The Container and Containment

Handblown glass containers by the author

Containers, they come in all shapes and sizes, and are made of many different materials.  Glass, wood, metal, stone, and so forth, the choices are endless.  Their surfaces can range from rough to smooth. The can be hand-made or machine-made.  Carved, nailed, or blown, as the ones in the picture accompanying this blog post.  They can be lightly closed or locked tightly.  They can hold many things, from tangible objects, collectables, money, memories, reminders, the possibilities are endless.

The term “container” has been used in the world of psychotherapy since it’s inception, and was found in Freud’s writings in the early days of psychoanalysis.  It means a “holding environment” with emphasis on safety, projection into a safe space.   Or, it could mean holding until feeling states can be discharged in a safe way.  This “holding environment” could be found in either another figure, such as a mother, or other caretaker, or in a process.  In the process, the process  allows discharge and holding through the creation of a product, such as an art object, a dance, writing, etc.  In art therapy we use the process of art making and the finished product both as a container.

How I Work With “Containers”.

I work with the metaphor of container with clients using verbal psychotherapy and art therapy.  We can discuss how the person “holds” his stress or issue or whether another person as a “container” to hold their stresses.

Each person’s ways of containment will be something that works particularly well for them as an individual.  Sometimes I have people create actual containers, using a variety of materials from pre-made boxes, popsicle sticks,  clay,  or chicken wire and plaster and more.  My goal is to offer materials that the client feels comfort with and allow the client to express a method of containment that feels congruent to what they need and require.

A container can also be used to express needed boundary work for clients who have difficulty keeping fears, worries and obsessive thoughts away, the client can be “safe’ inside their container, and use the metaphor as a tool in their daily lives to add a sense of safety and allow the client an ability to move forward.  This is especially important for PTSD survivors.

A metaphor of the “container” can be used as a permanent state for the client to live with painful memories, thoughts or emotions, or it can be used temporarily to allow processing to continue for more than one session on a particular topic.  Making actual, physical containers gives clients an actual piece to touch, look upon and reflect upon while they process the holding needed to stay emotionally, and sometimes physically, safe.  It also expands on the concept as discussed verbally in sessions.

To get through the trying processes of daily life we often need to “contain” our thoughts, feelings and emotions.  Building containers metaphorically, verbally and visually gives concrete form and allows this process to come into our everyday self-awareness, and thus strengthen it.

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