Symbolism plays a powerful role in Art therapy, and is often referred to as art psychotherapy. A symbol dictionary such as The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 1996) can be useful for exploring the meaning in art and dreams.
Often when we create art through drawing, painting or collage during free association (where a client is encouraged to explore whatever comes to mind), we are connecting to our subconscious mind to explore hidden emotions, feelings or those things we aren't willing to accept as part of our psyche. It is from this that symbols can appear in our art work, sometimes quite unintentionally.
I created this painting after a terrifying dream of my abuser some months after I left him. In the dream he held a large dagger to my throat. I managed to push his hand away which brought with it a sense of relief. However just as I thought I had saved myself, his other hand appeared from behind his back, and in this hand was a smaller sharper knife. He proceeded to plunge the smaller knife into my side, sneering at me and taunting me with his win.
Dream interpretation using symbolism: He was sneaky and untrustworthy by nature and you knew this. In the dream you thought you had stopped him, but still he got one over on you. Deep down, you know the end results if you didn't get away could have resulted in you getting hurt badly or even dying.
Through painting, I explored my feelings and emotions attached to the dream.
Quite unintentionally (coming from my subconscious) a face appeared in my art work as it dried.
The artwork below is titled Him.