Mirrors of the Mind

 Mirrors of the Mind: Psychologists Celebrate Arts & Community

by Pamela J. McCrory, Ph.D.

Member at Large, Division 10

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”.
–Pablo Picasso

Art is a universal way to make meaning of our experience, to enlarge our world, to create an opportunity for empathy and to celebrate our shared humanity as well as our diverse perspectives. Why do creativity and the arts matter to clinicians and community members? Artistic production provides a means of communicating shared human experience in everyday life, whether by a child’s drawing or an adult’s journal. Creating meaning is, in and of itself, a psychologically integrative experience which is central to the capacity for emotional regulation and resilience (Siegel, 1999). Creating art also touches upon the artful dimensions of psychotherapy c Marks-Tarlow, 2012; 2014). In this way the processes of psychotherapy and creativity are parallel experiences, imparting benefit to clinicians and clients alike.

Art provides the viewer with a potential therapeutic benefit and can help individuals deal with crises and challenges of life. In addition, art helps professionals receive a payoff through creating art. De Botton and Armstrong (2013) propose that viewing art is therapeutic, and that portrayal of what is beautiful and good can perform a “critical function of distilling and concentrating the hope that we need to chart a path through the difficulties of life”( p. 22).

The Mirrors of the Mind: The Psychotherapist as Artist project was born in 2012 over a cup of coffee with my colleague, Terry Marks-Tarlow, Ph.D.  We are both clinicians and educators with a passion for the arts and were in search of a meaningful community project for the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, a large APA chapter of nearly 1,200 members.  The Mirrors of the Mind annual gallery event is held at Art Share LA, a nonprofit sanctuary for the arts in the vibrant LA Arts District, whose mission is also the community. Each exhibition consists of multimedia visual art arts including painting, drawing, photography, textiles, sculpture, ceramics, woodwork and other 3-D pieces created by psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychology professors, and psychology graduate students.  Every work of art is accompanied by an artist statement that describes the psychological significance and meaning of the art and artistic process. Juried by professionals in both the art and psychotherapy communities, the various works of art reveal how psychotherapists use their creativity to cross-fertilize, heal, protest and renew through self-expression. From the start, we included various performing arts, such as poetry and music, and the project has grown to include exhibition books, which document each year’s offerings. Now in its sixth year, the annual gallery exhibitions and accompanying art books explore and celebrate the intersection of psychology, arts and creativity.  The growing participation of psychotherapist/artists, psychology instructors, researchers and students as well as the expanding geographical reach of the entries from across the United States and beyond—plus the swelling attendance at the galleryconfirms the significance of clinician creativity to the practice of psychotherapy and to community at large.

A community member visiting the exhibit chatted with a psychologist/artist, whose work had never before been shown publically. They discussed the meaning of her piece and discovered it tapped into shared meaning of mother daughter relationships through generations.  The psychologist/artist then provided the visitor with a “tour” discussing various works of art and their psychological significance. This story exemplifies the organic, connecting power of art and why Mirrors of the Mind has taken on such a life of its own in a way that simply isn’t possible for didactic presentations.

Art connects individuals with their inner truth, and as Zausner (2003) reminds us, “visual art is a mirror of and for the mind” (p. 2).  Art connects artists with viewers through the shared experience. But the expansive power of creativity doesn’t stop there, for art also connects people within their own communities. What is more, art transcends the barrier of language to connect people of difference backgrounds and heritages.  Art speaks a universal language that heals, reveals, and congeals change. The Mirrors of the Mind project has proven to be more than just an outreach to psychotherapists to participate in some fun.  hese events have amounted to nothing short of an identity change for participating psychotherapists, reflecting the power of art to expand psychological possibilities and locate untapped resources (Serlin, 2007). Beyond the positive impact on individual participants is promotion of a sense of belonging, of community integration and interaction. As Stuart Brown, play expert, notes “Art is part of a deep, preverbal communication that binds people together. It is literally a communion.” (2009, p. 62). At the local, state, regional and national level, we believe psychology has not yet tapped the full power of the arts in its community and educational outreach efforts. Integrating psychology and the arts in the Mirrors of the Mind and other similar community projects by psychologists around the country (DeAngelis, 2014) inspires this possibility.

For questions about the project to get involved, contact Div 10 member and LACPA Community Outreach Committee Co-Chair, Pamela McCrory at mccroryphd@earthlink.net.


Brown, S. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens up the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York. NY: Penguin Group.

De Botton, A. & Armstrong, J. (2013). Art as therapy. New York: NY: Phaidon Press        Limited.

DeAngelis, T. (2014). Connecting through the arts.  Monitor on Psychology, 45, 6, 60-62.

Marks-Tarlow, T. (2012). Clinical intuition in psychotherapy. New York, NY: Norton.

Marks-Tarlow, T. (2014). Awakening Clinical Intuition. New York, NY: Norton.

Marks-Tarlow, T. & McCrory, P. (2014). Mirrors of the mind 2: The psychotherapist as artist. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Psychological Association.

Serlin, I. A.  (2007). Theory and practices of art therapies: Whole person integrative approaches to healthcare. In I. A. Serlin, J. Sonke-Henderson, R. Brandman &  J. Graham-Pole (Eds.), Whole Person Healthcare: Vol 3. The arts and health. (pp. 107-119). San Francisco: Union Street Health Associates Press.

Siegel, D. J.  (1999). The developing mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal     experience.  New York: Guilford.

Zausner T. (2003). The mind’s mirror: Visual art. Bulletin of Psychology and the Arts, Division 10, American Psychological Association, 46(2), 2-17.