Multiple personalities create a new dimension of art

London Art Therapy Centre in Archway is exhibiting work from an artist with nine personalities

Two tiny plastic figurines, a tiger and a baby, sit in a small sandbox on a table in a room filled with paint bottles, brushes and art. A client is asked to describe the figurines in relation to one another: Is the tiger protecting the baby? Is the tiger ready to pounce? Is the baby lost? This image-making activity, sand play, is one of the ways the London Art Therapy Centre is innovating in the field of psychotherapy.

Art therapy is a potent form of psychotherapy using image-making and the creative process as part of therapeutic work, says Hephzibah Kaplan, co-founder member and director of the London Art Therapy Centre, which opened in 2010.

“The making of art in art therapy, it can be a very unconscious process,” Kaplan said. “In fact, sometimes it’s like the superhighway to the unconscious that people might not have the words or the language to express or a way to express things they’re too fearful or anxious or depressed to articulate, and with a child, they might not have the words anyway, the vocabulary. So the art making process enables feelings to be expressed, and then afterwards, the art therapist will work with the client to help find the language.”

This December, the centre will display works by artist Harli Tree, stemming from her struggle with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder). DID is characterised by two or more distinct identities alternately taking control of an individual and by memory loss to the point that the individual does not recall events occurring while another identity is in control.


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Harli Tree approached the centre to display the works by her and her eight alters, (the host totalling nine). Harli Tree’s nine identities include four children under ten, three adolescents, one woman in her twenties and the host in her forties.

Harli Tree has, in a past interview with an art therapy website, described the difficulties of having nine identities: “Sometimes I can remember the beginning of the day, then I look at my watch and it’s 4pm, so I realise a whole day has gone by; then I find out that someone’s been painting (because I see a new picture), or playing with toys (because there are toys on the floor), or I find myself in the corner of the room and my eyes are sore and red because someone has been crying, or I am in the shower and my skin tingles from one of them scrubbing my body so hard to get us clean… Sometimes I can’t remember going to sleep and I feel pretty sure I have not slept. On occasions I know I have not because I notice a new painting,”

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“As an art therapy centre, we like the place to breathe and live art therapy,” Kaplan says. “And so we’ve had a history of having exhibitions, and the exhibitions that we’ve had have actually been art therapists who’ve … just graduated, they’ve completed their training, and we’ve provided the space to give them a bridge to the professional world of art therapy.

Tree has requested that 20 percent of any commission made from sales of her artwork be allocated to fund low-cost art therapy, another reason the show is exciting for the centre, according to Kaplan.

Harli Tree’s exhibition will open on December 1 from 5:30pm to 8:30pm at the London Art Therapy Centre, 25-27 Bickerton Road, London N19 5TJ. The exhibition is free. This viewing is open to the public, but the organisers request that those interested RSVP by calling 020 3490 7899 or by email at info@arttherapycentre.com. The exhibition will remain on display until January 31 with viewings by appointment.

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