Cutting and pasting in adults’ descriptions of experiences of secrets in childhood

Tal Sela, Michal Bat-Or

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In light of recent research and a growing understanding of the destructive repercussions of secrecy and concealment, unique interventions are required. Aims: This article, part of an art-based qualitative-phenomenological study, explores the subjective experiences of adults who grew up under secrecy. Methods: The research utilised art therapy, readymade art, the creation of stories and interviews. These allowed access to primal, non-verbal and unconscious aspects of the experience and to implicit and explicit memories and their impact. Results: The study revealed themes of connection, disconnection and integration, reflecting recurring aspects of participants’ artworks, and prominent narratives in their stories and interviews. The intermodal transfer between art forms valuable while enriching and expanding the content of the art-based session. Conclusions: Participants’ experiences revealed an inability to connect between information kept secret during childhood and information that was not. They experienced ambiguity and a sense of something missing in relation to information that was sensed but could not be conceived. Implications for practice: This article offers clinical implications relating to art-based psychotherapeutic work with clients who grew up under secrecy. The process uses metaphors emerged from visual and narrative expressions. A possible application is related to the intermodal transfer between art forms enriching core themes in a way that enables clinical work using metaphors produced by the participants. A possible implication is the clinical use of arts-based intervention inviting clients to create a variety of metaphors from the ready-made artwork and from their stories, which in turn expand the outlook upon the experience, enabling access to its implicit components. Plain-language summary: Research has shown that growing up in an environment of secrecy and concealment can be harmful. New knowledge in this field can contribute to the development of unique interventions designed to assist clients who are coping with psychological damage of this kind. This study explored the experiences of 11 adults who grew up in the shadow of a secret. During an individual, 90-minute session with the researcher, each participant was invited to engage in readymade art, i.e. create a visual artwork from everyday objects provided to them. Following this task, each participant observed his or her work together with the researcher and was then asked to compose a story or dramatic monologue based on the artwork. In the last phase of this 90-minute session, the participants were interviewed. Findings of the study reveal that themes of connection, disconnection and integration repeatedly appear across the artworks, narratives and interviews. The transition between the various modes–artwork, dramatic monologue and interview–enabled the emergence of rich content and images. The discussion explores the experience of participants who grew up in the shadow of a secret, and especially their feelings of ambiguity and sense of something missing, as well as their inability to connect the fragments of information they encountered and build an integrative narrative of their lives.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Art Therapy: Inscape
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 British Association of Art Therapists.


  • arts therapy
  • connection
  • disconnection
  • integration
  • inter-modal
  • metaphor
  • ready-made
  • Secrets in the family

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Psychology


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