Introduction to the Collage Method:
Chaos, Creation, & Collage

The Collage Method consists of a progressive sequence of physical activities and a closely correlated series of therapeutic interviews.

Taken one by one the physical activities of collage-making appear disarmingly simple, so simple in fact that their significance easily escapes notice. However, when they are taken together, as an integrated series of transformations, a quite surprising symbolism appears. The activities entailed in making and physically transforming collages can then be seen to embody the logic of psychological development. These activities comprise an extended metaphor: they symbolize the growth of the human mind.

This correspondence between a series of ‘simple’ activities on the one hand, and a subtle developmental logic on the other, is the key to the Collage Method. Thanks to this correspondence, the Collage Method enables the collage maker to re-trace, in a forward direction, the path by which the psyche develops in infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

The logic of psychological development is not something one leaves behind as one ‘grows up.’ Childhood is important precisely because it provides access to a universal generative function, which is the logic of creativity in general. The psychotherapeutic power of the Collage Method derives from the fact that it provides a way to re-access this universal logic of creation.

On the Collage Path every step is symbolic. Every step on this path symbolizes some essential increment of symbolizing capability. That is why it is possible to say that the Collage Path symbolizes symbolization. Expressed differently, the collage process provides a ‘user interface’ to the mind’s inner black box, a way to engage the psychoformative action by which, in creating and re-creating many types of symbols, the psyche keeps itself alive.

Why is the Collage Method a psychotherapeutic technique? The Collage Method functions in two ways simultaneously: the Collage Path provides both an open format for personal expression, and an ordered sequence for structural transformation. This double-functioning enables people to tell their personal stories in such a way that the stories open up, the elements become fluid and available to enter into new combinations, and the teller/collage-maker becomes accessible to creative change.

The specific images used by collage makers are important, of course, but the content of these images, and the interpretation of this content, are approached indirectly here: from the ‘bottom up.’ In this approach, the process of discerning and interpreting meaning is enfolded within a re-creation of those mental operations that establish meaning, and, more specifically, establish the capactity to make meanings, in the first place.

In the same way that the progressive logic of psychological development transforms the child’s experience, so also the operations performed upon the collage transform the multi-image field. These structuring operations—highly abstract and elusive in actual life, but in this method foregrounded and made concrete—are the object of the Collage Path.

Re-creating these paradigmatic operations leads to interpretations of the particular, very personal images, configurations, and transformations that appear during the course of a collage process. But, more fundamentally, these operations produce a psychological subject who is capable of forming and using such interpretations: a “collage maker” who is a locus of subjectivity and is, himself or herself, continually under construction.…

Specific images are chosen by collage makers because they are bearers of feeling, or because they serve as emotional catalysts, marking essential positions in what becomes, thanks to their presence, a highly charged emotional space. When these feeling-laiden and feeling-marking images are combined in multi-image configurations, the feelings at play are multiplied by the interactions that occur among all the images. The amount of feeling in the total field can then become nearly overwhelming.

Feelings intensify when strongly motivated images are brought close to each other. A need then arises to re-structure the whole image-field in which these images occur, so that mounting levels of excitation can be made bearable by being channelized in new ways. Successive re-structurations raise the field to progressively higher levels of organization, each new level governed by more complex cognitive principles.

Over the course of a collage process the collage-maker’s core images and key personal symbols, including ones that have been repressed or disavowed, come to light. Given the depth of the developmental sequence that the Collage Path re-creates, and the vividness of the materials it employs, they can scarcely fail to do so. But these symbols emerge here in a formative context, in which the primary object is not symbols but symbolization. This implies that the psychic conditions that will enable these problematic, feeling-laiden symbols to be clearly faced and progressively re-integrated, re-symbolized within a more differentiated self — these symbolizing conditions are, on the Collage Path, re-created along with the symbols they support.

The mind is, inherently, a pluralistic society; a collage is, above all, a contained multiplicity. Hence it is not the action of isolated images, no matter how potent, that motivates the movement we will follow here; it is, rather, energies and tensions generated within multi-image fields that propel it. Accordingly, the cultural background presumed by the Collage Path is the contemporary experience of over-stimulation and fragmentation: the experience of multiple elements proliferating, generating a surplus of feeling, becoming unmanageable. Fragmentation is both a paradigmatic psychological symptom and an inescapable prelude to innovation; a source of anxiety and pain, and an opening to the birth of new form.

Chaos, collage, creation polylogue