The field of expressive image therapy was initiated by Judith Rasband MS, AICI CIM, who early in her youth recognized the use of clothing and grooming in ballet recitals and high school theatrical productions to communicate the role and persona of the various characters. Based on the use of clothing beginning early in human history for the purpose of communication and as an art form, “The universal language of dress and image transcends age, gender, racial, cultural, social, religious, and environmental differences.”
Rasband’s love of visual design in clothing and grooming propelled her academic choices leading to a Masters degree in Family and Consumer Science specializing in the physical, psychological, social, and artistic aspects of dress and image. Following 12 years as faculty in the Department of Clothing and Textiles at Brigham Young University, Rasband founded the Conselle Institute of Image Management, consulting and teaching on an international level for 20 years. She later advanced the Institute to a post-secondary school granting certification in image management.
As founder of the field, results of Rasband’s ongoing consulting experience with individuals and groups convinced her that the creative and healing elements of image management could be advanced to function as a therapeutic form of treatment for people institutionalized with emotional, mental, or mood disorders—beneficial for anyone afflicted with negative body image, obesity, depression, anxiety disorder, eating disorders, and more.
Image therapy, as defined by the Expressive Image Therapy Association (EITA) founded by Rasband in 2014, is the psychotherapeutic use of the elements of image—dress, grooming, body language, and etiquette—to facilitate treatment goals and to foster the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social integration of the individual. Experiential expressive image therapy is a creative collaboration between the client and the therapist. In essence, it is a clinical collaboration of art and science. Image therapy is the specific use of clothing and grooming as a resource, a tool in the rehabilitation of clients.
The primary goal in image therapy is to “remove or modify the obstacles or barriers clients have in expressing themselves, relating to others, and accepting their bodies and themselves.” The image management consultant or image therapist uses a combination of verbal and non-verbal communication to enable a client to express thoughts and feelings, to participate in relationships with others, to develop a more realistic body image, and thus restore his or her sense of self-worth and well-being, and ultimately their ability to function effectively.
“Working with clients who have difficulty expressing themselves in daily life and in traditional talk therapy, it is believed that image therapy can facilitate the embodiment and identification of problems leading to personal insight and lifestyle changes. It is a creative and action-oriented process that encourages new behaviors and symbolically communicates hidden emotions, releases anxiety, and serves as a vehicle to integrate body, mind, and spirit.”…..“When there is a lack of integration, the individual may suffer emotional, mental, or mood disorders. Image therapy is a form of psychotherapy that utilizes clothing as the medium of interaction and intervention promoting change.”
Image therapy is a modality that completes the whole of expressive therapies. that It works well with all age groups. Children love to play dress up, an experiential process through which they can express themselves in a creative and safe environment. Used clothing is relatively available at low cost from thrift stores and organizations such as Savers, the Salvation Army, and Goodwill. Children, for example, are free to choose clothing pieces they feel drawn to, put them on then discuss thoughts and feelings regarding the clothing. Role playing is an obvious activity enhanced by the clothing. The activity serves to reduce stress and release tension. Children gradually begin to establish trust and develop meaningful relationships.
Defiant teens and artistic young adults give lip service to their expressive effort, but are seldom able to define what they are expressing. Students and clients alike love learning the language of clothes and the specifics of communicating with their clothes. Major goals in image therapy are to improve or restore a client’s ability to function effectively, increase his or her sense of personal well-being, and promote comfortable social interaction. Those feeling depressed at the beginning of the course or retreat reported that their feelings or mood were lifted by their mindful, purposeful dressing.
Rasband experienced inspiring success in working with women who have negative body image issues improved by personal figure evaluation and the fitting process, also by those who are sensitive to potential communication cues embodied in clothing style lines and shapes, color, fabric, and pattern. Her students and clients are thrilled by the use of clothing artistically and expressively—thrilled to express themselves artistically.
In work with all age groups, image therapy is helpful with identity and gender issues, body image issues, depression, stress and anxiety disorders, as well as eating disorders. While shopping is not an activity enjoyed by many individuals affected by stress or eating disorders, Rasband is able to narrow the choices while expanding client awareness of creativity, individuality, and uniqueness through personal style preferences. Clients come to appreciate the ability of clothing to meet physical, psychological, social, and aesthetic needs, boosting self-confidence and problem solving abilities.
Rasband developed the comprehensive Rasband Personal Image Profile/Inventory as well as expansive treatment modules she called “Clinics.” They form the framework for therapeutic activity and include the Lifestyle Clinic, Personal Style Clinic, Personal Figure Evaluation Clinic both short and long forms, Personal Color Evaluation or “ColorSense” Clinic both short and long forms, Makeup Makedown Makeover Clinic, and more—each with its own set of card sorts to engage the participant and facilitate learning, wheeling in 6-foot clothing racks filled with extensive wardrobe items and cluster sets of clothing to visually illustrate personal application of related or relevant concepts and strategies. Knowing the framework for each of the Clinics provides the therapist with appropriate vocabulary relating to visual design and non-verbal image behaviors.
Rasband relies on inviting and comfortable seating, using her own voice, eye contact, and simple instructions to guide clients or participants through the Profile or Clinic content, providing structure and support throughout the process. She provided fabric drapes that slipped loosely over the body, allowing participants to experience surrounding themselves with preferred color and pattern selections, later discussing apparent communications associated with the fabrics, colors, and patterns. Sometimes with music, sometimes without, Rasband encouraged expressive movement, even dance moves to complement the mood and feelings associated with the drapes.
Rasband has organized qualitative image information in a chart with five columns that display 200 different possible characteristics or traits of design in an individual’s wardrobe. Selections within the chart serve as an image portrait directly related to assessment and treatment plans. Portions of her half-million dollar demonstration collection of clothing are then displayed as in a retail store, allowing clients to participate directed shopping experiences in a controlled and supportive environment.
Clients of all ages engaged in expressive image therapy are better able to connect with themselves in meaningful and purposeful ways. It is an action-oriented and creative therapy with daily applications. Learning to use the expressiveness of clothing and grooming, even body language, they feel enabled and empowered in real-life roles, occasions, and situations. They are, in turn, able to develop their strengths and abilities, taking joy in their lives as they grow into more mature, more capable individuals.