objects myself and encourage participants to interact with them. In those circumstances I bring stones and shells of various kinds, oarlocks, and similar small, curious objects. I provide many objects (as well as musical instruments) resonant of childhood and of play. In all situations I encourage participants to touch, to sense, to feel, to associate objects with their own lives and stories and memories. I ask them to reflect upon objects they have given or received, the ways in which objects can help us move through difficult moments, the capacities of objects to help us compose our own stories and to connect with the stories of others. Therapeutic work with objects is a powerful pathway. Objects provide emotional containment in the midst of vulnerability. Personal themes and issues are literally held in the palm of the hand: accessible, touchable, graspable, and therefore manageable. To grasp is to understand, and to grasp an object, to craft it or to interact with it, to feel its contours and its meanings, is to grasp the shape of the inner life and to feel, by touch, our way through difficult moments and stages. The seven dynamic actions of the Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics framework show themselves in my work in many ways. In workshops and classrooms, whether with students, families, or professionals, I consistently see the dimensions of the framework in play. Participants in labyrinth workshops (to use the example from above) consistently compose the individual components of their lanterns (wood, colored paper, and a single
118 Ross Laird candle) so as to maximize the uniqueness and personality of their own shape in the dark. When given objects to interact with (stones, shells, childhood toys, action figures, oarlocks, juggling balls, beads, etc.), participants in workshops readily associate them with personal and meaningful memories and narratives. When participants make their own objects—lanterns, sculptures, prayer flags, inscribed stones, to name a few—they unavoidably utilize those objects to facilitate the releasing and unburdening of personal themes and challenges. When giving and receiving objects in communities of sharing (typically I will use small stones, carefully chosen, for this purpose), participants find many ways to bolster and amplify their own psychological work through synergy with others. All of this is contextualized by the work of hands, by touching, by feeling our way through a process that is ancient and at the same time offers much richness for the contemporary world. I’ve explored these ideas and practices extensively in two of my books, Grain of Truth (2001) and A Stone’s Throw (2003), which focus on the health and healing possibilities for wood and stone, respectively, and in my consulting practice with organizations in education, trauma, and mental health. Participants in widely divergent contexts—psychotherapy workshops, counselor training programs, interdisciplinary university courses, corporate team training, healing programs for indigenous populations— report that mindful and meaningful interactions with objects are exemplary in facilitating personal healing, creativity, and development. In particular, the creative crafting and use of symbolic objects—labyrinths, mandalas, rhythm instruments, lanterns, and the like—offer a broad sweep of possibilities for trauma healing, personal growth, spirituality, education, community development, and many related areas. This makes sense; after all, the work of objects can be intensely personal and inwardly focused, but at the same time reaches out to others and forges connections beyond the striving self.
Health and healing in the museum setting
8 Seeing through a new lens The empirical research
To gain evidence of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics in exhibition settings, empricial research was necessitated to examine where and how objects play a clear role in psychological health in relationship to museum participation. We determined the need to approach this examination in a qualitative manner, so as to collect as much subjective information from participants as possible, and to allow for nuanced and unanticipated information to play a significant role. We utilized a heuristic methodology in conducting the interviews to allow participants to feel free and uninhibited, to foster the emergence of as much personalized response data as possible, and to position us to see any additional means of data collection or ways of analyzing the findings. This approach revealed the additional two Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics—synergizing and touching—that emerged from data in later case studies, expanding the original framework from the initial five (resulting from the field work at Trails Carolina), to six (resulting from the War Childhood Museum study), and finally to seven (via -work with the Derby Museum and Art Gallery).
Criteria The needs of the empirical research required a specific—and in some ways challenging—set of criteria. The study required object-rich museum environments that all had positive, preexisting constituency relationships and that would be open to working with us in a highly collaborative and trusting fashion. Each museum needed to have some form of object-based participatory engagement as part of their exhibitions programming: staff, volunteers, visitors, and/or individuals who engaged directly with museum objects either through object donation or contribution, curation, restoration, or other form of object-specific relationship. The objects involved in the museum collection or program of focus needed to be ordinary or mundane items that would be familiar, relatable, and open to subjective interpretation by participants. The need to identify universal psychological factors in human-object experience required a selection of museums that would yield as much diversity in our sample as possible.
122 Health and healing in the museum setting The partnering museums also needed to feature a range of content where we could reasonably anticipate different emotional impacts among their participants. Identifying museum collaborators The first objective in identifying partner museums for empirical research was to identify places with pre-existing constituency relationships, where participation among internal staff and the external community is part of shaping programs and/or exhibitions. This was important because of the need for trust and openness on behalf of our subjects and their confidence that their privacy would be respected and treated with mindfulness and care. This mutual understanding was vital to the success of maximal data collection as well as to maintaining the psychological health and stability of the participants during the interviews. Museums with such pre-existing constituency relationships would also make identifying and confirming participants easier and enable us to progressively build a robust sample. We looked for museums that understood the mutual benefits of researching dynamic object relationships and impacts and were therefore open to seeing themselves as collaborators in positive and beneficial exploration and discovery. This required insight and commitment on behalf of the institutions to a structured yet free exploration of ideas. While our research design and procedure followed certain recognized conventions, the emotional sensitivity of the interviews was an aspect we emphasized in the initial stages of planning. With this in mind, building secure and professional museum partnerships ultimately came down to the belief that our study could produce insights and potentially deepen the relationship between the museum and their constituents. This trust and confidence-building was generated through transparency with the research protocol as well as personal contact in the form of face-to-face introductions and follow-up meetings with staff and stakeholders in person and via Skype. We also secured permissions via the Institutional Review Board of SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology, Associate Professor Cowan’s home institution, which contributed to establishing confidence among collaborators. In each research partnership venue, objects were an instrumental part of the exhibition experience and had some type of direct relationship with their constituency including staff, volunteers, audiences and/or professional colleagues from the broader museum community. Each of our four museum collaborators incorporated personal object donation as a means of participation; each venue worked with content that is social/civic in nature; and each venue provided research subjects willing to share deeply personal and sensitive object experiences. Of additional importance was the need to work with a range of museums that would provide a diversity of individual participants across ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, life experiences, and geography so as to have as broad a sample as possible.
Seeing through a new lens 123 Range of content We sought to identify a range of exhibitions and environments that would enable us to explore the impacts of object-based experiences on the mental health spectrum from trauma to wellbeing as best as possible. We were keen to explore the ways in which object impacts correspond with stages of healing and serve to maintain health and wellbeing. Based on this thinking, we considered potential partners by looking at institutions whose content and interpretation dealt with tragedy and emotionally charged subject matter, as well as others where wellbeing was an established goal of the institution, and/or exhibition content would possibly connect with comparably stable emotional participant responses. The content focus of the four museums we worked with include two that interpret traumatic events and two that focus on universal human experiences. However, as you will see in our case study data, even seemingly benign exhibition subjects can be just as emotionally activating as those deemed more overtly provocative. We share our thoughts regarding this experience with suggestions for the museum community later in the book. Museum collaborators The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, New York, June 2016 Mundane objects are at the very heart of this institution’s interpretation and mission. Participation is a significant factor and function in its collecting and exhibiting. The tragic subject matter provided the context we sought through which to see object impacts on the stages of healing. The institution also has a very strong personal and trusting relationship with their object donors and broader constituency, and was therefore able to connect us with participants who were open to sharing their experiences. The institution’s constituency is also highly ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. The War Childhood Museum, Sarajevo, June 2017 Similar to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, objects involving traumatic subjects are core to this institution, as is a high level of community engagement and participation. Additionally, the mission and vision of the institution is specifically dedicated to psychological healing and health, which made our aim of approaching the museum and subsequent collaboration logical and natural. Because the museum is located in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the cultural group added diversity to our sample. To further expand upon the reach of our study, museum staff and visitors were interviewed as well as object donors.
124 Health and healing in the museum setting The Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Derby, England, June 2018 The Derby Museum and Art Gallery is a member of the Happy Museum Project,1 which emphasizes health and wellbeing and therefore matched our aims. Working in the United Kingdom, and particularly with a leading institution of the Happy Museum Project, broadened our sample in valuable ways. Derby is highly diverse and has a large immigrant and refugee population engaged with the museum via visitorship as well as object-based programming. Additionally, the museum’s robust body of staff, administrators, and volunteers were eager to participate, further expanding the types of participants we sought for our sample. The Museum at FIT, New York, August 2018 The Museum at FIT enabled us to work with a subject not specifically linked to a traumatic event or situation. We worked with visitors to their spring 2018 exhibition Fashion Unraveled, which focused on clothing that was not pristine but showed signs of wear and personalization by the owner. The exhibition also included contributions from an online call for stories and images of clothing related to personal memory, entitled Wearing Memories. Both the intimacy of clothing and the connection to memory made this exhibition a good match. Furthermore, the museum’s exhibitions follow a passive convention of display, which also broadened our sample in terms of range of object engagement. Finally, we focused almost exclusively on interviewing visitors, a participant type for which we needed a larger sample.
Process and findings We conducted 83 individual in-depth interviews. In addition, we received 20 responses to an open online survey that asked participants questions comparable to those in the interview scripts, including descriptions of object associations, meanings, forms of engagement, and feelings in relationship to objects. The process for data analysis was organized according to the types of interviews conducted: object donor/contributor, visitor, or museum staff/ volunteer. (The interview types were different in each case study and are identified accordingly in each case study chapter.) In each interview, participant responses to each question were written directly on the script sheets during the sessions. Participants signed informed consent forms in advance of the interviews. Their responses were audio-recorded, with written permission from participants, in order to ensure accuracy in note-taking. Analysis of the data for all four case studies was conducted by Brenda Cowan, with research assistant Melisa Delibegovic conducting a second round of reviews to compare findings and form an agreement about the themes.
Seeing through a new lens 125 Similar to a grounded theory approach, the data analysis for each case study was conducted in groupings according to each type of participant interview. In each grouping, the narrative responses to each interview question were analyzed for common themes (meanings), and common key words and phrases. Descriptive and defining quotes were captured and are presented in the case study chapters. The common words and phrases contributed to the shaping of the emergent themes that in turn created a cumulative and overarching portrait of participants’ relationship to, and thoughts about, the institution itself, as well as their individual object experiences related to the exhibitions of focus. We found that participants frequently used similar words or phrases when answering the interview questions, and their responses formed evident themes. It became clear after the first few studies that associations with objects correlated with characteristics and attributes presented throughout the literature, which was exciting to encounter over and again. Our findings contribute to the idea that the ways in which people think about, associate with, respond to, and incorporate objects in their lives are universal. To continually refine and identify evidence of the Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, the framework of specific dynamic actions was also used as an instrument to analyze the data. Responses and themes corresponding with the definition of a specific dynamic were noted and examined for consistency. If a participant’s response correlated with the definition and illustrated how that specific dynamic action works, it was identified as evidence. As noted prior, the first two studies utilized a Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics framework of five dynamic actions that emerged from the field study at Trails Carolina: associating, composing, giving/receiving, making and releasing/unburdening. The sixth and then seventh dynamics (synergizing and touching) emerged from the studies with the War Childhood Museum and then the Derby Museum and Art Gallery. Allowing for the object dynamics to emerge from the case study data—as opposed to predetermining what the dynamics should be—was challenging, particularly with regard to touching objects. We knew from the literature that touching objects is a significant area of research; however, it did not present strongly in our open, qualitative work until the fourth study, at which point the illustrations and evidence were abundant. Once the new dynamics were determined, we conducted a review of the interview script sheets for all prior case studies to identify and collect any illustrative evidence from those studies that contributed to the overarching data sample. The results of our empirical work across all four institutions, in addition to the findings from the initial field research and online surveys, revealed a quantitative body of illustrative evidence as follows: Associating: 36 illustrations Composing: 20 illustrations Giving/Receiving: 28 illustrations
126 Health and healing in the museum setting Making: 17 illustrations Releasing/Unburdening: 17 illustrations Synergizing: 17 illustrations Touching: 20 illustrations In addition to the findings related to the dynamics, data collected from the interviews and surveys also revealed three overarching themes from participants relating their object associations and experiences with core factors of human connection, identity, and power. These themes emerged during the interviews as participants shared their engagements with objects at their museums, as well as through their relationships with personal objects in their lives. The themes offer insights about the shape and importance of museum participation and demonstrate that object engagement in museums significantly activates core factors in human development and experience as signified in the body of literature. Several examples follow. Connection The concept of connection arose repeatedly throughout our study in robust and deeply personal ways. This visitor to the Derby Museum and Art Gallery shared the necklace he wore during his interview and described how an object can act as a bond between people: I feel a part of the culture. It speaks to me. It was a gift. He [his mentor] is like my father. He has one too and it connects him to me. It’s like a spiritual link. This visitor to the Museum at FIT illustrates an individual’s connection with society in her reflections on the personal clothing on display and how her own object relationships are related to the object relationships of others within a broader social network: I felt very much a kind of connection, thinking about the garments that I’ve saved and others have saved. This exhibition really made me think of these things and why I’ve hung onto the things I have. It made me think about others’ clothes and my clothes in a deep way. This volunteer at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery illustrates how an object serves to connect an individual with family directly, and as part of the ongoing concept of continuity of self and life through time: It associates me with my tribe, my clan, my ancestors. It’s like I carried my ancestors with me. It gives me a confidence that I am a part of that identity, that family.
Seeing through a new lens 127 And, similarly, with this visitor to the Derby Museum and Art Gallery: [Seeing the artifacts] connects with the depths of history. The objects have a sense of time, history, culture and meaning. It takes you back to ancient times. A transportation. Identity In our interviews, participants described the concept of identity in various ways, often related to self-awareness and self-definition, and in some cases as a state of personal unity with other things and entities. Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton describe the role of expression and qualities of self that an object of identity embodies as becoming an “objectified form of consciousness” that communicates almost as “words spoken into someone’s ear” (1981, 190). In some cases, an object represents both continuity and change within our lives, giving “permanence to our elusive selves” (Csikszentmihalyi 1993, 25). In all the examples, participants’ object associations and activities with objects demonstrated the functional perspective of identity as an ongoing process of action and construction of meaning, described as “identity work” by Jay Rounds (2010, 135). This visitor to the Museum at FIT was moved by various items of clothing that had been passed down through several generations of women, prompting her to reflect on her own life and construction—“crafting”—of self in relationship with the “progression” of life continuum: I thought about the progression of the stories. I crafted my own life through that progression. I thought so much about matriarchy. These object donors to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and War Childhood Museum, respectively, viewed their object donations as acts of personal unification with the institution and its meaning: My story is braided into the museum. It’s a part of my identity. I was happy to donate. I’m a part of the museum. It’s like I’m standing with them [objects] at the museum. Power Feelings of power are essential to the psychological competencies of resilience, endurance, autonomy, and growth. As we learned through the therapies at Trails Carolina, objects related to power and enacting power support the development of these psychological factors in addition to feelings of security and self-enhancement. Objects also demonstrate and express one’s power in relationship to others, physically, or as a symbol of value or position within the social hierarchy. An individual’s sense of self
128 Health and healing in the museum setting can feel insecure, leading us to become dependent upon the reflection we get from others’ reactions. In response, we might wear or display objects we think have qualities prized by others as mediators, and, through other’s responses to our objects, secure a solid and positive sense of who we are (Csikszentmihalyi 1993, 24). The eyeglasses donated to the War Childhood Museum imbued their owner with manifestations of strength and self-enhancement as the resilient survivor of war: I had to wear the glasses because I didn’t have the operation and they strengthened my eyes… They are a superhero from my childhood! Feelings of power were also expressed as part of the experience of describing an object of power, as with this volunteer at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery: I feel stronger. I didn’t realize I was this strong and I’m confident talking about it. This object donor to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum demonstrated the symbolic power and value of her objects in relationship to others: The press badge allows you to have access, to be cocky. It gives you power and the ability to bypass even the emergency workers who are trying to keep you safe. There is a sense of pride among journalists who wear these badges; we share a similar story. The following chapters feature the four museum-based case studies. Each includes the museum’s mission, content focus, constituency, and manner of exhibitions. Additionally, we share the themes that emerged regarding participants’ relationships to, and perspectives on, the museum. In this context, we identify illustrative examples of the Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics as shared by participants during their interviews.
Note 1 The Happy Museum Project is a consortium of museums and heritage institutions that conduct and support research and development initiatives grounded in the following guiding principles: creating conditions for wellbeing in museums and communities; environmental stewardship; citizenship and social action; cross-disciplinary public and professional relationship building; and individual and societal resilience.
9 The National September 11 Memorial & Museum
The mission of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is as follows: … to bear solemn witness to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The Museum honors the nearly 3,000 victims of these attacks and all those who risked their lives to save others. It further recognizes the thousands who survived and all who demonstrated extraordinary compassion in the aftermath. Demonstrating the consequences of terrorism on individual lives and its impact on communities at the local, national and international levels, the Museum attests to the triumph of human dignity over human depravity and affirms an unwavering commitment to the fundamental value of human life. (2019a) The museum enacts this mission in many ways: site, place, programming, and in its call for participation by those most deeply impacted by the tragedy. The institution demonstrates the value of those who bear the burden of the memory and who carry the intractable changes caused by the events. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum was selected for the first case study and source of data because of its unique collections-donor relationship that suggested explicit demonstrations of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics.1 We conducted 11 in-depth interviews between June 8 and June 11, 2016. The institution sent out a voluntary call via email to individuals who had preexisting positive relationships with the institution as a result of their donation experience, and whom the museum felt would be comfortable with the sensitive nature of the study. The sample group included five widows, three survivors (including one who also lost a husband and one who lost a cousin), one mother who lost a son, one first-responder, and one on- location journalist. The research protocol followed the regulations and protections set by the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Human Subject Research Guidelines. Each participant was introduced to the inquiry, its purpose, and to the interview questions so as to make an informed decision before providing
130 Health and healing in the museum setting consent. No identifying information was collected or requested of the participants, and consent was also received for audio recording. We utilized a heuristic, narrative-based approach in which we invited participants to explore and express the idea of donation, the event itself, the donated object(s) and their meanings, and what, if any, healing or meaning was found in their object engagements. The interviews lasted between 30 minutes and two hours, depending upon the individual’s personal pace and the information they desired sharing. We asked the following questions: Why did you choose to donate an object to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum? Why did you select the object that you did? What associations or meanings does the object hold for you? Can you share the process you went through as you gifted your object to the museum? Is public display of the object important to you? If so, why? Do you feel changed in any way as a result of donating the object? Following our heuristic approach, we asked additional questions and probed for more information based upon the responses we received from participants. Within the resulting data, we sought to identify patterns of intent, experience, and emotional outcomes in both the short and longterm. The participants represented a range of object donors: some donated immediately following the event, whereas others donated later, in the ensuing years. The most recent donation had been made four months prior to our interview. The initiation of the donation process was also different across the sample: in some cases, subjects were approached by the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and asked to consider donating, while others made the initial contact. In every case, subjects gave objects willingly. Some participants are considering donating additional items in the future.
Overview of findings The data collected in our interviews reinforced commonly held understandings of the meaning of objects in everyday life, the potency of objects within museum environments, and the value of participation, co-creation, and open-content generation in exhibitions. Particular modes of design that are psychologically and interpretively impactful were identified. Multiple subjects referred to their objects as witnesses to the event and to their own experience, and as the means by which the story of the event and their roles within it will be told. Most subjects referred to the need for the objects to keep the memory of their loved one alive, and the need for the objects to provide an accurate accounting of the details of what occurred. One subject emphasized that the objects she donated carry a great deal of weight and responsibility, which can be reasonably said for all of the subjects interviewed.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum 131 In many instances, subjects referred to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as a place where their objects will be kept safe. The objects will be protected (Figure 9.1). The institution is an ally: The museum is a better steward of the object than me. The museum is a protector of the objects. I can see them anytime. I feel a tether to the museum and that feels good. Permanence of my story of that day. It’s scaffolding. People want to touch the steel [on display at the museum], to write their names on it. It’s like a human body. I feel enriched. The subjects provided anecdotes and direct feedback about the meanings of their objects, their object associations, their reasons for donating, and the impacts of the donation process. Throughout the interviews, subjects provided information that firmly represented established object characteristics and experiences, including: objects as repositories of experience, bearing witness, perrisological resonators, life companions, calls to action, provocations of thought, self-identity, life continuum, and primal power.
Figure 9.1 It’s like a small 9/11 Memorial… Used with permission from Steven R. Saymon.
132 Health and healing in the museum setting Of the 11 subjects, nine specifically stated that the reason they chose to donate to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum involved the need for remembrance and legacy. These included objects that had belonged to victims and had been donated by a family member, as well as personal objects that were donated by survivors. The words “reminder,” “remembrance,” “remembered,” and “legacy” were commonly used when expressing the desire for others to know about the event: [The object is] a reminder to the world of what happened. A remembrance for generations to come. [It will] leave a legacy so other people can have that vigilance. People should not forget. Object donors believed strongly that those who visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum should, and will, remember the specific individuals who were affected: I wanted to make him a person, not a number. I need them [the objects] to bear witness for my husband. To show that he was somebody who lived. I want [visitors] to share my ordeal. Similarly, subjects viewed the role of the museum as a place of safekeeping and of testament: I wanted the object to be in an important place. [The objects] say it actually happened. More than the photos. The photos are second generation. I need to preserve his story. I wanted to contribute to history. [The museum is] helping people to be touched. Nine of the eleven donors were able to identify the reasons they selected the objects they did. Two suggested there wasn’t a particular reason. The word “story” came up most often in the interviews. Donors wanted the object to tell the personal story of the individual who had owned it, and/or of the survivor’s own personal experience. Regarding objects owned by victims: Each of the objects I chose tells a different story. I selected objects that were important to him, that he enjoyed, that demonstrated his many interests and abilities. I want people to see them and know who he was. I want to tell a human story. They represented his enormous achievement. I wanted the objects to show who he was. Any way of showing who he was.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum 133 The donors expressed the need to for the story of the event, and their role in it, to be told accurately: [The object] tells an interesting aspect of the story. It accurately represents my experience. I wanted the ID to be preserved. It was fading. They show the reason and impact for me being there. It was the most personal thing I could give. They are the set of artifacts that belonged to me. The dust [from his donated boots] belongs to the Port Authority. All 11 donors spoke about the meanings of the objects to them, and in a few cases what the objects mean to the victims. One of the most common themes when describing the meanings and associations of the objects was power. Power emerged as a defining characteristic of both victims and survivors: The outfit was a part of his work and it protected him. His self-defense protected him in his work. The outfit helped him and made him strong. They make me think of the people that perished. This [object] survived, they didn’t survive. And I survived like them [the objects] too. The press badge allows you to have access, to be cocky. It gives you power and the ability to bypass even the emergency workers who are trying to keep you safe. There is a sense of pride among journalists who wear these badges; we share a similar story. Objects also represented the power of the event itself: There is a display of the twisted airplane and melted spoons. It shows the power of the impact. This is important because it shows that people couldn’t escape. Another theme that emerged was the idea of helping: The gun is him helping people. His decision to become a police officer was because he loved helping people. The gun is deeper than the other objects [I donated.] The dog tags were important because he was very focused his entire life to being a soldier and helping people in his work. Other associations focused on connection with a victim, or with the event: It’s a connection to my husband. Precious moments. Each object tells a different part of the story of the day. First the ID badge, then the key, the triage gown. They tell the sequence of events. The reality of the day.
134 Health and healing in the museum setting Of the 11 donors, all delivered their objects in person—with the exception of one, who mailed hers in. The donors were decisive about their choice to go alone or with others (typically family members) and in each case the decision hinged upon making the experience as comfortable as possible for the donor: I dreaded going to the museum but having family with me helped. It was a way of making a connection. Testing the waters. Most of the subjects donated objects that were part of the event: belongings that had been recovered from the site and returned, or items that the donors wore or carried with them throughout the day. Most of the subjects brought their objects to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in the plastic bag in which the recovered object had been returned to them. One subject ceremoniously placed his objects in a glass box, while two others carried the objects loose in their handbags. When describing the experience of donating, donors spoke of their strong emotion: Opening the bag was heartbreaking. I laid them out. I placed them together in the glass box and placed the folded flag on top of them. They’re in good hands. I sent them off but I feel like I’m continuing my mission. It’s not bittersweet. A couple of donated objects were personal to the victims but had not been part of the event. These were carefully prepared for donation: I washed it before bringing it. I ironed it, wrapped it in tissue paper. I wanted it to look as good as possible. As for the subject who did not go in person to donate the item: I wrapped it and sent it in a UPS box. I sent it off but it didn’t feel like an end. He’s not going to get thrown out that way. Nine of the eleven subjects felt it was very important that their objects were put on display. Two donors were ambivalent. Of the subjects who felt strongly about display, two themes were predominant: reassurance that the story of the victim and of the event is told; and concern about displaying multiple donated objects together as a group and in a particular order. This concern was also related to telling the story of the event in accurate fashion: It felt good to know people could know a little about him. People will wonder about me. She made it. She was a survivor. Of course it’s important they know I survived. You don’t know if your story is right. When you can lay out the objects you can make sure what you remembered was close to what really happened.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum 135 I hope it will be [on display]. But I’m going to move on. Giving was what was important. The two donors who were ambivalent about whether their objects were on display expressed a sense of closure: It’s humbling. It’s not important but I have tremendous pride that my triage tag is on display. I’m assured the story lives on. It’s comforting. The whole thing is wrapped up for me.
Expressions of the dynamics Evidence of the Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics was seen throughout the collected data, 2 as can be seen in the following illustrative examples. Associating This is the newest 911 memorial! I feel a part of me [first-responder] is missing when I don’t have it [carries a piece of steel from the site in his pocket]. Other objects [I didn’t donate to the museum] from my wallet I framed and put on my wall. I want to look at them. I want to think about them. I show them to people who come to my house. Composing It’s important that they stay together and are displayed in a group. It accurately reflects what the experience was. You can’t fake that. They are like my twin boys. They belong together, they are a family. Viewing the objects is important to them. I put my medal [award for her work at the Trade Towers] next to objects of [my late husband] in a curio box. It’s a shrine in my home. I thought everything would be together but they aren’t and that is bothersome. I wish they were all together. Giving/Receiving I’m a giver, I like to share. Giving is a part of mending. I’ve donated all over the country and when a place denied the offer it was unpatriotic. They were denying the public and the country. 3 (Giving/Receiving is seen in the frustrations of this first-responder whose object wasn’t accepted by a different institution. His experience was one of personal rejection.) Making I’ve written four books since that moment and the process of writing, of creation, has been very cathartic for me. Purging. It’s a way of emptying myself. It helps me process and make meaning of the experience.
136 Health and healing in the museum setting Releasing/Unburdening I feel positive [about the experience of donating.] A little freer. I almost want to give them everything. You feel a little bit of weight was lifted off you. It lifted my spirit a little. It was time. It kind of helped me to move forward a little. It helped me on the road to recovery. All those little steps along the way. I had his wallet which was covered in blood. I burned it right away. In the fire pit. The 11 individuals who shared the intimacy of their experiences, c hallenges, and areas of growth enabled us to begin to see evidence of human-objecthealing dynamics in a museum setting. The themes of hope, power, identity and connection that emerged from this case study resonated with those from the field study with Trails Carolina. The specific examples of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics heard from our object donors united with those that formed the initial baseline of the framework. In this non- therapeutic environment that values participation via object experiences, people are engaging in healing therapeutic activity driven by their own nature. Following this first step in our museum-based research exploration, we chose to continue to search for further evidence of the dynamics in relationship to healing, and to see where the thread would lead.
Notes 1 The findings in this study reflect the analysis and sole opinions of the authors and do not reflect the institutional perspectives of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. 2 At this time of our research, in 2016, we had established five specific dynamics as a result of the 2015 field study at Trails Carolina. The framework would grow to consist of seven dynamics as a result of the case studies with the War Childhood Museum and the Derby Museum and Art Gallery in 2017 and 2018 respectively. 3 This first-responder donated objects to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum as well as to other museums. In this passage, he is referring to another museum.
10 The War Childhood Museum
The third phase of research was conducted to further examine, contribute to, and refine the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics via case study in a museum environment. Building upon the data collected from the 9/11 Memorial & Museum case study, the research was broadened to outside of the United States, to work with a different cultural group, and to expand the types of museum participation to include museum visitors and staff in addition to object donors. The War Childhood Museum, in Sarajevo Bosnia-Herzgovina, was identified as a logical collaborator with which to further the study and achieve the targeted broader sample. The War Childhood Museum is a unique institution with a collection solely comprised of personal objects donated by individuals who were children during the war in Bosnia (1991–5) and whose intent is to contribute to healing and wellbeing in its participants: The vision of the War Childhood Museum is to help individuals overcome past traumatic experiences and prevent traumatization of others, and at the same time advance mutual understanding at the collective level in order to enhance personal and social development. (Taksava 2018) On behalf of the research team, the institution sent out a voluntary call via email to a prospective interview population including object donors, visitors, staff, and members of the community. The researchers prepared a letter of invitation for selected individuals whom the museum determined would be willing and valuable to the study. The protocol was consistent with the first case study at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum: each participant was introduced to the inquiry, its purpose, and to the questions so as to make an informed decision. In keeping with NIH Human Subject Research specifications, participants provided consent prior to the interviews. No identifying information was collected or requested of the participants, and consent was also received for audio recording. Between June 18 and June 23, 2017, Brenda Cowan and Melisa Delibegovic interviewed 22 individuals at the museum site, including ten object donors and seven post-visit audience members. This was followed by an
138 Health and healing in the museum setting informal interview with five members of the museum staff and leadership. The interviews utilized different script instruments: one specifically for object donors and one for post-visit audience members. The duration of the interviews ranged from 30 to 60 minutes in length. As with the first case study, the differences in interview duration were due to the personal manner in which individual participants answered each question and the amount of information they were willing or able to share. The script for object donors was the same as that used in the previous case study to ensure consistency and control with data collection. The visitor interview script employed most of the same questions with slight adjustments regarding visitation intent and experience, and the elimination of the donation inquiry: Interview script: object donors • • • • • •
Why did you choose to donate an object to the museum? Why did you select the object that you did? What associations or meanings does the object hold for you? Can you share the process you went through as you donated your object to the museum? Is public display of the object important to you? If so, why? Do you feel changed in any way as a result of donating the object?
Interview script: post visit audience members • • • • •
What made you decide to visit the museum? What content or emotions did you anticipate experiencing during your visit? What do you remember most about the objects that you saw? Describe the impact that those objects had on you. Do you feel changed in any way as a result of your experience at the museum?
Brenda and Melisa asked additional questions and probed for more information based upon the responses received from participants. The interviews were conducted primarily in English, although the first language of most of the object donor participants was Bosnian. The interviews switched between both languages as per the comfort of the participant. Research assistant Melisa, a native Bosnian and student of the graduate exhibition design department at FIT, provided language translation throughout all of the interviews. Both researchers analysed the bilingual data and concluded the study.
Overview of findings Profound expressions of pride, ownership, agency, resilience and community overwhelmingly emerged as the most prevalent and coalescing themes
The War Childhood Museum 139 of this study. Throughout the 17 interviews with object donors and visitors, these feelings and convictions were strongly and repeatedly described. They were likewise echoed in the subsequent interview with museum staff and leadership. Interviewees expressed strongly felt beliefs that the War Childhood Museum is an agent of personal and social change through which their singular contributions, stories, and voices express an impactful message of collective fortitude, endurance, and strength. Their participation with the museum illustrates the innocence and endurance of childhood and projects a message of resilience and power specifically to and for the people of Sarajevo and Bosnia, as well as to others currently experiencing the tragedies of war elsewhere in the world. Their contributions of personal objects and stories, and the broader work of the museum, are not viewed solely as markers of historical events but as vehicles through which to engage in positive civic action: This museum shows we are stubborn children of war. We showed them! This museum will show kids are kids. We are all one. We weren’t Muslim or Christian or Serbs or Croats, we were children! All the same. (donor) The museum is really important and has a lot of meaning for the world. It is important because of other people — for the world. (donor) My scream [object] is a small scream. Together in this whole picture with the other objects it’s one big message to never do this again. The things, they scream so people — the decision-makers — don’t do this again. This is a process of waking up this empathy. (donor) Going from object to object it gets harder and harder and I thought of war today. I’m not very patriotic but it’s weird because it became very personal and it’s about all of us. These objects I took very personally and it made me feel so many things… it’s totally different when you see the actual object. History becomes different. (visitor) The museum has helped me realize I want to do work with refugees. In Norway we have a lot of refugees, kids, and now I realize what I want to do for myself and for others. I had an idea of that before but now I know for sure. It’s become more real. I want people to see this place and experience the feeling I did so we can make a better place for others. (visitor) I thought it’s a wonderful new experience for Bosnia and the world. I was a child during the war and I was motivated to visit so I could learn about others. (visitor) The museum tells you life goes on. That’s the intent, even though you cry you realize life can be good. This is our history, but it’s more than our history. Even younger children should come here; you become more mature. You become enlightened. I would make this a part of the required curriculum because it teaches you about life. (visitor) Interviews with object donors revealed common dialectical interpretations of the war childhood experience: childhood was taken away from them,
140 Health and healing in the museum setting yet childish joys and happiness persisted. There were moments of being a child despite the violence of the adult world. Many object donors explicitly wanted to show through their objects that “bright” and “happy” moments occurred amid the tragedies. Some objects represent escapism from, or defiance against, the “ridiculousness of war”: The memories are nice even though it was a horrible period. It [the object] means running away from the reality of what was happening every day: it means childhood. (donor) I had other things in the basement but the chocolate wrappers were a part of my happiness at the time. They were normal thoughts during the war. Like these are just like a dream. Everything is OK. (donor) The bicycle was a source of happiness but ironic. You can’t ride the bicycle because of the shooting. (visitor) It’s positive the way children were playing and studying during that time. I think of the Hedgehog’s House book and how positive the story is, and the small Kinder Egg toys and how difficult it was to get them. The playground gym that shows the violence. (visitor, reflecting on bomb-blasted fragments of climbing structure) When you are a kid you are playing and you don’t care and then suddenly your joy is gone. Your friends are gone. It [the climbing structure fragments] made me think of my sister who died. (visitor) The objects on display made a significant impact on the ability of participants to personalize the history and to experience a greater empathy for the people who donated, in addition to experiencing feelings of gratitude and appreciation: I cried a lot here. I laughed a lot here. When you see the objects it feels like you are with the people. Not like other museums where things are artifacts. Here everything becomes alive around you. The objects are familiar. It makes it easier to understand the stories and respect them and suddenly you just want to hug the people who donated; to be with them. (visitor) I thought about the people who donated were very brave people. It’s brave to give after so many years. To be able to share their stories is very brave to people you don’t know. (visitor) The apple really stood out. The constant connect between objects connecting that time with today. I’m grateful I am here today. It’s a constant comparison when looking at the objects. (visitor) Every object is moving and upsetting and made me think about myself and my family, and how did they [object donors] give them away? I know it’s not easy, even if they’re happy now. How do they give them away? (visitor)
The War Childhood Museum 141 Maybe I was thinking about being a kid stuck in something that you can’t do anything about. And how do they [object donors] move on? I think about that. (visitor) You see these things and they touch me. I see that it was other people in Bosnia too, not just here. I think now how hard it must have been for the small villages. I feel sad for the kids who lost friends and saw death. (visitor) I have a lot of respect for the people who donated. I understand how meaningful objects are to people. I think about wanting to hold onto memories and emotions… but also being able to move on from the trauma. I have a lot of respect for the people who donated. (visitor) A few object donors expressed doubt regarding the meaningfulness of their personal object; that their object wouldn’t be as important as others that seem to be more “tragic” than their own: I feel proud and a bit scared. I feel maybe other stories are more difficult than mine. I always think maybe people see the children who had real tragedies and maybe my story wasn’t as important. (donor) I worried if I was a good person for this because I didn’t have the tragedy like the others. I see other object on display have more important stories than mine, but I’m excited when it will come on display. (donor) Compared with the war torn ones it didn’t seem as important. It was important to me. I wasn’t sure they would take it. (donor) Several subjects described the current sociopolitical dynamic in Bosnia as not being supportive of survivors and of having insufficient mental health support services. Similarly, individuals described the challenges of talking about the war or even thinking about it. To these participants, the museum is a much-needed place for healing, openness and sharing: I love this museum. It’s the first time anyone asked us to share our childhood. Innocent experiences. In my family we don’t talk about specifics of our personal experiences. These objects brought me back. (donor) People don’t want to talk about the war, but here the objects are important. (donor) No one ever asked the children their experience during the war. I was eight and fragile and I know of dying friends and my father on the front line. No one ever asked me. I was stuck. Not even when it was finished. No one even talked to me. The museum was the first time anyone asked me about the war. (donor) This gave a more personal understanding of the war and it’s a powerful healing tool because it’s about people. It’s a healing experience
142 Health and healing in the museum setting for my mom and her generation. This (museum visit) is a healing process to learn that all children were affected and in that way it wasn’t happening to just the group she was with: all people were suffering. She is not someone who is narrow-minded but when you think about your own loss you can feel protective and defensive. It was helpful for her to know it was others too. (visitor) It’s important to tell our stories, because I’m alive and for the coming generations; to tell them about moving experiences. Why keep it in my closet? I can share it. The knowledge can be shared. (donor) The museum was frequently mentioned by interviewees as a place where their object will be kept safe and have purpose. The museum and its creators were viewed as highly respectful and instrumental to the care of the objects, the object stories, and the individuals who donate and experience them: I’m proud of the museum. It collects and preserves. It shows how many intelligent and caring people there are in our country. I’m proud that it’s in Sarajevo: the first of its kind. (donor) I’m glad because they [objects] were given a purpose and if they can help others — and maybe I believe in Utopia — maybe they will reach someone, someone’s consciousness. A feeling of hopefulness. (donor) The bike got life. Now its story is out there. I’m proud I didn’t throw it away. Now it has purpose. I like that the things are on display. (donor) It changed my perception of how people can be brave… Seeing how they [the museum] treated the objects. They [the donors] know their objects will be safe. (visitor) Participants consistently expressed several interconnected themes involving the ways in which the museum assisted them in their healing journeys. In particular, participants noted how institutional support for their personal objects cultivated and nurtured their own defiance of harm, resilience in healing, and psychological resourcefulness (such as in the preservation or recapturing of childhood innocence). For many of the participants, the museum provided a bridge between the small, quotidian meanings of their objects and the universal human striving toward a civil and humane society. In many ways, the experience of object donation enables the participants to leverage their healing symbols and messages as tools in the struggle of their society, and by extension, the whole world. In this sense, the objects became transpersonal and the context of their expression holographic: a single individual speaks for everyone, and one object stands for all. This wholism, or transpersonal association, is a distinctive feature of the stages of trauma healing that indicate the emotional work is well underway. The mythologist Joseph Campbell (adapting the phrase from T.S. Eliot)
The War Childhood Museum 143 spoke of this moment as the “still point” in which we recognize the fundamental unity of our distinctive experiences, in which we find: those levels in the psyche that open, open, and finally open to the mystery of your Self… That’s the journey. It is all about finding that still point in your mind. (Campbell 2008, 233) For many participants, the experience of object donation indeed seemed to encourage a deep kind of openness, a perception of the unity of human experience, and an urgency to contribute, in small and personal ways, to healing the world through empathy and connection. These emotions and behaviors from our participants are powerfully indicative of the role that a museum can play not only in healing its visitors but in transforming the world. Finding the impacts and impressions of a unified worldview in our participants is a welcome development during this historical moment of deep fracturing and divisiveness. Following the week of formal interviews with donors and visitors, Brenda conducted an informal interview with five members of the museum administration including its founder, staff, and affiliated researchers. Most who were present had been war children and had worked with the museum in various capacities since before its inception. The following notes from the open-ended conversation are relevant to the overarching content of this study and are included as items of general yet meaningful interest. When talking about receiving/soliciting objects from potential donors, the founder spoke about the integrity of the institution’s child-focused perspective. An object received from the parent of a deceased child must have its accompanying testimonial/statement provided by someone who was a sibling or friend of their child at the time. To keep things balanced. Staff spoke about the emotional nature of relationships with object donors and visitors. There is an atmosphere of respect and intimacy with the object donors and the donation process. The experience is treated as the building of friendships. This approach was established by the founding team, including a psychologist and trauma expert. The museum founder and author of the book that initiated and underscored the museum project described the essential role that the book plays as an instrument in establishing the feelings of trust among donor and testimonial participants. Most staff and leadership are themselves war children, which is considered very important and informs the personal sensitivity and empathy that form a core aspect of the museum experience. It is about trust-building. Staff and leadership described their own emotional engagement with the museum in various ways, and the needs for preparation, supportive relationships, and empathy among administration. The staff shared that they are able to approach colleagues for emotional support and that they
144 Health and healing in the museum setting feel “together in this.” One staff shared a moment when he was asked impromptu to guide a group of adults through the galleries. He was caught off guard by their questions about his personal experiences having been a war child, and he found himself emotionally activated. However, his ability to debrief with a staff member at the front desk helped him restore his containment. Another staff member described a moment when a visitor connected with her, started to cry, and hugged her—but didn’t want to talk. She just wanted to be able to be with someone who was a war child like herself. The museum’s founding team was mindful of the psychological nature of the museum project and the need for expertise in trauma and mental health as it established the museum design and guidelines and preparatory materials for staff and administration. They pointed out how the design of the space is a loop. You end where you began and that seems to help. Like there is a beginning and then a familiar ending; a closure point. Spaces are built into the gallery where visitors can sit and have quiet time if needed. An intimate seating area is also designed at the exit of the gallery where people can sit and be more private. There are always two staff at the front desk at the entrance of the museum. This allows one person to be available to leave the desk to assist visitors in the event of emotional experiences in which support might be needed. As the museum was being created, guidelines and preparatory materials were established to help educate and prepare staff for emotional experiences with visitors and participants. Specific policies were also created to guide and direct research protocols. These materials were created by the founding leadership team and in consultation with psychologists, psychotherapists, and mental health professionals. (This is a theme to which we will return in Chapters 14 and 15.) After the interviews, and upon reflection, it seemed that in many ways the staff and leadership were describing object dynamic experiences particular to the dynamic of making. They described the logistical and emotional process-based experiences inherent to the creative process and specific to the literal making of the physical museum. It is interesting to think of a museum as an object, which in this example is apt. Due to the highly consistent and collaborative approach of the museum’s founding team and the level of collegial intimacy in which they worked together, their emotional connectedness was as much a part of the creation of the museum as the logistical aspects.
Expressions of the dynamics Every object donor interviewed (10/10 respondents) described two or three Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics occurring within their action of donating. Interviewing visitors was a new arena of study and data collection for us, and was included in this phase with the intention of learning what,
The War Childhood Museum 145 if any, object dynamic experiences occur with museum visitors. 4/7 visitors described object dynamic experiences, three of whom described more than one object dynamic. In sum, the subjects demonstrated giving/receiving (6/17 respondents), releasing/unburdening (4/17 respondents), making (3/17 respondents), associating (2/17), and composing (1/17). Data analysis revealed that the single most common object-based dynamic experience described by participants was one that had not clearly emerged in either the initial 2015 field research or the subsequent 2016 case study with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum: synergizing. In the War Childhood Museum interviews, most object donors (9/10) and several visitors (3/7) described their experience of personal object donation and/or visitor (observer) relationships with the objects as a means of joining with, or contributing to, a collective. A greater message or meaning was formed and experienced as a result of the many individual object contributions. These individual experiences of contributing to a collective were unanimously described as positive and empowering, healthful, purposeful, and impactful. Altogether, the 17 interviews produced data that specifically illustrated the pre-existing five object dynamics as well as information that prompted the identification of the sixth new object dynamic, synergizing (Figure 10.1):
Figure 10.1 A child’s swing. “The display of those objects [from the war] must be balanced with other childhood things about happy moments.” Photo by Brenda Cowan.
146 Health and healing in the museum setting Associating My grandfather saved some books from the dumpster instead of burning them [for heat]. I kept them and didn’t want to throw them away. I’ve held onto them because they make me think of my grandpa and I like keeping him here. (visitor) At the beginning I didn’t want to give it away but I said I’d think about it. We have a daughter and she played with it… I decided then to give it because it will always be here [nearby, at the museum]. (donor) Composing They belong together; they are pieces of a puzzle. The photo personalizes the form and puts a person to it, to get the empathy from the visitors. They will see this was a child along with the hospital form… me, a child wounded… It completes a picture. (donor) Giving/Receiving I gave a present to the museum. Maybe this is the most important thing for your paper (study). This is not just an object… When you give something to another person it’s important that they see the object; they treat the object like a present… When you come here — this gave me goosebumps just now — it’s that they treat the objects like gifts. (donor) Chocolate was priceless. Certain wrappers were priceless. Give them to someone who will hold them as important as you do. (donor) I couldn’t wait to give the box of things once I knew the museum was collecting… [The museum founder] came here and received them… I trusted him that he wouldn’t misuse them… They were safe in his hands. (donor) There was a meeting point… It was a nice present; a memory of the time; it was a nice present. (donor) Making I was a refugee and the magazine helped me form a new identity; it helped shape my identity. Making the magazine was very important. I was so proud… I am in it. It was quite an effort to make: we printed it on a primitive printer. We colored it by hand; we had to color every edition by hand. I spent more time with making the magazine than with my schoolwork. I can’t remember the food I ate but I remember every detail of making that magazine. (donor) It was a notebook I took originally to record information for close school friends, teenage girl sharing — kind of like a scrapbook. During the war my mom made it into a cookbook and filled it with war recipes… A friend invented these recipes [with humanitarian aid food] and gave them to my mother… My mom came one day with those recipes and I said we’re gonna make everything now. I made the cakes from scratch… All those cakes we made. (donor)
The War Childhood Museum 147 The cookbook was made by me and my sister. It’s the most valuable object because it’s about our experience… I remember making the food even though I hated it [humanitarian aid food] and my sister was writing the recipes. It’s handwritten. We made the whole cookbook during the war; it took a long time. The whole time… We inherited the tradition of making cookbooks. I don’t know why we did it, we just did it. It talks about our positive attitude during the war. You just keep going. (donor) Releasing/Unburdening It was a relief giving it away. I think I wanted to preserve the feeling of joy that the doll gave me but when I gave it away I finally realized the gravity of it. The burden of it. And I felt the relief when giving it away. Doing this I feel liberated. It’s peaceful. (donor) It was the final step. From my youth I see that it happen unfortunately, but fortunately I am here. I have moved on. The final part of the process for me was bringing the objects here. Ended. Moving on. (donor) My mom threw everything away: my brother’s resistance beret. He was pissed. The war ends and people had hope. It was a process when it ended. They wanted a fresh new start. Cups, furniture, she couldn’t wait to throw it away. Oil lamps; they were like the pride of the apartment but they went. (donor) Giving objects away can be a relief. I think of how giving things away can be curing. People can move on. (visitor) I feel more relaxed in a way. Sharing the objects, my stories, makes me feel relaxed. It’s important to hear stories, it helps us forgive. We can’t heal society but we can heal ourselves. (donor) I feel free now. I have distance. I feel better and I feel good. I released something, now I can live my life. Like I said, everything that I wanted to say. It’s time for something new. I always cry when I come to the museum, when I see the objects. It can be hard that life goes on and I feel angry about that, to just let it go. But we must. We can’t go back. We can’t make another war. (donor) Synergizing I think when you’re a part of a war, the children who died, they couldn’t be a part of the future and I can be a part of the future here, and maybe they can be too. (donor) Our experience will teach other people to find satisfaction with simple things. The museum is really important and has a lot of meaning for the world. It is important because of other people — for the world. (donor) The museum is a time capsule and you are a part of the time capsule.I can come here and feel a satisfaction that I am a part of here.
148 Health and healing in the museum setting I have some emotion with these glasses and I just want to give some part of me to the museum. (donor) I have the book and it’s like it’s my book (because I contributed to it). Now I feel like a part of me has helped make this (museum). My small thing is a part of this; a part of me is here. I’m so proud. This museum is special. (donor) I was happy to donate. I’m a part of the museum. It’s like I’m standing with them (objects) at the museum. I love them now even. I’m so proud! I feel that I contributed to telling the world that children experience war… To be a part of a bigger thing. (donor) I was a casualty but the world is in this. This is me putting something in its rightful place. It’s simply going where it belongs. They are among other objects that have a similar cause. They fight; this is our scream, with others all united. My scream [object] is a small scream. Together in this whole picture with the other objects it’s one big message to never do this again. The things, they scream so people — the decision-makers — don’t do this again. This is a process of waking up this empathy. (donor) I decided it would be a contribution to something greater. That doll meant a lot to me and because my daughter played with it, but she wouldn’t have the association so I wanted to give it where it would have meaning. I’m thrilled it’s here. The museum is so important for Bosnia and the world. (donor)
11 The Derby Museum and Art Gallery
Building upon the experiences and data from the first two case studies— the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the War Childhood Museum—the next phase of research was conducted to further examine, contribute to, and refine the theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics via case study in a museum environment. Building upon the data collected in New York and Sarajevo, the research was further broadened to include a greater diversity of cultural groups and to expand the sample of types of museum participation to include museum visitors, volunteers, and staff in addition to object contributors. The Derby Museum and Art Gallery in Derby, England, was selected due to its innovative approach to museum participation, breadth of cultural artifacts, extent of everyday objects within its collections, and its public project Objects of Love—a digital collection of photographs of personal objects and their meanings contributed by global participants and presented as a digital display within the institution’s World Cultures exhibition gallery. Another important factor in the selection of The Derby Museum is its highly diverse population, including a large population of global immigrants and a growing number of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. The Derby Museum and Art Gallery is also part of a national consortium of museums and heritage sites dedicated to enhancing wellbeing in its constituencies, and we were keen to see how the subjects of love, and the collection of cultural artifacts, might garner more data related to wellbeing. (We found, of course, that loss, grief, healing, and love are inextricably bound together.) The Derby Museums Trust is an independent charitable trust and organization run for, and on behalf of, the people of Derby. The Trust manages three museums: Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Pickford’s House, and the Silk Mill (a UNESCO world heritage site). Broad public co-production and experience design experimentation are the core ethos that shapes all exhibitions and programming efforts. The collections include more than 250,000 objects in the areas of archaeology, social and industrial history, natural sciences, and world cultures. Central to the narrative of the city, the collections focus on the subjects of industrial heritage and innovation, scientific discovery in the natural world, and altogether enable a critical discourse of the context of socioeconomic and natural resource sustainability.
150 Health and healing in the museum setting The Derby Museums are affiliates of the Happy Museum Project,1 a UKbased global consortium of museums and institutions that conduct and support research and development initiatives focused on creating conditions for wellbeing in museums and communities, environmental stewardship, citizenship and social action, cross-disciplinary public and professional relationship building, and individual and societal resilience. The Derby Museums Trust is a leader in Happy Museum’s five-year study investigating the impact of wellbeing and sustainability on individual, organizational and community resilience, as well as the LIFE survey, 2 which explores how museums create wellbeing. Between June 18 and June 30, 2018, we conducted 35 in-depth interviews at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, with 27 object contributors to Objects of Love (including staff and volunteers who also contributed), four post-visit audience members, and four museum staff/volunteers who did not also contribute to Objects of Love. The interviews utilized varying script instruments for object contributors, staff/volunteers, and post-visit audience members: Interview script: object contributors • • • • • •
Why did you choose to donate to or share an object with the museum? Why did you select the object that you did? What associations or meanings does the object hold for you? Can you share the process you went through as you donated or shared your object with the museum? Is public display of the object important to you? If so, why? In what ways did your contributing experience impact you?
Interview script: museum audience members post-visit • • • • •
What made you decide to visit the museum? What content or emotions did you anticipate experiencing during your visit? What do you remember most about the objects that you saw? Describe the impact that those objects had on you. How has your exhibition experience at the museum impacted you?
Interview script: museum staff/volunteer • • • •
What content or emotions did you anticipate yourself and/or others experiencing during the exhibition visit? What do you remember most about the objects that you saw? Describe the impact that those objects had on you. How has your experience with the exhibition impacted you? An additional script of two follow-up questions was emailed to participants two weeks after the study to capture longer-term reflections on the interview and museum experience:
The Derby Museum and Art Gallery 151
Figure 11.1 Brenda Cowan (L), Jason McKeown (M), and Ross Laird (R) conducting an interview at the Derby Museum. Photo by Jason McKeown. Used with permission from Andrea Hadley-Johnson.
Interview script: museum staff/volunteer follow-up • •
How do you feel changed as a result of sharing your object with the museum? How do you feel as a result of your sharing experience in the interview? As with the prior case studies, the duration of the interviews ranged from 30 minutes to over an hour, depending on the personal pace and level of sharing from participants. Questions were asked of participants in accordance with the interview scripts, and as with the prior studies and the heuristic approach of the interview sessions, we asked additional questions and probed for more information based upon the responses we received from participants (Figure 11.1).
Overview of findings In addition to evidence of the seven Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, the Derby Museum study revealed overarching themes highly consistent with the prior studies as well as several that are unique to the museum and its constituency. These overarching themes, as defined below, compose a portrait of highly personalized human-object relationships within a thriving community-museum relationship. As with prior studies, the overarching themes speak to concepts of self-identity, objects as storytellers, objects
152 Health and healing in the museum setting bearing witness, and the museum as a place of nurturing in a myriad of ways. The theme of connection was a predominant concept as it has been in every study. Connection, as described by subjects in the Derby Museum interviews, included specific references to self (awareness and identity), to family, to friends, to heritage, history, place, and to the museum. The applications of the concept in this study were broad in scope and powerful in their explicitness and depth of meaning. The concept of objects giving permission has come up in prior studies but was especially prevalent in this study, in which objects were described as facilitating an individual to share their story, and to be “seen” or “heard.” These experiences were often linked with fond descriptions of the museum staff encouraging subjects to share, to be seen, and to “leave their mark.” Likewise, descriptions of the concepts of mindfulness and wellbeing were prevalent. Subjects described objects as prompts for conversations to activate feelings of “being present,” and also as generating feelings associated with wellbeing such as respite, calm, love, acceptance, acknowledgment, and a sense of “constancy.”
Connection The theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics emerged from the premise of humans having an inherent primal dialogue with objects wherein psychological health is fostered. A defining element of primal dialogue is the concept of connection, which is also a keystone in mental health practice. The concept of connection—to family, community and society—is core to human self-identity, health, and wellbeing. As Lisbeth Marcher (2004, 97) affirms: You are always part of a wholeness. For example, at certain ages children appear to want nothing but to be away from their parents, to be independent. But in fact, while they truly seek this independence, they are still desiring a kind of connectedness. One of the tasks of life is to learn to recognize, tolerate, and enjoy a multiplicity of styles of connectedness in ourselves and in others. The need for connection—or, as Marcher calls it, mutual connection—is primary in humans, as is the role of objects in our awareness of connectivity, the creation and preservation of connections, and our understanding of connectivity to other people, places, and times. In this manner, the relationship of object meanings to the concept of connection was one of the most frequently described feelings, notions, or experiences among subjects in the Derby Museum study: It’s a link to my family, to growing up and that love. It feels like I’m connected to my memories, my family. I feel like I’m touching the country. (staff) It reminds me about my dad. It’s about family. Family is important. (volunteer) The tin and its contents have become even more precious… What does it represent? Inheritance, family and memory, ultimately, a sense of being and belonging. (volunteer)
The Derby Museum and Art Gallery 153 I carry my children with me. I like having my family with me. I can show them I appreciate them. If the Queen invited me to a garden party I would wear all of them [jewelry] so I can share it with them [children and grandchildren]. (object contributor) [The statue] is about sentiment and family connection. The culture that represents my parents who gave it to me. It helps me share my culture and what I believe in. (object contributor) As I track my father’s life [through photographs], I was thinking about his broader family as well, the overlapping of lives. I was doing it for him but really doing it for me in the moment. It was like a collaboration. (object contributor) [The art school] was unusual for its time and place, it was ahead of its time, a time of change. They [the artists] were voices in the wilderness. It’s like a tribe — I’ve joined a tribe! It’s like a family: it’s there but you don’t understand the bond until you marshal your thoughts, think deeply, and process. (object contributor) I feel a part of the culture. It speaks to me. It was a gift. He [his mentor] is like my father, he has one too and it connects him to me. It’s like a spiritual link. (object contributor) It relates to my children. I knew I wanted to keep things of my children. Hair is involved in the ritual of caring. (object contributor) [Seeing the artifacts] connects with the depths of history. The objects have a sense of time, history, culture and meaning. It takes you back to ancient times. A transportation. (visitor) One item connects to another and suddenly a whole string of relations appears. (volunteer) When you hold something that is so old you are holding history. (volunteer) [Working with the objects] makes me think of honoring family stories. How other world stories make me think of my own family ancestry. (volunteer) I went through cancer and they [family] are the most important things to me. I carry them with me. (object contributor) Identity Subjects described the concept of identity in various ways, most often related to self-awareness and self-definition. In many instances, descriptions of identity coalesced with the concept of connection, particularly when talking about family (Figure 11.2): With the totem I can share with others the meaning, educate them, and we can learn that we have much in common. (object contributor) It associates me with my tribe, my clan, my ancestors. It’s like I carried my ancestors with me. It gives me a confidence that I am a part of that
154 Health and healing in the museum setting
Figure 11.2 W e can learn that we have much in common. Photo by Chevy-Jordan Thompson.
identity, that family. My having something of next of kin with me in a foreign country, I draw a lot from that. (object contributor) I continually relate things back to my family and history. It’s about identity. (volunteer) My whole life is wrapped up in these things. (object contributor) I think it’s quite nice to share the objects. People will maybe see the continuity. It gives you a sense of place, of identity. (volunteer) I wasn’t sure if I could talk about them and I can, and it’s affirmative, like my identity. I did something that’s really important and it’s really good. I’m naturally a nervous person. (object contributor) Psychological relationship with the institution Participants referred to their relationships with the Derby Museum and Art Gallery in many ways. The concept of connection was again drawn upon, in this application as coalescent with the meaning of the institution. Mindfulness and expressions of health and wellbeing were also often expressed in direct connection with the museum: [Working in the Museum] whetted my appetite! I feel supremely aware and excited about the other cultures. I feel revised, mindful. (object contributor)
The Derby Museum and Art Gallery 155 It’s about connections. Being in the museum and being a part and with the objects improves my life. (volunteer) I wanted to be a part of something, a group. You feel valued. Here there is a sense of purpose and achievement. Connecting with people. (volunteer preparator) I have fellow like-minded people who I get to bounce ideas off of. I’ve been enriched here. (volunteer) Suddenly everything has life and I will appreciate better. I will be more present. (visitor) I enjoyed the experience of this [sharing with the museum]. This is a continuing process of therapy that I share these things. (object contributor) It’s familiar and comforting to wear them in today [to be photographed]. (object contributor) [As a result of contributing] I feel passion, spirit, mission, past lives, ambition. Probably this will be a museum that I will never forget. I don’t get to share much. It’s important what you are doing here in this museum. The public, they have their own stories of life behind the objects. (object contributor) It’s more important [the photograph] as a result of this experience. [Contributing] is very intimate and people don’t often get to have intimate experiences like this and this has changed its importance. (object contributor) I feel more relaxed. I feel more reposed here as a result [of seeing the objects]. Totally different. (visitor) When holding it [clay artifact] I feel contentment. (volunteer) I was proud to share my objects. I felt valued. I felt part of Derby Museum’s history. I felt passionate. I felt like part of a team. It was joyful and fun! (object contributor) I specifically came here so I could participate in sharing my object [with the museum]. Being a participant is important. I can just let go, be quiet. Feel respite. (object contributor)
Mindfulness and wellbeing Explicit evidence of mindfulness, health, and wellbeing associated with personal objects emerged from the data in several instances. The feeling of being present was articulated by some subjects, whereas others identified feelings of being part of a continuum and not alone. Objects were used as devices to prompt conversation, with the intent of being present and mindful with others through sharing their object stories and associations. As with the examples of wellbeing and mindfulness directly affiliated with the museum experience identified above, the following contribute significantly
156 Health and healing in the museum setting to the research study’s intent to identify wellbeing impacts specifically within the human-object relationship: I’ve become acutely aware of my gratefulness. Things that were once negative can now be positive. These things help me build myself up through a bad time. Each item represents a part in my healing journey. (object contributor) [Playing the piano] Is being in the moment. The association of that struggle [of learning] and to take the risk. I like it when I invite others to play and they are a part of a shared experience with me. (object contributor) [The blanket means] a time of relaxation, for chilling out. It’s very constant. (object contributor) Whenever I look at this idol I feel that some superior force is helping me out. An enhanced sense of gratitude. I feel a lot of introspection. A lot of room to explore. (object contributor) They [grandfather’s medal and diary] are anchor points in my life. A physical anchor point where I can find respite. (object contributor) The biscuit tin had lots of buttons in it and when I was extremely ill as a child I would touch the buttons and imagine where they were from and that’s what healed me. I associate it with getting well. (object contributor) Life is always changing, exhibits are always changing, but my house and my things are constant. (visitor) Permission The concept of objects giving permission was mentioned in different ways, as though objects wanted to share their stories, to be “seen” or “heard,” to be “no longer being invisible.” The feelings associated with permission were positive, often prideful, and even sometimes defiant. Personal objects and the opportunity to publicly display them at the museum together enabled participants to do something that was uncharacteristic or exciting: I feel proud to be photographed and showing off for the first time. I won’t be invisible. I’m leaving my mark! I have a family legacy of low profile. I don’t want to be low profile anymore. (object contributor) [Display of the object] is weirdly exciting. It’s putting myself out there. Out of my comfort zone. I get to be a part of the storytelling. (object contributor) The box I put the objects in [to transport them] is special, a statement. The objects gave me purpose and permission to use this box and to wear this coat that I typically wouldn’t. (object contributor) People will notice them [jewelry] and we get to talking. I get to feel proud of my children! (visitor)
The Derby Museum and Art Gallery 157 I know that a lot of people will see me with the blanket and they’ll see it’s mine. (object contributor) [Grandmother] would let me spin it and not get scolded. She trusted me. That made it very special and it evokes memories of the house and food and her. (volunteer)
Expressions of the dynamics Overall, responses and anecdotes from subjects regarding the meanings of and their associations with objects—their experiences working at, volunteering with, donating to, or visiting the museum—and the positive impacts of their experiences with its collection, provided clear evidence of the Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics. In the process of data analysis, information garnered from the interviews provided overwhelming evidence of a new, seventh object dynamic: touching. The inclusion of this dynamic is particularly significant due to the extensive scholarship in the healthful and healing impacts of touching objects, specifically in relationship with museums. It should be noted that during interviews in every study, when a subject’s object is present it is common for subjects to touch or hold the object when speaking about it. This has often appeared to be an unconscious activity that is also often seen in daily life. Touching was described or demonstrated as either a conscious or unconscious activity when the subject was thinking about or explaining their object’s meaning. These descriptions were positive, empowering, and impactful. Data collected from 35 individuals presented evidence of the tenets of the dynamics as follows: associating (15/35 respondents), composing (9/35 respondents), giving/receiving (9/35 respondents), making (6/35 respondents), synergizing (3/35 respondents), releasing/unburdening (1/35 respondents), and touching (8/35 respondents). Altogether, the 35 interviews illustrated the object dynamics in the following ways: Associating I carry this in my purse with my money. I always keep it in the living room. It’s on a shelf kept safe. I see it every day. It’s very constant. I used to hide it so no one would take it. I will never get rid of it. It’s under my pillow every day. These are the things I’m happy to see every day. They aren’t ever far from each other. I always want to see it. It makes me so happy to see it every day. I keep this on my bookcase and I can see it every day. It was a part of so many places and moments. It stays in the car always. Sometimes in the boot, sometimes under the seat.
158 Health and healing in the museum setting I wear it every day. Always. I always wear the string bracelet. On my right wrist. I carry it in my bag. I really want to keep it with me. I carry them with me. I carry it with me always, in my purse, in a special pocket. I see it daily. The feeling that it’s there is enough. It’s like my car keys. It always stays on my bedroom shelf. Composing Family photos are in the tin now and those have to be together. It’s important that they stay together. I want to have things in their right place. They live in the open kitchen shelves together. The two always go together. This one is my tribe, the found, the other is family, the good part of the given. I will keep these two things together. The objects are kept together. They are old friends. The rock is hers and the other three items are theirs and they are always together. His tooth and my ring kind of go together. They are both alike. We are alike in our eccentricity and silliness and needing to put something together. They aren’t ever far from each other. They are both sides of her [grandmother]. Giving/Receiving In giving me this object he’s telling me I’m his favorite. Someday I will pass it on to my niece. She’s my favorite. It was a moment of silence in the storm. Transcendence because the other siblings were squabbling over their possessions. It was a moment of recognition that I hadn’t been forgotten. They came out in the middle of the arguing siblings and handed them to me. They handed them to me in my hand and closed it around the objects. I will pass them on to my three children. The bracelet is from my grandchildren and a ring from my daughter. These earrings are from [my daughter]. It’s loving. These being together and I can show them I appreciate them. One camera belonged to my father and the other belonged to the widow of my friend. This one is my tribe, the found, the other is family, the good part of the given. The family bracelet is from my grandmother — she was very resilient. The string bracelet is a validation from the Arts Fellows. A personal and professional overlap. Someday I will give this to someone and it would be keeping me with them. It would be a present to someone. My parents gave it to me. There are a lot of hopes attached to me. I will let my mother know how it makes me feel.
The Derby Museum and Art Gallery 159 Making The lamps illuminate my mind, heart creativity. I work out some of my feelings when I use it. It helps me work things out. It’s the creative process. I think out the image and frame it out, and it’s a process, and it’s iterative, the finished speech of the final photograph. I do my best work when I’m not feeling well. It focuses my attention on changes. I just went and made it and I remember how ridiculous I can be. It makes me want to try making things. It’s ridiculous and impractical and I would never wear it but I love it. The whole cycle of making it was ridiculous and I love it. There was a joy in the making of the cake, decorating it. It’s fragile and loaded with meaning. I don’t know why. Releasing/Unburdening A box of family photographs includes many of the subject’s grandfather. The family was tumultuous and the grandfather traumatized by war. The grandfather kept the photographs in a box locked away, but the subject’s grandmother would sneak into the box and throw some photographs away. The subject wishes to move on from these traumatic memories and perceives the photographs to be instrumental to that process. Synergizing One item [artifact] connects with others and a whole string of relations appears. Being in the museum and being a part with the objects [contributing] improves my life. Displaying it [object] with the others, participating, it makes me feel good. Touching I feel the thumbprints in the clay [artifact]. Something like this bowl feels good. The texture, the tactile. When I hold it I feel contentment. Handling the objects is like Christmas every day! I just want to hold everything. [Pulls hands into chest.] I would touch the buttons and imagine where they were from and that’s what healed me. When I’m flipping through the book it’s like I’m touching the country. Grandma would allow me to play with it and I would spin it every time I went over. The tactile is very important. I like the way it feels when I put my fingers into it.
160 Health and healing in the museum setting It’s the tactile. The wonder of it. The history. I think of others’ hands holding it.
Notes 1 http://happymuseumproject.org/ 2 http://happymuseumproject.org/life-survey/
12 The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology)
In an effort to expand upon the overall research sample of types of museum participants, the fourth case study focused on museum visitors and the visitation experience. The Museum at FIT was selected for its breadth of audiences: international tourists, Fashion Institute of Technology students over the age of 18, faculty, and content experts. The museum also offered the potent subject of its Spring 2018 exhibition Fashion Unraveled, which displayed fashion garments that showed signs of wear, repurposing, and distinctive use. Clothes are intimate, highly personal and provocative objects; we anticipated garnering rich information from this particular subject area. The exhibition also included a digital display of a crowd-sourced project entitled Wearing Memories, which featured images and brief descriptions of clothing and associated personal stories from an online open call for contributors. The Museum at FIT is located in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s campus in Chelsea, New York City’s fashion district. The mission of the museum is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, programs, and publications. The museum’s permanent collection encompasses some 50,000 garments and accessories from the eighteenth century to the present. Important designers such as Adrian, Balenciaga, Chanel, and Dior are represented. The collecting policy of the museum focuses on aesthetically and historically significant clothing, accessories, textiles, and visual materials, with emphasis on contemporary avant-garde fashion. Between August 18 and August 12, 2018, we conducted 13 in-depth interviews in a private office, on campus, with 12 post-visit audience members and one exhibition object contributor. We interviewed subjects about their experiences resulting from the exhibition visit and also invited them to share associations with a meaningful item of clothing of their own (Figure 12.1). Interview script: post visit audience members What made you decide to visit the museum? What content or emotions did you anticipate experiencing during your visit?
162 Health and healing in the museum setting
Figure 12.1 “ It feels old and worn, like a story.” Photo by Brenda Cowan.
What do you remember most about the objects that you saw? Describe the impact that those objects had on you. How has your exhibition visitation experience impacted you? As with the prior case studies, the duration of the interviews ranged from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the manner in which individual participants answered each question and the amount of information they were willing or able to share. The scripts and interview protocols utilized the same methodology followed in the previous case studies to ensure consistency and control with data collection. Additional questions were asked when appropriate to deepen thought and response. The Museum @ FIT sent out the same call for interview participants as the prior three institutions in our research study, and we followed the same protocol of obtaining informed consent.
Overview of findings In addition to evidence of the seven Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, the Museum at FIT study revealed overarching human-object relational characteristics that are highly consistent with our prior field and case studies. During the interviews, subjects presented concepts of
The Museum at FIT 163 self-identity, self-awareness, objects as storytellers, objects bearing witness, and objects as life companions. Critical proximity also emerged in several instances during the interviews, wherein the subjects described how objects prompted memories of past experiences or a new or changed call to action. Subjects in these examples verbalized a new intent to seek further information about their object, make change regarding their relationship with the object, or take action in their lives as a result of their reflections. (This dynamic also emerged in a few instances in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery study and was noted as an area of focus for future investigation.) The resonant theme among all subjects when describing their attraction to the exhibition objects was human connection. The idea of seeing everyday clothing or clothing that might relate to their own lived experiences was very appealing, as was hearing the stories associated with that clothing. The concept of connection to other people, to other places and times, was predominant throughout the interviews, as it has been in every empirical study. Memory was also strongly represented in the data. Subjects described memories and moments in their lives that were triggered by the personal object stories, as well as feelings of connectivity to broader eras or periods of time illustrated by the fashions on display. Most subjects described memories of childhood and/or relationship- focused experiences when reflecting on the exhibition objects, as well as when sharing their own personal objects. These connections were often linked to relationships with a significant relative, and in several cases with an experience of loss. The loss of a loved one—either through separation or death—is one of the more common human-object associations found throughout the research studies. From a psychotherapeutic point of view, this suggests that objects fulfill important roles in the healing process. Everyday and intimate objects, such as the clothing in Fashion Unraveled and Wearing Memories, provided the opportunity for deeply personal associations. These associations were typically complex, and involved seemingly contradictory or unexpected emotions. Subjects whose associations centered on personal loss described feelings of grief as well as feelings of calm and positivity. In the words of one subject, their feelings and experiences with the exhibition objects were “bittersweet.” The themes of repairing and repurposing resonated strongly with subjects as well. Many spoke about clothes having a “greater purpose” that can be renewed, “lives that can be extended,” or having possibilities for the future. In these instances, the objects that showed wear—yet were saved and displayed—were meaningful and relatable to subjects, prompting feelings and associations of caretaking and nurturing. Likewise, garments that showed repair or repurposing activated remembrances and feelings of resilience and love from subjects. Power also emerged as a theme throughout the interviews. Feelings of power are essential to self-identity and core to psychological health, and it was exciting to see
164 Health and healing in the museum setting this theme emerge in a study centered on the topic of clothing. Subjects described feelings and associations of power in various ways, each positive and affirming, personal, and in connection with another individual in their life. Human connection Participants were moved—and in some cases surprised—by the emotional quality of the personal object stories within the exhibition. Wearing Memories was especially powerful for subjects due to the everyday nature of the garments and how relatable the stories were. I was surprised at my emotions, being sensitive. When I visited, hearing someone’s story, hearing them, it was comforting in a way. It was human. (visitor) I felt a certain vulnerability [looking at the objects]. It was the humanizing aspect, what was and what isn’t anymore. (visitor) These garments are very approachable, not the suit of armor of a finished piece of fashion. They have their day too! (visitor) It’s a deep pleasure to reflect. This is about how clothing is meaningful to people, which is such a brilliant idea. Clothing has deep significance for people. (visitor) Wearing Memories is so valuable, evocative, emotional, honest. It’s the opposite of manipulation. It makes me hungry for more. There is something that allows people to share these stories. They are honest without any discomfort. It’s connections. (visitor) There is so much hope. People stopped to think about the things that are valuable to them as people, as families. (object donor) It’s a human perspective through clothes. People expressing themselves through their clothes is important to me, not scientific information. (visitor) I wanted to see and hear the personal stories of ordinary people. (visitor) I’ve gone several times — drawn to it because it’s the things you wouldn’t typically showcase. It becomes a personal connection. You want to dive a little deeper. (visitor) I felt very much a kind of connection, thinking about the garments that I’ve saved and others have saved. This exhibition really made me think of these things and why I’ve hung onto the things I have. It made me think about others’ clothes and my clothes in a deep way. (visitor) A lot of the things I wore growing up were things my grandmother made for my mother, and then saved. There is some kind of DNA in this — my mother, my grandmother and me. (visitor: brought object)
The Museum at FIT 165 Memory In every instance where objects were associated with remembrance, subjects spoke about a significant relationship in their lives. Memories appeared to center on loved ones or individuals held in high regard, and—even in the cases involving loss—feelings of positivity: The toile patterns reminded me of being a young girl and my grandmother gave me a sewing kit. I remembered the box and it felt sweet in that moment. I need to call my mother and find out about it. I hope it’s still there. (visitor) The story of the child’s bodice and the whole life of that object just stood out, brought back a lot of memories. I thought so much about death — it was a lot — the death of my father and grandmother. (visitor) In Wearing Memories the bodice of the childhood dress really resonated with me. It reminded me of my childhood and similar dresses my sister and I wore. This object really was a work of art. (visitor) The bias cut dress — it was so loved and preserved and it made me think of my grandmother. (visitor) This reminds me of home. I brought it with me when I came to New York. Grandma would take us on day trips and her home was comfort. She played a big part in my growing up. She was quite affectionate. (visitor: brought object) He wore it every day. He passed. I’d never seen it in person, only in photos. How do you properly preserve the memory? I haven’t decided yet. (visitor: brought object) This is my mother’s engagement ring. She loved it and it’s very meaningful to me. It reminds me of her: fun-loving and eccentric and an authentic, beautiful person. I never take it off. (visitor: brought object) It reminded me of a friend who makes clothing of her own. I could immediately connect with her and share it with her. (visitor) Memory fascinates me. Inspiration starts with memory for me. The mother and daughter bodice story made me think of my mother and my aunt who made clothes for me. I’ve been feeling a lack of inspiration and the bodice story and sharing of that memory brought me there. (visitor) Repairing and repurposing As with each emergent theme, the repairing and repurposing of garments was directly linked with the human element and reflected deeper meanings of care and nurturing: The objects in the exhibition made me think of caring and repairing. I could get more life out of the things I own. Care taking is something I
166 Health and healing in the museum setting get better at as I get older — you’ve got to show up, you have to take care. (visitor) Clothing and materials are valuable and purposeful — seeing how they go from generation to generation. Seeing hands and making family connections — it’s all about transformation. (object donor) I thought about all of the repurposing and reworking in the exhibition and the meaning of that. (visitor) I remember mostly the garments that have been changed over time. One of the garments has been modified many times over the years. It really is emotional. (visitor) I felt nostalgic. The unfinished and reworked things were most memorable and meaningful. They show care and appreciation of craft. Now it’s trendy to repurpose but I know it as a necessity — before it became recycling. (visitor) Feelings of power Several meaningful examples of personal empowerment were provided within our interviews. Subjects’ descriptions of power affiliated with their object experiences were poignant and seemingly unique to the intimacy of the type of object shared. Power was at times literally referenced, and at other times indicated via descriptions of feeling bold, defiant or impervious to judgment: This was his symbol of power. He wore it every day and it would have made him feel powerful. It was like his shield of armor. (visitor: brought object) Luxury is not the thing that is expensive but the thing that has power. (visitor) It’s a symbol of what I feel comfortable in and not what people think of me. I am comfortable with me. (visitor: brought object) This makes me think of strength. Total confidence. I have a little bit of that in me too — I feel a little pride. (visitor: brought object) They are very empowering. Sometimes I wear all three or one or another depending on how I feel or what I need and it’s like choosing who I want to be with me. (visitor: brought objects)
Expressions of the dynamics Overall, the information gathered shaped a portrait of the exhibition and object experience as one of introspection and highly individual, quiet, personal associations and reflections. The exhibition’s environmental experience was passive, and specific objects and stories activated moderate- to-strong emotional responses, particularly upon reflection over time. Subjects who brought personal objects of their own did so seamlessly
The Museum at FIT 167 within the context of the messages of the exhibition and in resonance with the everyday items presented. Consistent with the entire research study’s sample of interview respondents to-date, exhibition object meanings and their importance to subjects were highly subjective, contextual, associative, and unrelated to monetary or material value. Data collected among 13 individuals presented evidence of the dynamics as follows: associating (6/13 respondents), composing (3/13 respondents), giving/receiving (8/13 respondents), making (5/13 respondents), releasing/unburdening (4/13 respondents), synergizing (2/13 respondents), and touching (10/13 respondents). Associating This is the top my grandmother made for my mother. Now I have it and I wore it in my twenties. A lot of things I wore growing up were things my grandmother made and mother wore, and she [grandmother] saved. I save this in my important things box. There is some kind of shared DNA in this: my mother, grandmother and me. I have jeans [at home] important to me. Like you have a spouse that stands alongside you for life. This object is like that. I will keep them forever. My mother’s engagement ring [wears and touches while describing it]. She loved it and it’s very meaningful to me. When she gave it to me — it reminds me of her: fun-loving and eccentric, an authentic and beautiful person. I never take it off. This is the ski jersey my dad wore. He used to ski race and he was very competitive. When he died nine years ago I was in the [viewing line at his funeral] and a friend of his came up to me and handed it to me. I think he had intended for me to put it in the coffin but I didn’t. No way. I’m keeping this. This bracelet [wears and touches when describing it] I bought 20 years ago at a craft fair in Massachusetts with my husband. It’s almost a sacred place in my life and my marriage. I wear it every day. I wear this necklace from my grandmother everywhere I go. It’s about remembering her and I feel like she is still with me helping me. Composing They [three bracelets] are very empowering. Sometimes I wear all three or one or another depending on how I feel or what I need and it’s like choosing who I want to be with me. Things that stopped me were the unexpected juxtapositions, like the paisley shawl and the suit. The surprising juxtaposition was interesting, it enabled me to create a story. There is a tension among the juxtaposition of the objects in that display because some of the items are high fashion but supposed to be humble. The other two pieces don’t get the acclaim that the sock
168 Health and healing in the museum setting sweater does. I am manipulated by the display. I feel befuddled that some things are given the attention and acclaim but why not others? Giving/Receiving I have a sweater my mom gave to me when I was in my twenties. It’s the first time I got something expensive and my mom surprised me. This wasn’t expected. My mom wasn’t expressive to me but this was so special. We bought it together. My grandmother gave me this t-shirt and I love it [touches and holds while talking about it]. I will keep it forever. I don’t agree with her aspirations for me but I love that she thought that of me. It’s a connection with her memory. This bracelet [wears and touches when describing it] is from a dear friend and colleague. It’s empowering. I gifted the dress to the permanent collection. Donating has been such an honor. My piece fits so well with the theme and now it has a far-reaching purpose. The story of the child’s bodice and the mother giving it to her daughter. The texture of that fabric brought back a lot of memories and that the daughter put it in a box for display and gave it back to her mother. I thought about if I could ever do that. Making The making of the dress was exhausting and the lace has a history. Everything is hand draped and hand embroidered. My hand and the hands of the other artisans who work with me — it’s very important to honor that. I thought about the knits. They are special because I think of my aunt knitting and the making and it was amazing to watch. I could tell how she loved us. It’s such a warm feeling. It inspired me to be able to create. The process pieces stood out to me. I tend to think of results, so thinking of process was important to me. The unfinished and reworked things were most memorable and meaningful. They show care and appreciation of craft. Releasing/Unburdening The process of my aunt dying. She left a crazy quilt and my sister and I fought over it — didn’t talk for almost a year. I took it but then I experienced a release, a letting go, and gave it to her. Now she has the responsibility. This is my father’s sweater. I gave it to him — he was wearing it when he died. I took it off his body and it has hung in my closet ever since. He was a warm, affectionate person and this sweater fits that. The sweater, I could probably throw it away now, Maybe it’s my age
The Museum at FIT 169 and I just feel that it’s ephemeral. I don’t need it. I would give it to Housing Works — he died of AIDS and they support that. He always said “give to the living.” I am in the middle of moving and so much of what I am experiencing in my life is about letting go — about choices. I held onto a Rolodex card of his — I called him all the time. But I finally threw it out. It just seemed ridiculous to keep it. Synergizing There is something there that allows people to share those stories. They are honest without discomfort. It’s connections. A shared community experience. The sense of mood and energy between the objects is important. The objects have organic relationships — it was like a forest. The pieces all had a shared energy, a synergy. Touching Touching was demonstrated by all ten subjects who brought in an object to share. In addition, several subjects spoke specifically about touch when relating the story of an object: [Places father’s belt buckle on table.] You can touch it. So you can fully see it — get it. He wore it every day — he passed — we had the same initials. I’d never seen it in person, only in photos. How do you properly preserve the memory? I haven’t decided yet. It was his symbol of power, his suit of armor. It would have made him feel powerful. My grandmother gave me this t-shirt and I love it [touches and holds while talking about it]. I will keep it forever… It’s the texture. It’s soft like her. It’s like touching her hair. When I wear it, it feels so soft — like being embraced — and also how something fits. Tight or loose all impacts how you feel. Those kinds of things are in our minds, our psychology. There is something about the material. It feels old, worn. Like it has a story. I brought it over from Derby and it reminds me of home. Her home was comfort. They [grandparents] played a big part in my growing up — quite affectionate. I do wear it. It envelops me, keeps me warm. Like she did. His sweater is warm. It hugs me.
Implications for museums
13 The museum—wellness connection
This chapter explores the implications of an approach in exhibition experience design to evoke—and perhaps provoke—emotional experiences for visitors. The practices of direct creative engagement—touching, making, symbolic representation, metaphoric storytelling, collaborative object creation, immersive experience—are exemplary facilitators of those aims. Their use in psychotherapy, especially in art therapy and wilderness therapy, has a long and well-studied history. In the work of trauma recovery in particular, creative practices are among the most common approaches of skilled practitioners. Within our own team of researchers, Jason and Ross are licensed mental health professionals experienced in working with clients struggling with trauma, addictions, and mental illness. And, as described in Section III, they focus their practices on creative approaches in complex situations of individual and group therapy. Although some museums are explicitly psychotherapeutic environments, most are not. The systems and staffing of museums are not always designed or equipped to promote the emotional safety, containment, and counseling that are required to assist people in navigating traumatic situations. Training in psychotherapeutic ethics, professional psychological practice, and the skills to safely support a visitor in a state of traumatic decompensation, panic, overwhelm, dissociation, or freezing are not always part of the toolkit of the museum professional. However, this situation is changing rapidly, as museums increasingly build psychotherapeutic systems and practices into their exhibitions and forge partnerships with mental health professionals. In our case study interviews, we interacted with participants in a variety of emotionally challenging scenarios. In those situations, Jason and Ross acted as psychotherapists: shaping the conversations, confirming presence and safety, emphasizing empathy, directing participants toward the resolution of locked response patterns in a multitude of ways with both verbal and nonverbal cues. Had we not taken those steps, it’s likely that a number of our interview subjects—those with strong emotional activation associated with objects resonant of trauma—would have found their experience with us to be traumatic.
174 Implications for museums Highly charged therapeutic situations can emerge and can easily be mismanaged or become overwhelming for everyone involved. The work of therapeutic engagement—creating emotional safety, building trust, cultivating empathy and self-awareness—is among the most difficult skills to master. Even well-trained therapists often struggle to find the right tone, the correct approach, the safest and most helpful path forward. This is not easy or straightforward work, and it is not simply a collection of skills that can be applied to any given situation. Human beings are immensely complex, unpredictable, and fragile. And yet, we also participated in many moments of safe and simple healing that were led by subjects themselves, without the need for clinical intervention or specialized support. As with most subjects of psychological interest, it’s difficult to determine precisely what causes objects to exert their unique power—though we have explored various possibilities in previous chapters. In this chapter, we focus on possibilities for finding and developing the healthful middle ground between passive museum experiences and intensely overwhelming ones. What can museum professionals do, in their own work, to maximize the therapeutic effectiveness of object interactions? How can they best minimize the risk of inadvertently traumatizing visitors with well-intentioned but harmful exhibitions? How might museum professionals and mental health professionals work together to balance risks with opportunities in a turbulent and fast-evolving cultural environment? How would they even start? Psychotherapy and museum/exhibit design have much in common. Both practices utilize education, experience, communication, and evocation. But a visit to a museum is different from a therapy session. Both can be immensely valuable, transformative even. But the differences in their contexts, their purposes, their structures and their staff: these are real differences, and they have important implications. Accordingly, we suggest a few considerations and recommendations, in the next few sections, that are intended to help museum professionals understand both the risks and the opportunities of therapeutic work with objects. This material is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive; we’re not training people in psychotherapy. Rather, we wish to illustrate what psychotherapeutic possibilities might exist in museum settings, what challenges might emerge, and how museum professionals might find the right balance in their power to both harm and heal.
Therapeutic engagement in museum settings Humans are complex, wonderful, robust, and fragile. Our emotions drive us, guide us, and sometimes betray us. We do not control our emotions (at least, not very well), and we do not control our environment. In this sense, the human experience is one of constant uncertainty, turbulence, and challenge. We do best when we learn to navigate those challenges with growing self-awareness, empathy, and character. Often we do. But sometimes we get
The museum—wellness connection 175 lost, or stuck, or traumatized, and those experiences confront us with the strongest and most difficult emotions. Learning to handle the emotions that accompany trauma and mental illness is among the most difficult tasks we face. That same difficulty is presented to the practitioner—the museum professional, or the psychotherapist—who seeks to be of help in our healing. Objects of personal value tend to anneal and contain strong emotion. This is the first and central insight. This book illustrates many examples of interview subjects managing their activated emotions simply by holding an object of personal value. That object might be an heirloom, a found object, or a provisional object for which the interaction has been brief—perhaps only a few seconds. It doesn’t matter much. The object—its texture, and heft, and character—connects with us in immediate and surprising ways— provided we are drawn to it—and we begin to manage our inner life by way of this outward interaction. A kind of alchemy is at work, in those moments, a simple alchemy as ancient as the human hand and its reaching outward to the world.1 Museum environments provide the right conditions for meaningful experiences with objects. They enable visitors to examine the close details of life as well as the bigger picture, to bridge their immediate surroundings and experiences with the entirety of their life context. Museums encourage visitors to examine their roles within society, their relationships to history and its juxtaposition with the present, to make active use of memories, identities, and a multitude of personal expressions. In this sense, therapeutic object experiences are already happening at museums everywhere—though perhaps not always in explicit or programmatic ways. Psychotherapeutic and mental health practices with objects utilize similar components and processes as innovative museum practices: inviting participants to engage with objects, to feel and sense physical and emotional reactions, to make imaginative leaps of connection and synthesis so that the object is understood to be a symbol or a signpost for the inner life. The scholars who lead the research that connects museums with health practices emphasize the richness of this liminal space of convergence. The scholarship reveals to us that once visitors begin to encounter objects, psychological (and perhaps psychotherapeutic) experiences ensue. The theory of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics suggests that when the conditions are right, wellbeing and healing can be integral to the process. If we understand that meaningful experiences with objects lead organically to engagement with the resources of health and healing, then perhaps we begin to glimpse the enduring and resonant power of museums. The ultimate purpose of an exhibition is to foster connectivity and meaning- making, and it is objects, as the primary elements of the exhibition experience, that serve to illustrate, explain, captivate, and enable the visitor to relate to the content in a way that is personally significant. Seen through this lens, object meanings support fundamental psychological functions and psychotherapeutic development. The underlying connection between
176 Implications for museums these separate domains becomes especially easy to see in museum settings in which visitors engage with objects of a cultural, historical, or human origin, which tend to readily activate emotional content: It’s the tactile. The wonder of it [old stone tool]. The history. I think of others’ hands holding it. The role of psychotherapeutic object dynamics This work began outside of the museum context: in the arenas of wilderness therapy, expressive arts therapies, and the world of creative psychotherapy focused on the body and the hand. It has a clinical basis, and is grounded in traditions of counseling and psychotherapy that enjoy robust communities outside of museums. We’ve begun to explore how the practices and norms of our clinical traditions might be joined with museum practices, and we are not unique in pursuing that aim. Many others in our clinical fields are following similar trajectories. This makes sense: as we’ve seen repeatedly throughout this book, therapeutic modalities using objects—whether in the woods (see Chapter 7), in health and hospital settings (Chatterjee 2013), or in education (see Chapter 8)—utilize objects in the same purposeful ways as do museums, where objects bear powerful communicative, emotional, and personally meaningful characteristics. We envision many ways in which museum professionals and mental health experts might collaborate using Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics within their own institutions and practices. The dynamics might be utilized as instruments for understanding the existing impacts of exhibitions, supporting deeper community engagement, enhancing staff development, and exploring broader opportunities for crafting exhibition experiences. The dynamics could be utilized as evaluation instruments in assessing whether current audiences and participants experience therapeutic impacts from their museum visits. The dynamics could also provide strategies for creating highly active, themed, and content-rich exhibitions with the intent of providing healthful and healing outcomes for visitors. The theory also suggests a new model for creative teams to blend the expertise of designers, educators, curators and visitors with psychotherapy professionals, research universities, and other external sponsors. Additionally, protocols for community participation in the co-authoring of exhibitions and programs might be developed with the help of the specific object criteria outlined by the dynamics. For example, museums might explicitly target object donations for exhibitions that enact the dynamic of releasing and unburdening. Or, exhibitions could provide giving and receiving experiences focused on visitor-object reciprocity. Or, activity spaces that provide the impacts of making could be designed with a view to long-term visitor engagement and the creation of objects with deep personal connections between exhibition content and
The museum—wellness connection 177 visitor participation. Composing provides opportunities to explore the metaphorical possibilities of displays and object interactions, as well as modular and adaptive exhibitions in which visitors actively juxtapose objects and customize exhibition messages. The dynamic of associating lends itself to healthful initiatives for museums to build close ties with their immediate communities and to cultivate repeat visitors through personal object donation initiatives and co-created exhibitions. Finally, opportunities to foster synergizing include exhibitions built around broad themes such as legacy, culture, and historical initiatives that encourage collective experiences among museum participants and the broader public. As psychologist Andree Salom (2008, 3) affirms: A sense of universality may be perceived in museums, and hope in humanity itself can be instilled in visitors if museums are used as agents for the wellbeing of communities.
Supporting the museum community Schools, community centers, parks, playgrounds, and museums are all places of social activity and offer a multitude of experiences. They are also places where self and society reveal themselves, where human nature exerts itself in complex, surprising, and unfathomable ways. In any well-designed public environment, rules, regulations, protocols, social conventions, and trained and thoughtful staff all contribute to directing visitors towards successful engagement. The most effective facilitation for these environments entails careful and mindful treatment of both visitors and staff. Humans are both resilient and fragile; they do best when they are cared for (as do all beings). Bringing a therapeutic perspective into the work of museums—particularly with objects and object interactions—requires consideration of how best to care for staff and the museum organization as a whole. The skills required to do this effectively are not usually part of the scope of practice or educational preparation required of employees. However, understanding the psychological and psychotherapeutic dimensions of donors, visitors, staff, and participants is vital. Museum staff and volunteers—or health center staff and volunteers, as in the work of Helen Chatterjee and Guy Noble—need specific training and support in navigating these complexities: One concern which was repeatedly raised by the students [volunteers] throughout the project was the need to adequately control negative emotions which may emerge during object handling sessions. The possibility of patients revealing negative memories, and showing distress and depression during sessions was discussed throughout the training period and the students were given guidance on how to handle these situations should they arise, including on site consultation with ward staff if the students felt sufficiently concerned. (2009, 46)
178 Implications for museums The consensus among the clinical mental health professionals with whom we spoke, in the context of writing this book, is that museums incur ethical responsibilities when they enter into the psychotherapeutic realm. Those ethical dimensions include confidentiality, emotional and physical safety, responsible caring, professional integrity, and related practices. Real and lasting harm can be the accidental outcome of a well-meaning project of therapeutic object interaction. In this light, we (and our colleagues) encourage museums to engage with mental health practitioners, psychologists, counselors, and psychotherapists in developing guidelines and protocols for hiring, training, conducting research, managing object donations, and providing healthful and impactful visitor services. Additionally, we encourage museums to identify and develop relationships with external community resources and agencies, such as health and counseling centers, hospitals, and universities. These networks will enable museums to benefit from the expertise of external professionals within the contexts of their own institutions. Initiatives along these lines are already underway at many institutions. For example, in her review of the work of the War Childhood Museum, Tatjana Takseva (2018) affirms the importance of broad, community-based approaches in which multiple partnerships contribute to shared and cohesive identities: The Museum acknowledges the important relationships between individual and collective war-related trauma and aids in the process of healing and recovery though the public recognition of the shared aspect of these events. Presenting via its artefacts a common image about the past war, the collection shifts the actual and symbolic parameters of group definition and poses an important question about the nature of ‘groupness’ and its foundations. It offers an alternative conception of group identity based on the common or shared experiences of the war, signalling away from ethnicity as the sole relevant marker of identity. The Museum thus fosters the creation of a unifying narrative… Similarly, Helen Chatterjee and her colleagues have demonstrated in a variety of ways (Desmarais, Bedford and Chatterjee 2018) how institutions and their communities thrive when health and wellbeing are suffused throughout an organization’s values and practices, informing and shaping at every level: Where a health and wellbeing philosophy was organisationally embedded [in the institution’s framework], respondents reported that there were clear links to the organisation’s top-level aims and values, that a variety of departments and work streams were collaborating in an integrated way, and that the ethos was reflected in training and recruitment at every level, as well as in capital investment and long-term strategic thinking. A common tactic for organisations moving in this direction
The museum—wellness connection 179 was to rethink health and wellbeing provision in terms of a core offer, rather than as something peripheral and project-based. This often entailed a clear articulation of the relevance of health and wellbeing to objectives already established in the sector, such as education, inclusion and community cohesion.
Recommendations for therapeutic organizational development Our co-authors Jason and Ross would like to share, from their clinical perspectives, a few practical suggestions from the mental health field. These are intended to help museums that seek health and wellbeing outcomes to think about what therapeutic might mean and how to get there. The practices outlined below do not require specialized training but, at the same time, are not intended to replace the training that is required to approach object interactions from a mental health perspective. Our aim here is to highlight commonalities among effective organizations and projects and, perhaps, point the way toward a holistic and meaningful approach to museum work. And, as emphasized by Alice Greenwald, President of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, museum work can have far-reaching aims and implications: It is about understanding our humanity… understanding ourselves and the world in which we live… to begin to imagine together the kind of world we want to build for the generations that will follow us. (National September 11 Memorial & Museum 2019b) Ensure strong empathy and mentorship from leaders A museum that seeks to engage staff, volunteers, and visitors in initiatives focused on cultivating wellbeing cannot do so effectively unless the organization consistently focuses on the importance of wellbeing for its members. The crucial importance of mirroring intention with embodiment seems obvious. And yet, this mirroring can be overlooked in wellbeing initiatives undertaken by organizations. Organizational wellbeing begins with—and must be consistently modeled by—organizational leaders who strive toward a culture of wellbeing throughout every level of the organization. No real traction can be achieved unless and until leaders demonstrate this commitment—and when they do, it is visible in their behavior. They act to embody their values, and they practice three core skills: self-awareness, empathy, and mentorship. Object interactions can help to ignite and amplify both self-awareness and empathy; mentorship can be viewed as a combination of the two. An effective mentor engages in mentorship as a reciprocal process, joins and contributes to communities, models and teaches ethical practices, and is open to
180 Implications for museums learning from others. A strong mentor is attentive to the emotional needs of everyone and will be in a good position, in a museum setting, to understand and grapple with the complex emotional challenges that will arise with therapeutic object experiences. The skills of empathy and mentorship are complex; they require much commitment and practice. At the same time, many museum professionals have begun to emphasize the importance of these skills in helping museums to care for individuals, support communities, grapple with vulnerability, and build resilience. For example, the Happy Museum Project has articulated specific principles and imperatives to achieve these aims: Create happy, resilient teams and communities… Work towards building more mutual relationships with your staff, communities, supporters and visitors. Explore how museum staff and public can work together, with different expertise but equal respect, to achieve common outcomes such as making a sustainable locality in which to live and work. Learn from voluntary organisations and social enterprises to try out new models of working with people… Work across hierarchies and boundaries. Be a host, brokering new relationships and becoming a hub for communities. (Happy Museum Project 2019) Train staff and volunteers in empathy and compassion fatigue When museums undertake to work with objects in the ways described in this book, they will quickly encounter strong emotions. People will cry. Some will become anxious or will fall silent and wander off or become angry. Some will not know what they are feeling and will behave strangely. These are routine moments for mental health professionals but not for museum staff, who do not have the training to modulate the reactions of visitors or their own emotional reactions in these situations. Museum staff can become emotionally activated themselves and enact their own versions of anxiety, anger, or wandering off. How might we mitigate these risks? The first step is to get help from mental health professionals who will provide training and support, in an ongoing way, for staff and volunteers to develop empathic listening skills and to deal with or redirect emotional situations (please see the next chapter for further details). The skills of empathy and active listening require a blend of self-awareness and attentiveness to others. Emotional reciprocity and sharing are at the core of empathy, and its effective use has an inherently stabilizing function on almost everyone. Building skill in empathy also entails developing the skill of self-regulation, which, as we’ve seen, is also developed by therapeutic object interactions. In turn, empathy and self- regulation contribute to self-awareness, the most important psychological
The museum—wellness connection 181 skill of all. Opening oneself to the emotional world of others, communicating effectively, building trust, contributing to a culture of collaboration: all of these behaviors grow from a base in self-awareness. And yet, empathy has—and should have—limits. It is a resource which can be depleted. When the work of a museum staff member or volunteer becomes impossible because of over-exposure to emotional situations, or when harm results to visitors because a staff member can no longer demonstrate empathy or self-regulation, the consequences of compassion fatigue can be challenging and far-reaching. Healthy organizational culture is, of course, the best protection against compassion fatigue. In such an environment, staff and volunteers communicate effectively, are aware of each other’s emotional status, and find many ways of supporting one another in stressful situations. Healthy organizations encourage members to be open to giving and receiving appropriate and supportive emotional feedback, embracing and resolving conflicts, developing pathways of self- assessment and self-regulation, and consistently emphasizing the importance of self-reflection. Additionally, organizational culture works best when staff and volunteers feel a sense of sharing and collective ownership of the overarching aims of the organization: searching for knowledge and meaningful answers together, finding useful solutions to complex problems, developing creativity and collaborative imagination. Facilitate the therapeutic—but don’t do therapy As the many examples in this book show, working with objects in museum settings can be very therapeutic. But it is not therapy, or counseling, or psychoanalysis. Those practices require training in their specific disciplines as well as clinical experience and clinical supervision. It is not possible to learn those skills in a few hours—or even a few hundred hours—of training in a museum context. If staff or volunteers who participate in museum activities designed to be therapeutic are not aware of the risks of going too far with participants—of leading them too quickly or too deeply into emotional states—the results can be catastrophic for everyone. Psychotherapeutic projects in museums work best when mental health professionals are on site, involved in or facilitating activities, present and able to respond to situations that are beyond the scope of practice of museum staff or volunteers. Staff and volunteers can learn to support participants in therapeutic activities, to direct or redirect them, and much excellent work can be done by people who are not explicitly trained as mental health professionals. But it is neither safe nor ethical to lead participants in explicitly therapeutic activities unless someone with professional skill and qualifications is present. Please see the next chapter for more information and practical recommendations.
182 Implications for museums Inform visitors of potential emotional activation This might hurt. Prior warning of impending physical discomfort (such as a vaccination, or the removal of a band-aid) tends to make the discomfort worse. But, with emotional discomfort, advance warning is the best strategy. Preparedness for the possibility of strong emotion is crucial whenever visitors are welcomed into a museum environment that contains provocative material. Surprise is the enemy of calm. Surprised and emotionally activated visitors lose their self-regulation and often their ability to control basic behavior. The healthiest environment is one in which visitors are encouraged to be open to provocation but not corralled by it, facilitated toward emotional awareness but not overwhelmed by it. The duty of care, for a museum working therapeutically, is to stay within a range that in the mental health field is termed safe enough: uncomfortable, perhaps, even highly intensive and activating—but as long as visitors remain in control, as long as they are not hostage to dissociation, freezing, hypervigilance, or anger, they can (usually) navigate safely. Once again, mental health professionals are in the best position to help museums find the right balance. That balance is not always easy to achieve. And yet, it is foundational in any pursuit of health and wellbeing in a museum setting. As museum scholars Stacey Mann and Danny M. Cohen (2017) emphasize in their insightful article Crying at the Museum: A Call for Responsible Emotional Design: We must avoid the urge to manipulate our visitors to feel specific emotions. This can prohibit learners from experiencing a holistic response to content, and may stand in the way of critical thinking about the artifacts and ideas on display. Responsible exhibition design gives learners the opportunity to respond to content in natural, authentic, and complex ways and, in turn, supports visitors in their idiosyncratic responses. When developing an exhibition, as with any form of storytelling, we are building emotional and intellectual trust with visitors. If that trust is broken, it remains difficult to win back. Craft appropriate trigger warnings Based on our experience with emotionally activating content in museum settings, we recommend that museums consider informing visitors, in advance, of exhibition content that may be emotionally activating. However, when museums take these steps they also incur a secondary risk: the warnings will provoke emotions, and those emotions will be somewhat contagious. This is the same mechanism at work in the strategy of effective band-aid removal: if you let people know that this might hurt, it probably will. The middle ground here is to inform but not alarm, to give visitors options and reminders of their own capacity. Prior warning messages work best when they use language that emphasizes self-regulation and resilience, that reinforces freedom of approach with judgment and self-awareness.
The museum—wellness connection 183 In general, words such as caution, warning, and stop! tend to increase anxiety and activation. Trigger warning is particularly problematic. Conversely, words such as remember, care, connect, and practice are likely to encourage visitors to apply the emotional skills that will assist them in navigating the current moment. Although every situation will be slightly different, positive and helpful messages tend to have the following character: Remember to take care of yourself. Stay connected. You decide how much of this to see. Some visitors have strong reactions. Your reactions are unique to you. It’s OK to be emotional. Reach out if you need help. Do this in your own way. Practice safety. But, of course, positive messaging is not a panacea; it won’t work for everyone or every situation. For a visitor who is not able to contain their emotions—for whatever reason—no amount of positive messaging will mollify them. Please see the next chapter for more information and recommendations for specific situations. Provide personal encounters and visibility In situations of emotional arousal, connection with others is often the most effective balm. In a museum setting, therapeutic activities are best facilitated in small groups or partnered pairs. Conversely, encouraging individual wandering is generally not safe when strong emotions might result. People do not do well on their own (in a museum or anywhere else). For example, a large, empty gallery that contains emotionally provocative content is a significant risk to visitors, volunteers, and staff. But the presence of just one person, in such a situation—a friendly, empathic, self-aware person— can reduce the risk (but cannot, ever, remove it completely). Create flexible pathways for encounter The spiral labyrinths used by Ross and Jason in their work possess a feature that is often overlooked: they have a multitude of pathways but only one center. The center is a place of stillness, possibly, and reflection, and integration. But surrounding the center is a zone of infinite pathways of discovery. One can walk the central spiral pathway, or move back and forth, or skip over the placed boundaries and wander anywhere within the space. These labyrinths are not mazes, not designed to disorient. Rather, they are designed to orient the participant to their own journey, their own choices.
184 Implications for museums The spiral nudges but does not demand. Participants can use their autonomy to create from the path whatever journey they wish: fast, slow, urgent, dawdling. This flexibility is the key to emotional safety in therapeutic environments. We often say, do as much or as little as you like. Participants must be encouraged to stay safe, to be aware, to find their own rhythms in the unfolding work. In a museum setting, this means creating flexible pathways and many options for physical (and emotional) navigation: passages and pathways in which participants can move about, find different levels of engagement, see and know that they can exit easily at any time. No deadends, blocked exits, or enforced pathways. Provide space and tools for reflection and containment We have seen many excellent examples of museums using simple tools— paper cards, sticky notes, magnetic feeling words—to encourage visitors to share their emotions in public and private ways. These are excellent strategies for cultivating emotional expression and safety. They are also useful in promoting self-reflection and self-awareness. An entire field of mental health treatment (bibliotherapy) utilizes the written word as a primary tool (Reiter 2009). In museum settings, simple practices involving handwritten words (or words chosen from among a selection) can be highly effective in helping participants make sense of what they are feeling. These practices work best when participants can see what others have written, and their own contributions can be either private or shared as they wish (again, with emphasis on flexibility, as with labyrinths). Participants need both time and space to reflect and express. It is best to devote a calm, welcoming space to this purpose. Providing tea and water is also good practice for these spaces and serves to emphasize the reflective mood that is best suited to written expression. Ideally, a calm room, seating, or a comfortable outdoor space such as a garden—a safe space—should be close at hand whenever museum environments are likely to provoke strong emotions. Again, the duty of care rests with the museum: to be sure that in serving the public good, individual patrons are respected, acknowledged, and honored.
Note 1 The palmar grasp reflex is one of the earliest reflexes to appear in human life. It can be exhibited by infants in the womb as young as 16 weeks (Sherer 1993).
14 Working with trauma, grief, and related challenges
Some new and powerful exhibition experience trends include a greater focus on emotional engagement and linkages to broader social activity. Within these immersive, intellectually active, visitor-directed experiences, heightened emotions (and even discord) are often part of the experience. These exhibitions often include programming, reflective spaces, and opportunities to share, look and listen—with the intent of raising awareness and consciousness. However, a necessary consideration for such exhibitions—indeed for any museum that presents deeply sensitive content—is the psychology that is activated (intentionally or otherwise) and the need for mindful practice. Encountering raw emotions—outrage, anger, grief—can heal as well as harm. As noted by Chatterjee and Noble (2009, 51): Working with individuals who are facing mental and physical health challenges is a relatively new area of work for museums and may cause concern, distress, fear or anxiety for those running such projects. Accordingly, this chapter presents an overview of current interests and challenges in designing for exhibitions that are likely to provoke strong emotions. Here we take the general observations and recommendations of the previous chapter and explore them in specific scenarios. Ross and Jason present clinical considerations for working with trauma, grief, and similar issues, and they share their clinical perspectives on the ethical responsibility of museums for visitor reaction and response. They also suggest further pathways for creating or facilitating support mechanisms to assist visitors in engaging and processing emotional content.
Trauma In the mental health field, clinicians use the term vicarious trauma to describe a range of situations in which people are traumatized by witnessing the trauma of others (Rothschild 2006). It is often associated with counselors and care workers, is related to compassion fatigue, and is sometimes called secondary traumatic stress or secondary victimization. Despite the
186 Implications for museums plethora of terms, the impact of vicarious trauma is specific: it is trauma, like any other, and it impacts the body-mind in profound and lasting ways. Vicarious trauma is not a lighter or less serious form of trauma. Like other traumas, vicarious trauma can happen quickly and unexpectedly, can circumvent even the best psychological defenses, and can be a serious illness (Brantbjerg 2004). When museums create provocative exhibitions, some visitors will experience vicarious trauma. This cannot be avoided—but it can be planned for, and the risks of lasting damage can be mitigated through mindful design and engagement. After all, protecting people from the many kinds of trauma in the world is not always helpful. War, natural disasters, diseases, cultural genocides, and other issues that provoke psychological stress are important aspects of the human story; grappling with them, learning about them, reflecting upon them is how we learn, how we make different choices—perhaps—about who we wish to be: It’s a whole different world when you see the objects. In life it’s easier to run away from great losses and that place and the objects that make you think of them. (Study Participant) In all situations with people, the goal of not traumatizing anyone is not achievable. However, the goals of connecting, working toward trust in relationships, cultivating belonging and hope, finding unity in diversity, exploring pathways of health and healing: those goals are achievable with most people and in most situations. If people are aware, engaged, and interactive, much can be done. Often, in the clinical work of Ross and Jason, we must prepare clients for situations that are likely to be traumatic: court appearances, incarceration, enforced addictions treatment, and so on. Even family meetings can be traumatic, as can family separation. It is best, in these situations, to recognize the risk of trauma and to take practical steps to prepare. The same is true of any person in any environment: sometimes things are hard, we know we will be hurt, and we need to go forward anyway. What does that look like in a museum setting? How might museums encourage visitors to encounter exhibitions that might well traumatize them? Where is the zone of safe enough—in which visitors can encounter intensely provocative situations but not accrue lasting harm? In the following sections we provide our clinical perspectives on these questions and offer recommendations for finding the middle ground.
Understanding the mechanisms of trauma Trauma is an experience that exceeds our ability to manage the stress of the moment (Levine and Frederick 1997; van der Kolk 2015). In clinical terms, trauma breaks containment: we lose our self-regulation, we are drawn into
Trauma, grief, and related challenges 187 instinctive coping, and we are usually unaware of what’s happening. This is how trauma can happen invisibly and can go unseen. It is unusual for a person to notice that they are being traumatized while it’s happening. One of the defining features of trauma involves the bypassing of (most of) our cognition: we just act—and we don’t notice. Therefore, in a museum setting, asking people if they feel traumatized is not an effective strategy for helping. Deeper approaches must be used, and they in turn must be based on knowledge of the dynamics involved in traumatic imprinting. Traumatic situations involve high levels of emotional and psychological stress. That stress, in turn, damages our ability to modulate the thoughts and emotions we are experiencing. We enter into a primordial consciousness that is focused on survival. The situation does not have to be authentically threatening to our survival—most traumas are not. But in the moment, as events unfold, as the stress of exposure increases and our coping abilities vanish, the defenses of our psychology begin to crumble and the body takes over. The body possesses millions of years of evolutionary wisdom about survival. It knows—without hesitation, without doubt, without thinking— how it will respond. The human animal has perfected four distinct pathways of response: flight, freeze, orient, or fight (Levine and Frederick 1997). These pathways are deeply interwoven with childhood development (Bentzen and Hart 2015) and the nervous system. They are automatic, autonomic, and highly effective—at least, effective from the point of view of the body, which simply wants to survive. But what if the situation is not a threat to our survival? What if we’ve just entered a museum gallery and we see a whip once used in the slave trade, the crushed remains of human beings, or photographs of a mass execution? There is no risk to our physical safety in these situations, no threat to our survival. But as trauma clinicians know, our particular vulnerabilities to trauma are the result of our previous histories, our experiences and our cultures, our prior exposure to trauma and its sequelae: what’s happening now, in the gallery, is the direct result of what happened then, to me or my people: I was sure I would cry but I didn’t think I would cry so much. When I came the second time I avoided those objects but there were new ones that made me cry. (Study Participant) I tried to even figure out how I would come; should I. I came to the opening and I just cried with every object. (Study Participant) We respond to these moments—flight, freeze, orient, fight. We seek to escape, or we shut down, or we become anxious, or we get angry. Perhaps we start with one response and then shift to another. Or we blend them together. People are different; many things can happen. Although individual stress responses play out in a multitude of ways, they share one common feature: the responses lock (Levine 2004). The deep
188 Implications for museums coping mechanisms of the nervous system are not transient states when it comes to trauma. The patterns of behavior and emotion that accompany these states—driftiness, depression, fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, impatience, overwhelm, and many others—persist long after the event. Sometimes they resolve in the days and weeks following exposure—people will say I felt weird after that experience, but I’m OK now—and sometimes they do not. In their clinical practices, Jason and Ross often work with clients struggling to recover from traumatic situations that are decades in the past, and that often stretch back to early childhood (Bentzen 2015; Levine 2004). In a museum setting, visitors can be traumatized vicariously by exposure to intense exhibitions. Or, their preexisting trauma can be re-awakened by such intensity. Volunteers can be traumatized by exposure to visitors in distress. In their efforts to support visitors and volunteers, staff can be traumatized both vicariously and directly. They can also become overwhelmed with compassion fatigue, or hollowed out by empathy depletion. As emphasized by Chatterjee and Noble in their work with evaluating museum object experiences (2009, 50): Negative outcomes of cultural encounters should not be overlooked when developing and evaluating the impact of museums… cultural encounters can elicit deep emotional responses; this may include unearthing negative emotions and remembering negative experiences, thoughts or ideas. These are serious risks. Should museums avoid them altogether? Not at all. Trauma is a wound, yes, but it is also a great teacher if handled properly. With help from mental health professionals, museums can—and should— implement processes for containing stressful exposure and for helping visitors (and staff, and volunteers) understand and manage their experiences. After all, this is how the trauma clinician works (Jørgensen 2004; Levine and Frederick 1997; Picton 2004): by helping to contain activated clients, helping them identify locked imprints, and assisting them in learning the skills of self-regulation required to shift and unlock deeply-held patterns in the body and the nervous system. These shifts happen in therapy (Novak and Hukovskky 2017), and they can happen in facilitated museum activities. As we emphasized in the previous chapter, museum professionals are not clinicians. However, many clinicians are trained in trauma work. Two well-known and robust clinical models for working with trauma are the Bodynamic system,1 developed by Lisbeth Marcher and her colleagues, and Somatic Experiencing, 2 developed by Peter Levine. Bodynamics is best known internationally, and Somatic Experiencing is best known in the United States. Both systems share the same roots in developmental somatic psychology, which focuses on the integration between our present experience and developmental resonances, or imprints, that manifest in
Trauma, grief, and related challenges 189 traumatic and stressful situations. Mental health professionals trained in trauma work can help museums develop structures and systems to reduce (but never completely eliminate) the likelihood of vicarious trauma, to respond ethically and professionally to situations of trauma, and to honor the duty of care that accompanies work with the general public.
Grief and loss I see that it was other people in Bosnia too, not just here. I think of how hard it must have been for the small villages. I feel sad for the kids who lost friends and saw death. (Study Participant) Grief and loss are essential features of human life. Because of their ubiquity, it’s easy to underestimate the impact of grief and loss in people’s lives. Moreover, our cultural norms tend to minimize these impacts and to disparage those who do not quickly bounce back. Despite these values and norms, grief and loss can be debilitating, and indefinitely so. Indeed, grief can be lasting trauma. It’s useful to think about grief and loss in slightly different ways. Loss can be described in simple terms, as “experiences that we wished/wanted to be better than what they were, more than what we had, or different than what was experienced” (James and Friedman 2009). Many people can experience the same loss but with different impacts. For example, in one of our case studies, a participant shared two cameras with us. One was hers, and one had been her father’s (and a gift from him). As she described the cameras, and her feelings about them, it became clear that her father’s camera represented at least two emotions: her grief about her father’s death but also her keen sense of loss in response to his absence from her life. These emotions were distinct; they carried different (but related) meanings. One member of our team—Jason—had a strong reaction to the subject’s story. At the time, neither the subject nor the other interviewers knew that Jason had also received the gift of a camera; in his case, from his grandmother, before she passed away. Therefore, the story of the two cameras in the interview resonated with Jason, reconnected him with his own, personal and similar loss. Loss affects everyone, and can be triggered and re-triggered in surprising ways, such as when seeing an item of clothing on display: The story of the child’s bodice and the whole life of that object just stood out, brought back a lot of memories. I thought so much about death — it was a lot — the death of my father and grandmother. (Study Participant) Grief is loss on a deeper level. Loss is inevitable in the human experience; however, grief is what the body experiences when loss has happened and we are in the midst of processing it. Grief typically develops in situations
190 Implications for museums of extreme loss: absence, disability, death. Like trauma, it is a coping and survival response deep in the nervous system and is not readily accessible to modulation via the thinking mind. Grief just takes over, and we succumb. However, as with trauma, natural rhythms and resolutions often accompany the grieving process. For almost all situations of grief, relief comes with time (except in special cases of extreme trauma, such as the loss of a child). We move through our emotional processing, and we move forward. However, sometimes grief can lock—just like trauma—and in those situations it is best to think about grief as traumatic. Common terms for this are complicated grief or unresolved grief. And although these mechanisms play themselves out in distinct ways, they share the common feature of incompleteness: the loss is not yet resolved or finished. Many forms of clinical work for grief are designed to help clients work through the loss towards a process of completion—which does not mean the client will never again feel fragility and vulnerability in relation to the loss. Completion, in these situations, simply means that the client develops the ability to experience those feelings in the present moment differently— in a more contained and modulated way—as the result of finding closure from grief and loss. In this sense, recovery from grief is almost identical to recovery from trauma: both require self-regulation. In the museum setting, helping visitors navigate grief and loss means helping find pathways that nudge toward completion. Simple expressions of grief are the beginning of healing, perhaps, but they are not sufficient to carry visitors all the way back from the depths of their inner struggles. Expression must be accompanied by doing, by the rituals and creative practices that people have used for millennia to help them heal. Rituals and creative practices help guide us toward important answers to pressing questions: what remains unspoken, unseen, unheard? How might we craft our necessary messages? In this book, we’ve seen many examples of the power of objects to facilitate these conversations with the self, to help bring containment and completion to those in distress: I think of how giving things away can be curing. People can move on. (Study Participant)
Shame Shame often accompanies trauma, grief, and loss (Brown 2017). People can come to feel that they are the cause of their wounds (sometimes they are), that their punishment is logical and natural, that their suffering is appropriate to their transgressions. I deserved it. Often, in their clinical work, Jason and Ross hear clients describe trauma and grief not as experiences that happened to them but rather as natural consequences of who they are. Such clients do not only say something bad happened to me; they also say I must be bad. These wounds to the core self, to identity and to
Trauma, grief, and related challenges 191 self-regard, are typically the result of repeated traumas over a long period and are usually rooted in childhood neglect, abuse, or trauma (Bentzen 2015). But whatever the cause, the present behavior of such people is almost always in reaction to the past. During a visit to a museum exhibition, such a person might experience nausea and assume they are coming down with a cold. However, the nausea might be their body’s response to the color of paint on the gallery wall—because it is the same color as the room in which they were abused as a child. Sometimes this revelation will come later, sometimes not. But the resonance is there, for people who carry such damage. They are among the most vulnerable in our society; caring for them is complex and requires much trust and safety. Shame is a confluence of many other, prior, emotional experiences and imprints. Shame often combines trauma, grief, and loss, winds them together into a powerful knot that cannot be easily untangled. In the museum setting, working with shame means being aware of these complexities, taking the time to build trust and safety (months, not days or hours), being attentive to moments when visitors might be triggered unexpectedly—and caring for them appropriately when this happens.
Intentional process and design Being aware of the trauma, grief, loss, or shame that visitors might bring (or that staff and volunteers might be experiencing) will allow museums to act professionally and ethically in situations of emotional intensity. An informed and intentional approach to the design, layout, execution, and processing of exhibitions will help deepen the education, experience, evocation, and even provocation that might be utilized—but will do so as safely as possible. As Laura Phillips (in Chatterjee 2008, 203) notes, in her study of object reminiscence at the British Museum: Difficult memories and nostalgia could be triggered through reminiscence, and a positive conclusion to this could not be guaranteed. Museum staff and other professionals must be aware of the power of evoking memories, and recognize the importance of seeking the advice and physical presence of a member of staff with more appropriate training and who knows the participants. Provocation can be an important goal in exhibition design, and certain kinds of exhibitions are well-suited to that approach. At the same time, it is possible for provocative exhibitions to be too activating—to create so much emotional turbulence that personal connection and discussion are impaired or impossible. This was the subject of an interview with exhibition planner and museum strategist Sara DeAngelis:3 We should consider how information is framed for audiences, being focused on results and avoiding content overload… Museums are exhibiting a suite of critical and difficult subjects. It isn’t productive to
192 Implications for museums create feelings of guilt, anger, or hopelessness; rather we should provide information that is actionable, and that suggests means for having real-world impacts and being change agents in larger efforts. In many ways, museums are reflections of the ongoing themes and struggles of people: their traumas and their resilience, their griefs and joys, their pride as well as their shame. Museums are participants in the larger discourse about what humanity is, where it has been, and where it’s going. As Sara notes: We should think about how environments and programs work together to produce concentric rings of impact. Additionally, we should see and empathize with others sharing challenging exhibitions. For example, some co-visitors may have a direct or charged connection with a topic, while for others the subject may be more abstract. How can we consider this range of impacts and provide support for people having very different reactions and experiences to the subject while also fostering awareness and sensitivity to others around themselves? One option is thinking of experiences we create through the lens of exchange among the participants. By allowing spaces for both deep personal reflection and facilitated spaces for discourse, we may be able to support the conditions for more meaningful dialogue. In the absence of a strategic and therapeutic approach to emotional safety, museum exhibitions can—and likely will—harm visitors. This unintended result casts a wide net: traumatized visitors will avoid the museum, will have lasting emotional impacts, will often be unaware of those impacts, and will typically try to forget the whole thing—which, of course, is the opposite of what the museum intends. Navigating the continuum between trauma and safety can be achieved— with mindful attention, professional assistance, and commitment to caring for people. Finding the right balance is possible—if museum practitioners understand the ethical and fiduciary aspects of their practice. However, mental health professionals know that sometimes, despite the proper balance and sensitivity, despite the availability of services and supports, despite careful and mindful attention to process and outcomes, things go wrong. Jason and Ross have grappled with many situations in which clients spiral into crisis, or become homeless, or act out in ways that harm themselves or others. Some problems get worse rather than better, no matter how hard we try, no matter how skilled we are. Sometimes people die. This is the reality of working with human complexity and vulnerability. Anyone seeking to do this kind of work—whether in a museum, in psychotherapy, or elsewhere—needs to be prepared for these possibilities, aware of the ethical and legal dimensions of their actions, and committed to dealing with the consequences of unpredictable human behavior. In their
Trauma, grief, and related challenges 193 article “Crying at the Museum: A Call for Responsible Emotional Design,” museum scholars Stacey Mann and Danny Cohen (2017) affirm: As museum professionals, we must remember that we serve an educational mission. We have a responsibility to make content compelling, but we must be explicit in our planning about our choices, our intentions, and what they will mean for our visitors. If we manipulate learners into experiencing certain responses, at best we risk losing their trust and at worst triggering potential trauma. If we make assumptions about how visitors will likely feel about content, we prevent them from experiencing holistic emotional and intellectual responses. If we oversimplify, sentimentalize, or sensationalize content, we risk misrepresenting the stories we are entrusted to tell, and alienating visitors who identify with those narratives. We must keep visitors at the heart of every design decision to ensure that, while the experiences we create are engaging, visitors’ responses and their learning remain natural and authentic. These themes of responsibility, trust, safety and wellbeing were at the heart of an interview with Tony Butler, Executive Director of Derby Museums and Founder of the United Kingdom’s Happy Museum Project.4 Tony has been promoting initiatives and partnerships among the cultural, mental health, and sustainability sectors for many years. In our conversation, Tony described the need for our various communities to maximize an interconnectedness among social and cultural capital, mental health and wellbeing practices, public policy, and environmental initiatives in order to impact the challenges facing our society today: Museums have inherent qualities as places of trust. They are safe and can access and leverage the social and cultural assets in their communities, build upon existing strengths towards addressing the big challenges such as inequality, homelessness, climate change, and migration. Museums can be places of civic action… If museums deliver their assets with the human in mind, they can address the fundamental need for a more equal and well society and see themselves as places of care. We are in the midst of a global paradigmatic change towards civil justice and social activism, and that’s encouraging. We live in a polarizing world, and we have more in common than we think. This is where museums can make a difference. In seeing the commonalities across our communities we can move towards civil society and change. Museums can form bridges between opposing values, between one side versus another. On a personal level, museums can help individuals to incubate understanding, cooperation, and the agency to solve problems together. To exemplify our human qualities.
194 Implications for museums
Training and competency for museum research and therapeutic activities In this and the previous chapter, we’ve emphasized the importance of museums forging partnerships with mental health professionals. This serves the broader function of museums helping to promote the public good, but it is also specifically important in the context of conducting research and similar activities with a therapeutic focus (such as our case studies, for example). Beyond the regular guidelines that apply to human subjects research, museum professionals wishing to facilitate interviews such as those in this book must seek training and support from mental health professionals. There is simply no other way to develop professional competence in dealing with trauma and related themes. When engaging with participants in the context of sensitive or provocative exhibition content, researchers must anticipate that the act of initiating a dialogue with a subject will likely activate a therapeutic process. As heard in our research, the emotional impact of museum participation can become apparent years following object donation, or one day following a museum visit, or after months of working on staff. During the interview process, subjects often discover previously unknown emotions, thoughts or beliefs which provide researchers with a wealth of information about the human-object relationship—but which are also complex and sometimes difficult to contain. When undertaking any form of museum-based evaluation or research projects involving human subjects, research teams should utilize excellent skills in empathy and active listening. This was a subject of discussion with Randi Korn, Intentional Practice Leader and Founding Director, and Cathy Sigmond, Research Associate, of Randi Korn & Associates, a planning, evaluation, and research firm for museums and cultural organizations. Randi and Cathy are seasoned experts with interviewing formats, and when discussing best practices with interviewing, Cathy Sigmond stressed: Active listening is the most important tool. And, in turn, Randi Korn instructed: When you are conducting evaluation and interviewing participants, it’s about them, not you. Set a slow pace and make sure you understand what they are sharing. 5 These are essential recommendations for anyone approaching qualitative research with participants, and skills such as these cannot be mastered through reading about them; they must be practiced, with supervision, in an environment where a supportive expert is on hand to help when things suddenly go south (as they so often and so dependably do). Active and empathic listening skills are extraordinarily complex. The activation of empathy in a listener also requires activation and awareness of their own emotional state, their resonance with the speaker as well as
Trauma, grief, and related challenges 195 the resonance of the subject matter with the listener’s own history. The listener’s beliefs, biases, and judgments must be laid aside, during the practice of listening—which means they must be grappled with, mapped, and known prior to the interview. The blind spots and unconscious impulses of the listener—both positive and negative—must be known and managed. The speaker responds to innumerable cues sent—intentionally or otherwise—by the listener, and much unspoken discourse occurs when people are talking about something else. The speaker’s voice tone, rhythm, posture, demeanor, eye patterns, clothing, and a multitude of other factors all contribute to the conversation, sending their own messages of support or subversion. Effective listening such as Randi and Cathy mentioned—active, empathic, supportive—is a deep skill that requires much self-awareness, mentorship, and practice. Without training, most people are not good at it (Zenger and Folkman 2018). However, most people are capable of learning how to co-facilitate a basic, supervised, emotional interview—with about 50 hours of training.6 At an introductory level, trainees are not prepared or skilled enough to conduct interviews on their own. They need a professional to be present: in the next chair at the beginning, then nearby, then in the next room, as their skill improves. As we noted earlier, training readers in mental health practices is not part of our aim in this book. Those are complex and consequential skills, and they require much training and experience. We do, however, hope that these glimpses of the challenges—and opportunities—of working with emotional situations in museums encourages readers to pursue the appropriate partnerships and pathways to develop similar initiatives on their own.
Notes 1 https://www.bodynamic.com 2 https://traumahealing.org 3 Sara DeAngelis, in discussion with Brenda Cowan, December 2018. 4 Tony Butler, in discussion with Brenda Cowan, December 2018. 5 Randi Korn and Cathy Sigmond, in discussion with Brenda Cowan, December 2018. https://rka-learnwithus.com 6 An introductory course in client-centered counseling would provide most of the skills necessary, as would a more specific program such as the BodyKnot model (Jarlnaes and Marcher 2004).
A living presence Objects are our partners, our companions, and at times our caregivers and even our teachers. Objects are portents that reach into our personal and communal selves, sparking the awareness that connects us with ourselves and the living world around us. Object experiences and encounters are direct pathways to our fundamental human concepts of self and identity; our feelings of hope, empathy, and power; our memories of the past; and our connections with others. To our humanness. The psychological intricacies underpinning the meaning of objects are linked to wellness in a dynamic primal dance: an interchange of object experience, personal associations, activation of evocative characteristics, and resultant healthful impacts, all alive and kicking in an amazing human-object moment. These Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics—currently seven although we suspect there are more—enable us to see museums as places of health and healing. Healthful museum object encounters occur in highly participatory museum exhibitions, and also in passive moments when a person connects with an object that is for them, a living presence. The journey we have taken alongside and among objects and the people who hold them dear—or who throw them away, gift them, collect them, contribute them, touch them, and make them—has revealed to us that objects are primary, our experiences with them are universal, and our need for them is absolute.
Deconstructing silos, pursuing possibilities, and finding freedom Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics began as the inspiration of a museum professional who found herself immersed in an unfamiliar world of wilderness therapy. Objects used for their healing capacities ignited her imagination, leading to what became a—seemingly obvious—scholarly foray into the world of object-based psychotherapy. In turn, the formation of a cross-disciplinary partnership seemed obvious as well. Through our
Conclusion 197 research we examined how the practices and norms of clinical therapeutic traditions might be joined with museum practices, as many others in our clinical fields are following similar trajectories. This makes sense: as we’ve seen repeatedly throughout this book, therapeutic modalities using objects—whether in the woods or clinical healthcare settings—utilize objects in the same purposeful ways as do museums, where objects can be powerful, communicative, emotional, and personally meaningful. Working interdisciplinarily has been essential to exploring the possibilities in our research and responsibly enact the methodologies we employed. This required learning the languages of different disciplines, following unfamiliar paths, and trusting that the coalescence of our areas of expertise will lead somewhere new. This theme also emerged in our conversation with Elizabeth (Elee) Wood. Elizabeth likewise encouraged the crossing and mingling of disciplinary boundaries for anyone pursuing learning about objects and creating transcendent and transformative object experiences for people: We need to think interdisciplinarily. You need to be open and have a willingness to follow where things are taking you, and finding the pathway, the door to the next thing to think about. Kiersten F. Latham also shared this view and instructed that working with objects is a responsibility that requires freedom: You need to stop worrying about rules and find comfort with constantly learning and not knowing where things will lead. Knowledge lies in the freedom of not knowing. Paul Camic reinforced the opinion that research and mental health practice with objects should be interdisciplinary: It is not always useful to have academic or clinical silos. Objects come from somewhere, they have meaning, and we need to encourage further access to collections and create more forms of engagement… We can work together as clinicians and museum professionals on the mental health problems people face today. Breaking down silos and working across disciplines is a powerful theme in the work that we do with objects and mental health, and it is a requirement for successful engagement with Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics. As we described earlier, there are many possibilities for adapting the framework: as an instrument for examining the impacts of active exhibitions, as a basis for highly participatory community programs, or designing exhibitions towards healthful goals and outcomes. These are all natural applications of the theory that necessitate diverse and multidisciplinary museum/
198 Conclusion healthcare/community partnerships to responsibly enact. As we experienced in our own research process, when approached mindfully, methodically, ethically and with care, interdisciplinary collaborations and diverse museum-mental health partnerships can reveal unexpected universalities and garner everlasting benefits for all involved.
Moving onward, deeply into, and farther beyond Exploring the “why” of objects has been the driving force behind the development of Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics and its introduction into the ongoing dialogue about objects, museums, and wellness. Our work enters into a spectrum of worldwide endeavors to create and promote lasting alliances across the museum and therapeutic communities: professions that are mutually dedicated to understanding, serving, and helping people and the world we live in. These efforts are not new nor are they exclusive. Indeed, these pathways have been formed by insightful and driven scholars and practitioners for decades, whose devotion to understanding the merits of collaboration continue to shape a vision for our future. Through her work in education, communication, museum practice, social work, and research, Lois H. Silverman has been a leader in identifying the role of museums in mental health for over 25 years. Her three-year, collaborative project: Museums as Therapeutic Agents (MATA) at Indiana University (Sandell 2002), brought together a diverse team of museum staff, social and mental health workers, scholars, and students, providing an early model for collaboration. Silverman’s subsequent groundbreaking report The Therapeutic Potential of Museums (1998), introduced the perspective that museums should play a greater role in providing resources for individuals with a variety of mental health challenges. Her contributions continued with The Social Work of Museums (2010), providing a theoretical framework for organizing and creating a foundation upon which museums and social services can serve and influence health, healing, relationship building, and social change. We discussed our work with museum objects and their role in health and healing with Lois,1 who in turn shared her passion and critical insights on the meaningfulness of this arena of research, and the direction such pursuits should take: As I wrote in The Social Work of Museums, “As people engage with objects and each other, museums become containers and catalysts for personal growth, relationship-building, social change, and healing” (2010, p. xi). I view the human-object relationship as a fundamentally social and cultural endeavor, and the essential core of museums’ power to repair the world. In my research and practice, I see firsthand how museum objects and resources foster human relationships: with our selves, loved ones, therapists, strangers, and even enemies. Working collaboratively with wellbeing professionals, I’ve learned that
Conclusion 199 museums can promote therapeutic and health-related outcomes, including self-identity, self-esteem, social role valorization, community integration, and many other universal needs. Objects can take us deeply into ourselves, as well as far beyond ourselves: my current research examines spiritual and transcendent experiences in museums. The times in which we live demand consideration of all healing resources and modalities that make a difference in peoples’ lives and foster social change. In addition to the muchneeded psychological perspectives that your book provides, I feel the most significant work on these subjects lies in the changing face of museum practice and the growing number of museums and cultural institutions around the world that are embracing health and wellbeing- related outcomes, roles, and projects as a matter of course, including art museums. To all who are involved in this multifaceted work, or want to be, I urge you to act on the faith of your convictions about objects and museums, seek out collaborators in unexpected places, be responsibly bold in your research and/or practice, and document, evaluate, and share your discoveries widely. Do the work that calls you and the world will be better for it. In our explorations with Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics, and the intimate stories we encountered along the way, one overarching and resounding theme has emerged: the humanity of our shared experiences in interpretation, relationship, and connection. The work that we do, the objects and experiences we seek to understand, the research we conduct, and the museum and mental health communities that we shape, are meaningful and impactful when they are, at their core, about people. Our research has been an odyssey of surprising and affirming discoveries, of the inherent healthful purpose that underpins our object experiences, and the role that museums therefore play in our wellness. These discoveries, and the ongoing work of the vibrant museum and mental health communities to which we contribute, bring both opportunity and responsibility. It is with these themes of opportunity and responsibility that we move forward, striving to further understand the power and potential of objects— our primal dialogue—and continue to explore their remarkable capacity to awaken in us our fundamental humanity.
Note 1 Lois H. Silverman, in discussion with Brenda Cowan, December 2018.
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Note: Italic page numbers refer to figures and page numbers followed by “n” denote endnotes. ‘action-of-textuality’ 10n3 active listening 194–5 Adair, Vivienne 21n4 adventure therapy 94 “aesthetic encounter” 35 aesthetic flow experience 35 Africa 34, 36 Agents of Faith: Votive Objects in Time and Place exhibition 57 Ahmed, Sara 40, 88 American Alliance of Museums (AAM) 49; Center for the Future of Museums 49 American Museum of Natural History 55 archaeology 22, 149 Arendt, Hannah 24, 42 Art as Experience (Dewey) 25 associating 81–2; object characteristics 81; Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics 135, 146, 157–8, 167; therapeutic competency 81–2 “An Attention-Value Model of Museum Visitors” (Bitgood) 10n8, 90n3 attentiveness 112–14 Australian Central Desert 33 authentic learning 112 awe, as object characteristics 37–8 Baumeister, Roy 4 beads, and wilderness therapy 98–101 Bedford, Leslie 55 being transported, as object characteristic 29, 36–7, 86 biographical objects 31
Bitgood, Stephen 10n8, 90n3 Bodynamic system 188 Bolton Museum and Archive 50 bow-drilling 69, 97; tandem 70 Brown, Steve 32 Butler, Tony 15, 193 Cameron, Catherine 34 Camic, Paul 45–6, 48, 52, 197 Campbell, Joseph 142–3 care: healing 111; for museums staff 177; and vulnerability 111; see also empathy Center for the Future of Museums (AAM) 49 Chatterjee, Helen 50, 52, 89, 177, 178, 185, 188 Clarke, Anne 32 co-creation 69, 70 Cohen, Danny M. 182, 193 communication 2, 22; and learning 27–9; nonverbal 71; passiveaggressive 102; psychosocial function of 28; verbal 17 compassion fatigue 180–1 composing 82–3; object characteristics 82; Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics 135, 146, 158, 167–8; therapeutic competency 82–3 connection: and interviews 126–7, 152; mutual 152; objects and psychological health 126–7; and primal dialogue 152; Wearing Memories 164 “connections bigger than self” 36, 87
212 Index constructivism 27–8 Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum 39 “cosmic self” 87 Cowan, Brenda 5, 19 crafting latterns 106–8, 117 creative energy 111 creative play 114; and trauma recovery 173 creativity: lanterns making 106–8; and objects 109; as teacher 114 The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (Husserl) 24 Critchley, Hugo 4 “Crying at the Museum: A Call for Responsible Emotional Design” (Mann and Cohen) 182, 193 Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi 24, 26, 52, 53n5, 87, 127 cultural artifacts 34 Cultural LIFE survey 49 cultural museum artifacts 2 culture: human 107; university 110 Dalai Lama 4–5 DeAngelis, Sara 191–2 Delibegovic, Melisa 5, 124, 137–8 Denning, Greg 31 The Derby Museum and Art Gallery 6, 9, 47, 89, 124, 126–7, 128; case study 152–3; Happy Museum Project 150; interviews and connection concept 152; museum audience members post-visit interview script 150; museum staff/volunteer follow-up interview script 151; museum staff/ volunteer interview script 150; object contributors interview script 150; Objects of Love 149–50; overview 149; psychological relationship with 154–5 Derby Museums Trust 149–50 Dewey, John 25, 27, 52 Dietz, Pia 37 ‘discursive interaction’ 4, 10n3 Doidge, Norman 5 Dudley, Sandra 10n4, 40 Edelman, Gerald 25 emotional activation 182 emotional safety 116–17 emotional sensitivity: of interviews 122
emotions: and donation 134; grief 189–90, 191; loss 189–90, 191; trauma see trauma empathic listening 194–5 empathy 3, 29, 33, 79; building skill in 180; dynamic 33; imagined 37; from leaders 179–80; as object characteristics 37–8; training museum staff in 180–1; training volunteers in 180–1; see also emotions empirical research: criteria 121–4; identifying museum collaborators 122; on objects and psychological health 121–8; process and findings 124–8; psychological health 121–8; The War Childhood Museum 137–48 “Enrichment Programmes in Hospitals: Using Museum Loan Boxes in University College London Hospital” (Chatterjee) 50 environmental sensibilities 38–9 evocative objects 30–3; numinous 30–3 Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (Turkle) 30, 85 exhibition(s): content and personal connections 176–7; design 22; evaluation 22; provocation 191; purpose of 175; see also specific exhibitions facilitation 112–14 Fashion Institute of Technology 85, 161 Fashion Unraveled exhibition 124, 161, 163 Feinberg, Matthew 37 Fibonacci sequence 107 flow experience 34–5, 53n5; aesthetic 35 flow-like meditative experiences 35 Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Csikszentmihalyi) 53n5 ‘found object process’ 10n2, 45–7 found objects: and healing 45–7; theory 52 Frederick, Ursula 32 Froggett, Lynn 47 “From Trashed to Treasured: A Grounded Theory Analysis of the Found Object” (Camic) 45 Gatewood, John 34 giving/receiving 83–4; object characteristics 83; Psychotherapeutic
Index 213 Object Dynamics 135, 146, 158, 168; therapeutic competency 83–4 Glasgow Museum 50 Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft (Laird) 64, 73, 118 grief 3, 30, 55, 77; described 189; management of museum visitors 189–90; and shame 191; see also loss grounded theory approach 125
interviews: and connection 126–7, 152; emotional sensitivity of 122; empirical research 121–8; findings for The War Childhood Museum research 138–44; The National September 11 Memorial & Museum 129–36; process and findings 124–8
Hahn, Kurt 93 Hannon, Brian 65, 68 Happy Museum Project 49, 124, 128n1, 150, 180 haptic perception 40–2 Harvey, David 57 healing 111; found objects and 45–7; museums as place for 141–2; personal, and object making 118; psychological 5, 76, 123; trauma 3, 5, 84; and traumatic subjects 123 Healing Heritage research program 50 healthful object experiences with museums 47–9 Heidegger, M. 53n2 Hein, George 27 Heritage in Hospitals project 50 Hesse, Hermann 95 heuristic methodology 121 Holocaust 55 Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean 28 Hoskins, Janet 30 “human connectedness” 81 human consciousness 4, 24, 42 human-object relationship 2, 22, 29, 43, 54, 56, 89, 194; mindfulness 156; and museums 121–8; wellbeing 156 Husserl, Edmund 24, 53n2; definition of phenomenology 53n2 Huth, Geof 19, 20 “hypnoglyph” 4, 53n14
Kabat-Zinn 4 Keller, Helen 27 Keltner, Dacher 37 Korn, Randi 194–5 Kroger, Jane 21n4
identity 127; object of 127; selfawareness 127, 153–4; self-definition 127, 153–4 “identity work” 127 “imagined empathy” 37 Indiana University 198 inner world 108–10; and learning 108–10 integrated self 26 intentionality 79
labyrinths: common features of 109; hastily-crafted 109; and human culture 107; as sacred space 109 Laird, Ross 5, 64, 72, 90 Lamonaca, Marianne 57 Lanceley, A. 89 lanterns crafting 106–8, 117 Latham, Kiersten F. 21n1, 29, 35, 52, 55, 197 learning 22, 108; active 28; authentic 112; experiential 28; and inner world 108–10; and play 107 learning community see pilgrims Lemonnier, Pierre 17, 21n2 letters 98–101 Levine, Peter 188 ‘lifeworld’ 9n1; elements of 90n2; intentionality and 79; perception in 53n1 listening: active 194–5; empathic 194–5 logarithmic spiral 107 loss: described 189; management of museum visitors 189–90; and shame 191; see also grief Lydon, Jane 42 McKeown, Jason 5, 65, 67, 90 making 84–5; object characteristics 84; Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics 135, 146–7, 159, 168; and tending fire 97–8; therapeutic competency 84–5 Maldonado, Elaine 18, 18 Manchester Art Gallery 50 Manchester Museum 50 Mann, Stacey 182, 193 Marchand, Trevor 85
214 Index Marcher, Lisbeth 42, 152, 188 material culture 2, 22 ‘materiality’ 10n4, 16, 40–1, 44, 56–7 material objects 31, 43, 52 “Material objects and psychological theory: A conceptual literature review” (Solway, Camic, Thomson, and Chatterjee) 52 Maxson, Shane 65, 67, 69–70 media studies 22 Mehrabian, Albert 95 memories, and objects 165 Menon, U. 89 mental health practices: collaboration with museum professionals 176; and objects 175 mentorship, and leaders 179–80 Metropolitan Museum of Art 38 Middle East 34 mindfulness: and The Derby Museum and Art Gallery 154–5; and personal objects 155–6 minimalism 97 Misplaced Objects: Migrating Cultures and Recollections in Europe and the Americas (Spitta) 19 Mitten, David 85 Moustakas, Clark 10n9 mundane (domestic) cultural antiquities 2 The Museum at FIT 6, 7, 124, 126; Fashion Unraveled exhibition 124, 161, 163; overview 161; post visit audience members interview script 161–2; Wearing Memories 124, 161, 163 museum community: and ethical responsibilities 178; supporting 177–9; therapeutic organizational development 179–84; and therapeutic perspective 177 museum exhibition development 22 Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver 72 museums: collaborators 122; competency for therapeutic activities 194–5; healthful object experiences with 47–9; and human-object experience 121–8; and object-based participatory engagement 121–8; as place of healing, openness and sharing 141–2; psychotherapeutic systems 173; and range of content
123; research, training for 194–5; therapeutic engagement in 174–7; The War Childhood Museum 123; see also specific museums Museums, Health and Wellbeing (Chatterjee and Noble) 51 Museums as Therapeutic Agents (MATA) 198 Museums on Call: How Museums are Addressing Health Issues report 49 museums staff 143–4, 191, 194; care for 177; compassion fatigue training of 180–1; interview script 150–1; and therapeutic activities 181; training of 177, 180–1 museum studies 2, 8, 65 museum visitors 143–4; on connection with objects 126–7; emotional activation 182; and intense exhibitions 188; interviewing 144–5; and memories 165; and museum spaces 144; and museum staff members 144; and museum environments 175–7; and personal empowerment 166; trigger warnings 182–3; and Wearing Memories exhibition 164 music 114–16 mutual connection 152 narrative psychotherapy 22 National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Human Subject Research Guidelines 129, 137 The National September 11 Memorial & Museum 1, 6, 9, 47–8, 123, 127, 128; object-based interactions interviews 129–36; overview 129; and Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics 129–30 natural sculptures 104–5 neuroplasticity 3, 5, 44 neuro-semantics 22 The New Economics Foundation 10n5, 51 Noble, Guy 50, 51, 177, 185, 188 nonverbal communication 71 nonverbal communicators 71 nostalgia 191 numinosity and flow: as object characteristics 34–7 numinous objects 33–4
Index 215 object-based participatory engagement 121; and content range 123 object-based pilgrimages 1 object-based therapeutic methods 79–80 object-based therapy 24, 76, 79–80 object characteristics 23, 29–38, 90n1; awe and empathy 37–8; evocative objects 30–3; numinosity and flow 34–7; numinous 33–4; object knowledge framework 29 object donation 121–2, 127, 142, 143, 145, 176–8, 194 object donors: and dynamic of composing 82–3; interview script for The War Childhood Museum 138; on meaningfulness of objects 141; and museum staff 143; The National September 11 Memorial & Museum 123, 127–8, 132; and war childhood experience 139–40 Object Knowledge Framework 29, 34–5 object physicality 23, 38–42; environmental and somatic sensibilities 38–9; haptic perception, touch, and self 40–2; surface and stickiness 39–40 object-relations theory 47, 53n8 objects 196; biographical 31; blurred, blended, and interconnected 52–3; clinical practices 52; cognition and perception 23–5; communication and learning 27–9; and creativity 109; evocative 30–3; functions of 21n4; healthful object experiences with museums 47–9; of identity 127; identity and socialization 25–7; material 31; and memories 165; and mental health practices 175; mindful and meaningful interactions with 118; museum objects, touch, and wellbeing 49–52; and power 127–8, 133; and psychological development 23–9; and psychological health 23, 121–8; purposeful work with 112; scholars and the literature 23–53; semiotic power of 10n3; symbolic 21n4, 101–3; therapeutic 105; and therapeutic work 117; touching 157; and transformative experience 23 The Objects of Experience: Transforming Visitor-Object
Encounters in Museums (Wood and Latham) 29 Objects of Love 149–50 Object Stories: Artifacts and Archaeologists (Brown, Clarke and Frederick) 32 objectworld 29, 53n3 Olsen, Larry 94 O’Neill, Mark 53n9 outer world 108–10 Outward Bound 93 Paddon, Hannah L. 89 pain 3, 77 palmar grasp reflex 184n1 “participant” 6–9, 10n7, 26, 37–8, 43 passive-aggressive communication 102 Pearce, Susan 25 The People’s History Museum 50 permission: and personal objects 156–7 perrisological resonators 17, 21n2, 82 personal objects: and mindfulness 155–6; and permission 156–7; and wellbeing 155–6; see also objects personal self 26 phenomenology 2; Husserl’s definition of 53n2 Phillips, Laura 191 photographs 98–101 Pickford’s House 149 Piff, Paul 37 pilgrimages, object-based 1 pilgrims 106–8; within labyrinth 111 Pitman, Heidi 33 play: and engagement 112; and learning 107 Portland Basin Museum 50 power 26, 33, 43–4, 68, 77, 127–8; and objects 127–8, 133; and self-identity 163–4; and sense of self 127–8; theme in Wearing Memories 166 power of objects: humanness 55–8; universal 58–60 primal dialogue 64 prosocial behavior 3, 87 provocation 191 psychic transactions 79 psychological development: cognition and perception 23–5; communication and learning 27–9; identity and socialization 25–7; objects and 23–9 “Psychological Flow and the Numinous Museum Experience,” Latham 35
216 Index psychological healing 5, 76, 123 psychological health 4, 42–53; blurred, blended, and interconnected 52–3; clinical practices 52; empirical research 121–8; found objects and healing 45–7; healthful object experiences with museums 47–9; museum objects, touch, and wellbeing 49–52; and objects 23, 121–8 psychology 2, 22 psychotherapeutic object dynamics 2, 33, 76–8, 117–18, 121, 125, 144–8, 176–7, 196; association 135, 146, 157–8, 167; composing 135, 146, 158, 167–8; connection concept 152–7; development of 198; giving/receiving 135, 146, 158, 168; interrelationships 89–90; making 135, 146–7, 159, 168; and The National September 11 Memorial & Museum 129–30; releasing/unburdening 136, 147, 159, 168–9; synergizing 147–8, 159, 169; touching 159–60, 169 psychotherapy 2, 21; contemporary approaches in 93–4; creative activities 117; and museum/exhibit design 174; narrative 22 releasing/unburdening 85–6, 136, 147, 159, 168–9; object characteristics 85; therapeutic competency 86 remembrance, and objects 165 resilience 5, 70–1 Rochberg-Halton, Eugene 87, 127 Roman paganism 33 Rounds, Jay 26, 127 sacred space 109, 110 St. Paul’s Cathedral 109 Salford Museum and Art Gallery 50 Salom, Andree 34–5, 177 Sanchez, Ezekiel 94 secondary traumatic stress 185 secondary victimization 185 self: cosmic 87; integrated 26; object physicality 40–2; personal 26; small 37, 87; social 26 self-awareness 3, 5, 22, 31, 44, 54, 79, 127, 153–4 self-definition 127, 153–4 self-identity, and power 163–4; see also identity
self-object-society relationship 26 semiotic power of objects 10n3 shame 190–1; and grief 191; and loss 191; and trauma 191 Sigmond, Cathy 194–5 Silk Mill 149 Silverman, Lois H. 22, 52, 55, 198 “small self” 37, 87 social culture 28 social environment 26, 28 social hierarchy 26, 127 Social Prescription initiatives 47 social sciences 2, 21 social self 26 “The Social Work of Museums” (Silverman) 198 Solway, Rob 52 somatic experiencing 188 somatic sensibilities 38–9 spirituality 22–3, 29 Spitta, Silvia 19, 30 Stancato, Daniel 37 A Stone’s Throw: The Enduring Nature of Myth (Laird) 73, 118 Sullivan, Anne 27 SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology 122 surface and stickiness 39–40 symbolic objects 101–3 synergizing 86–8, 145, 147–8, 159, 169; object characteristics 87; therapeutic competency 87–8 Taborsky, Edwina 10n3 “tactile memory” 89 Takseva, Tatjana 178 tandem bow-drilling 70 theory, creation of: among the totems 72–6; co-creation 69, 70; encounters in the wild 65–72; genesis of psychotherapeutic object dynamics 76–8; giving and receiving 70; hope and potential 67–8; nonverbal communicators 71; power 68; resilience 70–1; unburdening 67 theory of constructivism 27 therapeutic engagement 174; in museum settings 174–7 therapeutic objects 105 therapeutic organizational development 179–84; appropriate trigger warnings 182–3; empathy and mentorship from leaders 179–80; flexible
Index 217 pathways for encounter 183–4; personal encounters and visibility 183; potential emotional activation, informing visitors on 182; space and tools for reflection 184; staff and volunteers’ training in empathy and compassion fatigue 180–1 “The Therapeutic Potential of Museums” (Silverman) 198 therapeutic work: and objects 117 thingness 26, 53n2 Thomson, L.J. 52, 89 “Tools: Extending Our Reach” exhibition 39 “Touch in Museums” (Chatterjee) 50 touch/touching 41, 49–52, 88–9; museum objects and 49–52; object characteristics 88; object physicality 40–2; objects 157; Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics 159–60, 169; therapeutic competency 88–9 Trails Carolina 6, 63–5, 76, 125, 127, 136 transformative human experiences 23 transpersonal association 142; see also healing trauma: described 185–6; healing 3, 5, 84; mechanisms of 186–9; recovery, and direct creative engagement 173; and shame 191 trigger warnings 182–3 Turkle, Sherry 30
unburdening 67 university culture 110 unselfconscious somatic knowledge 39 verbal communication 17 vicarious trauma: described 185–6; and provocative exhibitions 186 visitor studies 22 volunteerism 47 vulnerability: and care 111; evoking 117 Vygotsky, Lev 28 war childhood experience 139–40 The War Childhood Museum 6–7, 9, 26, 47–8, 83, 86–7, 123; empirical research 137–48; interview findings 138–44; object donors interviews 137–8; overview 137 Wearing Memories 124, 161, 163; human connection 164; and power theme 166; and remembrance 165; repairing and repurposing of garments in 165–6 Weinryb, Ittai 57 wellbeing 49–52; and The Derby Museum and Art Gallery 154–5; indicators 10n5; museum objects and 49–52; and personal objects 155–6 wholism 142, 152; see also healing wilderness therapy 5, 9, 63–6, 71, 93 Wilson, Frank 73 Wood, Elizabeth (Elee) 29, 52, 56, 197