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Hanna Kwiatkowska (pronounced Han-yah Kwee-aht-kow-skah) was a Polish ceramics sculptress, art therapist, and child and family ,psychiatrist. She was the first person to document and conduct research in family art therapy practices.
Kwiatkowska’s love for art started when she was a child living in Warsaw, Poland in the 1910's. She was known to rarely reveal her age, so her exact date of birth is not widely known. She was raised in an aristocratic home that encouraged her to express herself through poems and art. Her native languages were Polish and French and later she became fluent in Russian, Portuguese and English. Kwiatkowska attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw where she earned her bachelor's degree. She then became a sculptress while studying art in Switzerland and Austria. After college, she married Alexander Kwiatkowska, a Polish diplomat and they moved to Manchuria, China. They lived there for six years and then returned to Warsaw. When World War II broke out, they moved to Paris. At that time her husband joined the Polish Free Forces to fight against the Nazis for England. When France fell, she fled to Portugal and then later to Brazil while she waited for her husband to return. After the war, the couple reunited in Brazil. They decided to move to New York, and Hanna Kwiatkowska became the first art therapy student of Margaret Naumberg, one of the pioneers of art therapy.
Kwiatkowska studied at the William Alanson White Institute in New York under Erich Fromm and Clara Thompson where she developed her skills in psychology, psychotherapy, and psychoanalytic practices. In 1955, Alexander joined the State Department in Washington, D.C. and she attended the Washington School of Psychiatry. She was later hired as an art therapist at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C. where she began designing treatment programs for children with schizophrenia. While Kwiatkowska worked with these young clients, sometimes families of the children would come into a session. The client would either ask for the family member to come in or a family member might want to check in to see how the sessions were going. Kwiatkowska had experienced instances where the family member’s interaction with the clients’ art would be destructive to their therapy process. She noted the phrases “how cute” or when disturbing pictures were not comforting to them they would ask, “Why don’t you draw a basket of fruit,” or another common art idea, “a vase with flowers?”. According to Kwiatkowska, these instances completely disregarded the patients’ experience and symbolic meanings in their artwork. She decided this interaction with the art could be allowed only if the family member agreed to participate in the session. She found that the relationships, dynamics, and interactions that create conflicts were arising within the family sessions, and from this experienced family, art therapy was born.
Contributions to Family Art Therapy Research
In 1958, Kwiatkowska started working as an art therapist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). There, she was directed by Dr. Lyman C. Wynne in the Section on Family Studies. This research project at NIMH provided a better opportunity for her to use art in the family setting while conducting meaningful research and well-formulated studies alongside her supervisor. Her time at St. Elizabeth's Hospital contributed to her interest in helping the families of those with schizophrenia. One study under this program was called "The Psychiatric 'Patient' and his 'Well' Sibling,” this was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, May 9, 1960.
In 1961 she began training Harriet Wadeson in art therapy. In 1969 she served on the first Executive Board of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) as chairman of the research committee. In the early 1970s, Kwiatkowska was asked by Elinor Ulman to teach at George Washington University where she taught the class “Art Therapy Techniques”. She was insistent that the university misprinted the course name and that it should be “Art Therapy Technique” because the word “techniques” implies that art therapy is simply a series of techniques. She left the National Institute of Mental Health in 1972. In 1973 She received the Honorary Life Membership Award from AATA, the vote was unanimous.
Hanna Kwiatkowska’s view of the family dynamic was described in an academic article published in 2001 by the name of, Family Art Therapy: Experiments with a New Technique. Her perspective inspires the recognition of how complicated and unique each family can be:
“People (in families) have developed their own interactional pattern and a whole interlinked system of defenses. They have formed subgroups within the family group, alliances of some members of the family against others, and developed their own patterns of thinking which have produced the special culture or climate of a given family”.
This concept is what makes family therapy different from group therapy in which the members are connected through a common symptom or general problems in their lives. These facts are what shapes families and within these dynamics lies the problems and their solutions.
After the early research with family art therapy at the National Institute of Mental Health Hanna was able to gradually introduce programs to the Adult Psychiatry Branch. These programs advanced research on patients with a wide range of diagnoses.
- The ‘Family Studies’ program worked with people with schizophrenia, both chronic-process and reactive-acute, and their families.
- The ‘Adolescence and the Family’ program helped with adolescents’ emotional disturbances and their families.
- The ‘Twin and Siblings Study’, conducted with Loren Mosur, examined monozygotic twins concordant and discordant with schizophrenia.
- The ‘School Project’ studied and aided students that were underachieving in academics further than their potential and developmental range.
- The ‘Short Term Family Therapy’ program studied normal control families to have the opportunity to observe an accurate comparison to the families including a member diagnosed with schizophrenia.
- She also facilitated a special project on Schizophrenia itself.
These studies ranged from three months to several years and were both short and long term.
The special project studies prompted Kwiatkowska to develop a step by step protocol for family therapy which she would use for assessment of family in sessions.
*This is a professional formal assessment technique used by a licensed clinical counselor and should not be conducted without proper training. This procedure is not used to diagnose or analyze clients' artwork, it is a procedure to aid in conversation prompts and bring light to underlying dynamics within family relationships.
- First each individual would make a(n); Free picture, family portrait, abstract family portrait, scribble drawing, a joint family picture, and finally a free picture.
- The first procedure, the free picture, usually was a representation of the introduction or of the family problem.
- The second procedure, the family portrait, elicits emotions that are shared by the family members present.
- These tend to pave a path for each of the family members to follow for clarification and a better understanding of the relationships, perceptions, and roles of each other.
- The third procedure is the abstract family portrait.
- This procedure helps the therapist differentiate between each member's capacity for abstraction.
- She noted the members with schizophrenia created symbols that convey meaningless often because their defenses exclude the possibility of recognizing and expressing feelings thus they use concrete meaningless statements to describe their art.
- The fourth procedure, the individual scribble, helped her gain an understanding of some of the family dynamics.
- The fourth procedure is especially significant in comparison to the fifth procedure.
- The fifth procedure is the joint family scribble
- This requires the family to work as a team and reveals how they face problems together and what their role is in the family.
- The sixth and final procedure is the free picture.
- This process sums up the perspective of each members’ whole experience that was shared by the family.
Kwiatkowska describes the difference between the first and last picture as “a measure of each family member’s tolerance of the stress aroused by the uncovering aspect of the preceding art procedures” .
Kwiatkowska published her first book Family Therapy and Evaluation Through Art in 1978. This book highlights her experiences, gives real examples in stories, provides the details and outcomes of her studies at NIMH, and lists the institutions that train art therapists (at the time). She was a continuous advocate of art therapy throughout her life. She was invited to speak at lectures and has organized art therapy exhibits for national and international psychiatric conferences. She also gave illustrated lectures on psychoanalytically oriented art therapy at the psychiatric centers of Brazil while she lived there in the early 1940s. Her life was cut short when she was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1970s and eventually passed away in 1980. Hanna Kwiatkowska’s contribution to family art therapy was the successful implementation of using art with families. She used her experiences to conduct research and produce valuable studies that continue to benefit people with schizophrenia and their families. The techniques and processes she designed are in continued use by art therapists who work with families today.
- Kwiatkowska, Hanna (1978). "Behavioral Family Therapy. Edited by Bruce A. Thyer. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1989". Social Work. doi:10.1093/sw/37.3.273-b. ISSN 1545-6846.
- Wadeson, Harriet (2006). "Hanna Xaxa Kwiatkowska: Family Art Therapy Pioneer". Art Education. doi:10.2307/3192428. ISSN 0004-3125. JSTOR 3192428.
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