"Whenever illness is associated with loss of soul, the arts emerge spontaneously as remedies, soul medicine," writes Shaun McNiff in Art As Medicine: Creating a Therapy of Imagination. The author, who started a graduate school of arts in psychotherapy, contends that "when the soul is depressed, isolated, mad and distraught, artistic images appear." These emanate from the soul and must be respected.
McNiff has set up sanctuaries where people can express themselves through painting. Taking his cue from the traditions of shamanism and Surrealism, he stresses the importance of attunement to everyday experience and the value of embracing pathology as part of the soul's nature. Art as medicine draws together psyche, the suffering soul, and creativity in mutually enriching ways.
Defining imagination as "the faculty through which we establish compassion, understanding, and respect for things other than ourselves," McNiff describes sessions in which individuals discuss their paintings, the images in them, and the feelings and memories they evoke. Image dialogue, as he calls it, becomes a voyage of self-discovery. Meditation, storytelling, and performance are all vehicles of interpretation.
In the last section of the book, McNiff impressively discusses his own drawings and paintings as an example of a therapy of imagination. Art As Medicine is a watershed work on new directions in caring for the soul.