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Self-Mutilation and Art Therapy: Violent Creation

by Diana Milia

Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2000

Diana Milia examines the effect of art therapy interventions with clients who harm their bodies. Her starting point is the definition of self-mutilation itself. In many cultures, self-mutilation is incorporated in sacrificial rituals as a means of healing the whole society. Body modifications such as scarification and tattooing are used in rites of purification, healing and maturity. Self-mutilation may also be incorporated in performance art. Diana Milia draws out these aspects of self-mutilation, informing them with theories from psychoanalytical literature, to explain how art therapy can help patients who self-harm. She argues that using art as intervention supports the self-mutilating person's preference for ritualized symbolic action and their need to create transitional objects. She describes art making in terms of symbolic modification of the self-mutilating client's own body, with the ultimate goal of self-transformation. The creative process itself provides an arena for the discharge and mastery of aggressive impulses, and develops self-control, self-esteem, and symbolic capacities, all of which are crucial in the treatment of self-mutilating behaviors. Demonstrating how these theories can be implemented in practice, Milia then describes examples from her clinical experience, and includes extended case studies. She analyzes art therapy sessions and the process and content of artwork. Her book is practical: it also extends our understanding of the concept of self-mutilation and how best it may be addressed.

"The book is extremely informative about self-harm and helps to increase understanding of the motives behind people harming themselves…" British Journal of Occupational Therapy Available from... Jessica Kingsley Publishers and

Available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers and Amazon


Milia, Diana 1996, Art therapy with a self-mutilating adolescent girl. American Journal of Art Therapy, 34, 4, 98-106.

Milia, Diana 2006, review of Strengthening Emotional Ties through Parent-Child-Dyad Art Therapy by Lucille Proulx, Arts in Psychotherapy

Milia, Diana 2007, review of Beyond Words: Art Therapy With Older Adults by Judith A. Rubin, DVD, Art Therapy Journal of the American Art Therapy Association 24, 1, 43 Diana Milia, LCAT, ATR-BC (646)732-7685


Copyright 2005 Diana Milia All rights reserved dhm001