Ineke Ruiter Dutch art therapist has just published her new book with the title Book of Symbols. On 27th April, she presented her book in Debrecen, and we asked her a few questions.
Since when have you been dealing with these drawings? Where did this idea come from?
It started a long time ago when I was a nurse and I was taking care of people. I understood that it is more important and more interesting when you are talking about the innermost of a human being, because it is good for your whole self. This all started about 20 years ago, and since then I have learnt a lot of things about art. I started writing the book two years ago during the Covid lockdown. I had the idea in my head that I had all the time for writing and I managed to finish it only in a week’s time. I thought it was ready, but of course it was not. It took me more than half a year to really finish it. Since then I have been doing workshops using this book in the Netherlands. Both adults and children are participating in the workshops. I come to Hungary to the prison three or four times a year, and we thought that we could do these workshops also in Hungarian. I can see that when people have problems with communication they can use pictures. When the boys in prison see the pictures, they immediately understand what is going on, and then you can go deeper very quickly.
Here, in Eastern Europe, drawings are used mostly in nursery schools to see how children think about their parents, relatives or their neighbours, and psychologists can understand these drawings.
I think this book is a step even forward, because when I am drawing with somebody, it is a conversation of three: the person who is drawing, the drawing itself and I who have questions. A drawing is also sharing things about what is going on inside. We cannot say that the color black always means a negative emotion, or red is always associated with fire or anger, because the person who has made the drawing can always tell us what the colors and symbols represent in the picture. So, it is always a communication between three participants. For example, in this picture, where you can see a person looking into a mirror, asking the question ‘Who am I?’. This is the beginning of a process, it means that there is a problem or crisis in my life, and the question is ‘How can I start solving this problem?’ or ‘Is it the circumstances or should I start with myself?’. And since in the picture, the person is looking into a mirror, it means that he realized that he should start with himself. He should change his way of thinking.
What is your first question when you visit a prisoner?
I can show you a picture. This is a drawing of a piece of a puzzle, and we know that life can be a puzzle sometimes. In this picture, the lines are broken, it means that the boy is feeling broken as well. Usually, prisoners are very negative and their questions are like ‘How should I look at myself?’ or ‘Who is the one who can help me?’ or ‘Will I have a second chance?’ In another picture, there is a bridge meaning: ‘How can I continue with my life?’ or ‘I am afraid to go further.’ At this point, we say that we will help you. We are by your side, but you have to make the first step. This whole thing is about the process itself. I believe that the boys in prison need this and we can help them with this method. We don’t judge them, we have open hearts and open minds towards them. We believe in these boys, and they know that we are volunteers and they know that we are not interested in their mistakes or sins, but the people who they are.
How can companies use your book?
For example, hospice house workers can also use this book. Hospice workers visit families where somebody is dying, and they talk with the family members about difficult things, for example how these people can continue with their lives when they lose their beloved ones. Sometimes, people do not find the words to describe their feelings, and then they can look at the index of the book, and they find the phrase ‘broken heart’, and then you can invite the person to look at the picture of a broken heart or even draw a broken heart.
A teacher also invited me to use this book in a school. There are many children who have difficulties when they have to listen to the teacher during the class, but if you give these children a pencil and a piece of paper, it is easier for them to concentrate. They draw pictures and they will remember the things they have heard during the class. So, this method can be very useful in schools or even at different organizations, because it is much easier for a group if there is a connection between the participants. They are interested in what is on the board. There is also humor in it, and they feel that they can express their feelings in a creative way, with the help of a drawing instead of using words.
Is there any difference between nationalities regarding these drawings?
There is no difference between nationalities or even between boys and girls. Maybe, boys are more direct and sometimes they think that they cannot draw, but this doesn’t matter. You can draw only a line on the paper and this way you can start drawing and we can start talking. For me, a simple line is also a drawing. So, it doesn’t matter if you are a Gypsy, a Hungarian or a Dutch person, everybody draws. Once, I was in Uganda, and I saw that children are drawing the same things there like children here or children in the Netherlands. You draw those things first which are very important for you, and you draw the things which are not so important later.
Why do you recommend this book for people?
I believe that there are a lot of misunderstandings between people, sometimes they do not understand each other. Words sometimes cannot touch us, they have no effect on us. While, when you are drawing a picture, it is coming from your innermost, from your heart, and it can create a connection between people. This kind of communication is very helpful. By using drawings and pictures you are talking about your deepest thoughts and feelings and the things that are really important for you. Drawings are coming from our hearts, not from our brains. You will remember the communication between you and a certain person if you use pictures instead of words. So, I believe communication between people can be better and more effective if we use pictures, and it doesn’t matter if you are an adult or a child, if you can draw or nor. When you are watching someone drawing, an energy is created, you are listening to that person, you pay attention, you communicate.