POLYPHONYJournal of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists
Reviews Observations

Review: Intersectionality in the Arts Psychotherapies

Published on Apr 08, 2022 by Mary O'Neill

9781787754348 (1)

‘Intersectionality, albeit a “progressive” term, appears not to have reached the field of art therapy.’ (Datlen in Collier & Corrina, 2022, p.228)

The collection Intersectionality in the Arts Psychotherapies, edited by Jessica Collier and Corrina Eastwood and published by Jessica Kingsley (2022) makes the case for in-depth education on intersectionality to be part and parcel of any and every arts psychotherapy training. The term intersectionality was first used by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), referring to the double discrimination experienced by black women at the intersection of race and gender. More recently, she notes that “various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other” (Crenshaw in Steinmetz, 2020). Intersectional markers include what has been labelled “race” – a term with many definitions, depending on who you ask (Jarry, 2019). While race usually refers to skin colour, it can also refer to ethnicities othered due to a patriarchal and colonialist mindset, for example the Traveller community in Ireland, while additional intersectional markers include: class; religion or belief; gender or sexuality (LGBTQIA+); learning and/or physical disabilities; neurodivergence, and more.

Its in a lot of me p143

1) Figure 8.1 It's in a lot of me. (p143)

The fifteen chapters of this book are shared between fifteen authors, with some overlap, in particular by the two co-editors. All are arts psychotherapists and most acknowledge experiencing discrimination because of at least one aspect of their person, be that gender, sexuality, class, race, learning or physical disability, or neurodiversity; in many cases more than one of these, which is where intersectionality comes in.

Several authors share both their own background and, through case histories and vignettes, their experience of working with clients who feel at odds with the society in which they live due to being seen as different and therefore not acceptable.

Informed by their experience of being othered, the authors use their arts psychotherapy skills to help clients explore their lived experiences of discrimination stemming from divergence from the “norm” of white, male and middle class. Or in the case of most arts psychotherapists/creative arts therapists, white, female and middle class.

When I saw a callout for review of this title in the April 2022 edition of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapies Bulletin, I jumped at the opportunity to read it, having just read Black Identities + White Psychotherapies: Race, Respect + Diversity (Charura & Lago, 2021). I am aware of the range of diversity in social identity and related inequalities in Ireland at present, which doesn’t mean I am knowledgeable about it. Reading such books as these is one means of broadening my education in hopes of treating people with greater awareness and sensitivity, be it socially or professionally.

But this isn’t just about me! Both books attempt to fill a gap in psychotherapy training, calling for that gap to be filled on training courses through addressing issues of cultural difference in depth. Noa Yeheskel Baum, after many years of co-ordinating placements for students from various training backgrounds states: “It continues to be apparent that there is a significant lack in the discourse on difference” (p. 226).

According to Kairo Maynard, “Intersectional themes should be embedded throughout therapy trainings, not offered as an additional module or seminar on its own” (p. 185).

As therapists, we need to reflect on our own background, our privileges (what is called “rank” in Process Oriented Psychology – referring to individual or collective power), as well as our struggles, often due to our own diversity, or divergence from the perceived norm; and how they impact both on ourselves and on how we relate to others. This is a form of self-reflexivity. Self-reflexivity, “using the self  as a point of reference”, as distinct from “countertransference, which refers to the emotional reactions of the therapist”, is a focus of this book, and to be “achieved by uncovering our implicit biases, cultural beliefs, and the values that are embedded in, and the power of, historical and social systems oppressing those we serve” (Talwar, Foreword, pp. 16-7). As therapists, we are thereby called to be social activists: “[D]oing clinical work that is cognizant of the societal implications is social action” (Hocoy in Baum, Datlen, Eastwood & Elliston, Ch.14, p. 224).

Co-Editor Corrina Eastwood addresses the topic of intersectionality immediately in Chapter 1: “Intersectional Reflexivity: Art Psychotherapy Practice and Self”, in which she recalls growing up Romanichal (pronounced Romani-call and meaning English Romani, a member of the Gypsy, Romani Traveller (GRT) community). Her first encounter with art therapy was at art school and it was another 20 years before she made self-reflexive connections to "acknowledge the intersect of where my experience had met my dad’s, and where we had both met a wider cultural and political history of intolerance of difference and prejudice" (p.37). She “began to question art therapy as a profession and ask what are the potential cultural assumptions, identity-related norms, values and constructions that art therapy has privileged as a profession and used to shape practice and policy (Hocoy, 2007; Talwar, 2019)” (p.42). She shares two art pieces that express aspects of her integration of that cultural and familial history.

It feels very true p44

2) Figure 1.3 'It feels very true doesn't it?': Removed to/Must accept. (p44)

Chapter 9, by Eleni Tsolka, on “Intersecting Identities in a War Zone: A Music Therapist’s Perspectives on Working with a Group of Mental Health Professionals in the West Bank, Palestine”, provides more depth on what intersectionality involves. I found it the most comprehensive study in the book of all that potentially requires consideration in relation to intersectionality. Tsolka, newly qualified, had to take into account her youth, her gender, her European (Greek) background and education in the UK. She did so in the unfamiliar surroundings of a country under oppression with a very different culture, including music that was new to her, the Arabic language of which she knew little, and differences, on both sides, in perception of social class. It was particularly challenging for her to accommodate to a male-dominated culture – where that dominance is supported by law and custom – and maintain her leadership role as therapist facilitator.

As an art psychotherapist, I am particularly drawn to individuals’ stories expressed through art media. While imagery is regularly featured in client vignettes shared by art psychotherapists, it interesting to read how music therapist Naomi Rowe, in Chapter 13: “Disabled and LGBTQ+: A Music Therapy Perspective”, encouraged a client having difficulty improvising musically to improvise visually with "heart shaped glitter" (p. 217). Rowe states, ‘I believe allowing clients to work imaginatively in any way they choose enables acclimatization to non-verbal, creative methods of communication’ (p.218). Among other things, Rowe discusses how research reveals worse health outcomes for LGBTQ+ people than for cisgender heterosexuals. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ individuals may also suffer discrimination in health and social care settings. Notably, Rowe, on their private practice client form, asks for clients’ pronouns rather than gender. Rowe states “Transgender is an adjective, a description of how your gender relates to your sex/gender assigned at birth and is not a separate category” (p. 214).

Shocking and therefore enlightening for me, as a woman as much as a therapist, was Chapter 12, “‘Men just Hit You’: Sexism and Internalized Misogyny in Art Psychotherapy with Female Offenders”, by co-editor Jessica Collier. This chapter describes the extent of “internalized, externalized and systemic misogyny and sexism” towards women experiencing gendered violence, who themselves become subject to the criminal justice system in the UK. I don’t know how this compares with women’s experience of the criminal justice system and prison in Ireland, but it is likely some of the power dynamics are the same. Collier describes “how women learn over generations from their families, their partners and their culture how to hate themselves” (p. 194), leading to intergenerational trauma. This chapter is a study and a critique of that history. It is daunting reading, and not particularly hopeful, “with such a paucity of containment and psychological security within [the] criminal justice system” (p.204). Yet “providing the opportunity for [the women] to be thought about and listened to is itself a worthwhile project” (p.204).

Therapists of colour tell of their experience of being scapegoated within education in the arts psychotherapies, their needs largely ignored or simply not recognised, their experiences of cultural difference left unexplored, to the detriment of all. For instance, some theoretical frameworks of European origin may not fit with cultural norms or understanding in other cultures (see Kaur Lotay, below). Therapists presuming to work in that way may meet incomprehension and resistance. If not familiar with or informed about the culture of the client, misunderstanding may persist, and alienation may result. Therapists sharing the same culture as their clients may be able to overcome these obstacles, as we see in Chapters 10, “Culturally Appropriate Therapy in the Sikh Community: Theory and Practice”, by Jaspal Kaur Lotay with Corrina Eastwood, and Chapter 11, “A Black Therapist Sees Herself: Exploring Sameness and Difference the Dramatherapy Room”, by Kairo Maynard. It seems to me incumbent upon the majority population, in the interests of inclusivity and respect for all persons experiencing themselves as being in a minority, and for the benefit of any client from a minority, to be informed and educated on the experience of marginalisation or the imposition of cultural expectations. Both Kaur Lotay and Maynard refer to assumptions and expectations they experienced in the majority society, related to religion and culture, in Kaur Lotay’s case, and gender and skin colour in Maynard’s case.

Part of our training as therapists, as I understand it, is to not make assumptions, yet by not exploring how other peoples’ experiences may differ from our own, we do so by neglect.

Sniper and Soldier p172

3) Figure 10.1 Sniper and Soldier (p172)

The book is a rallying cry for the inclusion of training in this area. A good place to start “to address the deficit of meaningful engagement with intersectionality within higher education” (Berman, Ch. 15, p.238) may be with the final Chapter 15, “Traversing the Unknown: Group Analytic Approaches to Intersectionality within Tertiary Education”, by Hayley Berman. Berman is a senior lecturer at Hertfordshire University on the MA Art Therapy Programme and founding Director of Lefika La Phodiso, the first psychoanalytically informed art therapy training in South Africa. She traces her own felt experiences of growing up in apartheid South Africa which led her to seek the democratisation of education. Vignette 1 (of 3) particularly resonated with me. There she describes a tutorial group with trainee art psychotherapists, where on becoming aware of “considerable unexpressed distress”, she transforms it into a therapeutic space, on the basis that, “[h]olding the function of an empathic educator with an implicit therapeutic capacity frees up the propensity for learning” (p. 247).

It is worth noting that Intersectionality in the Arts Psychotherapies is published in the UK. While it is a bit closer to home in terms of people’s experiences than, say, the US, there are pertinent differences between the UK and Ireland. For example, one is historically a coloniser, the other colonised, resulting in different experiences of immigration or emigration, and differences in how immigrants may be perceived, as well as differences, and also historical similarities, in Constitution, legislation, social and class structures and attitudes, and health and social welfare provisions. Further research in an Irish context would be a welcome contribution to the field. In selecting particular chapters, I have neglected so many others that will be of equal interest. Given the premise that an increased emphasis on intersectionality is important for all arts psychotherapists/creative arts therapists (as more usually termed in Ireland), I hope this book will be read by educationalists and students of the arts therapies, as well as those of us already in practice who need to fill this vital gap in our learning as part of our continuous professional development.


Charura, D. & Lago, C. (2021). Black Identities + White Therapies, Race, Respect + Diversity. Monmouth, UK: PCCS Books.

Collier, J., Eastwood, C., & Talwar, S. K. (2022). Intersectionality in the Arts Psychotherapies. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Crenshaw, K. (1989) Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, Iss. 1. http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8

Jarry, J. (2019). Are You There, Race? It’s Me, DNA. Office for Science and Society. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-general-science/are-you-there-race-its-me-dna#:~:text=As%20for%20whether%20race%20can

Steinmetz, K. (2020, February 20). She Coined the Term “Intersectionality” over 30 Years Ago. Here’s What It Means to Her Today. Time. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://time.com/5786710/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality/

Mary O'Neill

Mary ONeill

Mary O’Neill MA (CIT CCAD 2014) is an art psychotherapist in private practice in Sundrive, Dublin. Her approach is body-centred, informed by her background as a shiatsu (hands-on body) practitioner (1991-2001); practising aikido, a pacifist martial art, since 1978; and over 25 years’ (including Certificate of Merit 1999) study of Mindell’s Process Oriented Psychology/Process Work (aamindell.net), a development of the work of Jung. Central to training and practice in Process Work is the Deep Democracy of seeking to facilitate people in all their diversity, including valuing their psychological rank as experts in their own experience. Email address: monartprocess@gmail.com