Animation Therapy and Therapeutic Animation

I consider two categories to my research into animation therapy, one is using animation to create a therapeutic film for the individual to watch, and the other is allowing the individual to use animation as a therapeutic process; both by creating and watching back the piece. Since deciding to pursue the combination of animation and therapy, my outlook has progressed. Now, after thorough research, I know that taking part in the making of the films is an important aspect as it allows me to understand more closely what is ‘therapeutic’ and what isn’t.  


Another factor I have explored and thought much about is that the process must be defined according to the skillset of the individuals generating the associated animation piece, i.e. professional animators, or amateurs (usually counsellors or art therapists, or patients). I carried out extensive research into psychotherapy and art therapy and the new field of Animation Therapy and I was pleased with documented results which I pulled together in an essay. I captured the most salient points below as they underpin a significant bulk of my MA. 


In essence, there is no disputing the fact that counselling helps and that people benefit from therapy to release them from the burden of negative, restricting emotions. Controversy has always surrounded psychotherapy. Sigmund Freud laid the foundation or inspiration for modern psychotherapy. He postulated a rationale for how everyone thinks and feels. However, he believed that psychosexual development was the basis for adult behavior and feelings, and that anomalies during early development resulted in emotional issues in adults.(Storr, 1989, p.29). The emphasis on sexuality brought notoriety and this aspect was discarded by the profession, however, Freud’s work on the subconscious remains pivotal to modern therapy. Freud used the analogy of an iceberg of three parts to describe the conscious, pre-conscious and unconscious. The tip contains what we intuitively think of as our mind, just below the surface is the pre-conscious, and the bulk of the ice-berg is the unconscious.  The conscious mind is associated with reasoning and communication.  (Storr, 1989). Therapists often work to bring a conscious awareness of a forgotten event, and help the patient to “re-live” it with associated feelings.  Sometimes this process would be accompanied by a “cathartic” release of repressed (unconsciously hidden) or suppressed (consciously avoided) emotion. (Storr, 1989, p.20, 37).


My research showed that the types of emotionally troubled patients who might benefit from therapy using animation are the same group that counsellors are able to treat. These patients suffer from a class of illness know as neurosis, e.g. depression, grief and anxiety. Neurosis is a class of condition which affect individuals’ ability to live a happy, unrestricted life and more serious issues, classified as psychoses, e.g. Schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, which require specialized medical intervention outside a therapist’s remit. (Sanders, Frankland, Wilkins, 2009).  Nevertheless, animation therapy techniques have the capacity to help both these extremes.


I would add that in any situation where therapy is being applied, that it is important for the therapist to be properly trained in counselling. It would be inappropriate and potentially damaging for a well-meaning animator to try and help someone who really needed professional support. There may however be a fruitful area where animators can work with art therapists or counsellors and provide technical input under the supervision of someone with more knowledge about the mental states being treated.