Art as Therapy, Therapy as Art: Decisions and Struggles

Hello Lobsterites!

How well do you cope with conflict, making a difficult decision, or getting through a personal struggle? Well, for consolation, here’s “Laocoon and His Sons” to make you feel better!


Poor Laocoon is having a bad day. He’s been punished by the Gods for trying to save Troy from the wooden horse scheme, he’s had to fend off venomous serpents, and now, at the height of his struggle, he’s about to be bitten (see snake head to right).¬† Well, this is the Greek myth, but regardless of the story behind it surely no other work of art (and in this case, we’re looking at a Hellenistic Greek sculpture, now in the Vatican) encapsulates so perfectly what it feels like to really ‘struggle’ – be it physically or mentally. The tensions in the work embody the desire for ‘balance’ nicely- everything moves to the left, like a wave, but the boy on the right tilts slightly in the opposite direction, evening things out. And look at the two triangles of negative space, one under Laocoon’s arm; one under his son’s arm on the right. I could go on pointing out counter-balancing effects like this for a while…

In other words, this work is about the push-and-pull of life; its certainties and uncertainties; hope and collapse, and most poignantly perhaps, life and death. The son on the left is dying, Laocoon is about to die, and the son on the right looks to be escaping. Regardless of his final fate (yeah, he dies too) in this moment the sculpture depicts all three states of mortality; all three states of suffering. And of all the looks of anguish on these faces, none is worse than that  of the escaping son, as he watches his father about go down.

laocoon son's head

This is an exquisitely rendered portrayal of fear, pain, and downright desperation.

Well, something of a theme on this blog has been pairing works of art with…other stuff. I’ve done poetry, I’ve done books, but now I’m doing…a therapy session!

In his book “Art as Therapy,” (great read by the way) Alain De Botton argues that we should start treating art as a medium which can teach and console us. Well, now we have proof that therapy can be art, too.

In an incredible video (below) we see Carl Rogers, the founder of Person-Centered Therapy, counseling a (brave) lady called Gloria. PCT is all about showing empathy, withholding interpretation, and resisting being the ‘wise counselor.’ Rogers wanted clients to arrive at their own answers, as a means of empowering them and resisting placing his own values on them.

Gloria is going through her own personal struggle, and the serpent-like quality of her conflict – which twists and contorts around her as she weighs the pros and cons of each decision, seeking balance in a strange echolalia of the sculpture, is something we can all relate to. It’s Laocoon’s struggle as it exists within all of us.

And Roger’s handling of it is amazing. He gently lifts the ‘snake’ from off of her shoulders and places it in front of her, where she can deal with it safely and examine it from all angles. I’ve always been in awe of therapists and the therapeutic process, but this is something else. Watch and gawp. And if you’re going through your own difficulty with a tough decision, this will definitely help.