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The Theory

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Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics

Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics (Cowan 2015) defines the inherent relationships between an object and its characteristics, the dynamic actions between that object and a person, and the resultant psychological impact of those actions resulting in health, wellbeing and healing. The theory that objects are primary to psychological health explains why objects have undeniable and common evocative and phenomenological characteristics inherent to meaning making. 


Psychotherapeutic Object Dynamics is a framework comprised of seven specific object-human dynamic actions  including: Releasing/Unburdening, Giving/Receiving,  Composing, Associating, Making, Touching, and Synergizing. These highly interrelated and multidimensional domains coalesce around fundamental scholarship and practice  in the disciplines of material culture, museum studies, psychology and psychotherapy. In application, the theory provides a framework for evaluating the healthful impacts of object-based exhibitions, designing museum experiences towards enhancing the health and wellbeing of museum participants, and enhancing therapeutic practice.


The 7 object dynamics are defined as follows:


The action of maintaining – and keeping within close physical proximity to – an object in an effort to perpetuate the knowledge/memory of the associations attributed to the object, including experiences, emotional states, places and people.


The action of offering to another person or people an object with the intention of its being accepted, and the resultant act of its being received with its attributed meanings being mutually understood and held intact.


The action of juxtaposing objects with the intent of forming and expressing concepts or ideas so as to coalesce, examine and convey meanings that cannot otherwise be fully explained or expressed.


The action of contributing an object to a collective whose components produce a meaning greater than the individual’s alone. 


The action of making physical contact with an object and any skin receptor – either consciously or unconsciously – when thinking or speaking about its meaning. (Not specific to engagement with hands)


The action of permanently releasing an object from a state of highly associative ownership into a different place, or state of non-existence, with the intent of entirely removing it from its former association and personal ownership.


The action of generating an original or newly-formed object in any form as a means of experiencing and implementing the phases of the fundamental creative process. (Not specific to engagement with hands)


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