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NIIHR Art Project Group

The Clearing

The Clearing (2019) is a short dance film produced by the Northern Ireland Institute of Human Relations’ Psychoanalytic Art Project, a creative collaboration between art, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, dance movement therapy, and music therapy. Inspired by Donald Kalsched’s wonderfully vivid re-description and elaboration of Donald Winnicott’s concept of true and false self responses to trauma, the film illustrates the creative potential for a sensitive clinical engagement to transform an isolated internal prison into a therapeutic clearing – in which reflection, mutual aliveness, growth, and movement are possible.

Two papers relating to this film are available by contacting Please also feel free to contact us at this address if you have any comments or queries.


Witnessing, through dance, movement, and music the psychoanalytic telling of a human story.

Emerging out of a two-and-a-half-year collaborative and interdisciplinary Psychoanalytic Art Project, based around an original idea by Cheryl Bleakley, artist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist, the film at the heart of this presentation is inspired by an interview with Jungian Analyst, Donald Kalsched*.

Along with her peers from the Northern Ireland Institute of Human Relations, a creative process began in relation to the paper, and a sculpture was crafted. During the sculpture’s creation, it was felt that it had the potential to evolve into both a dance movement piece and a film.  Members of the Psychoanalytic Art Project then invited two dance movement psychotherapists to join them on the project.

The film’s essence portrays trauma occurring in a young girl as a result of emotional abuse from her mother, the impact that has on her, and how, in order to survive the unbearable pain, the true self goes into hiding and a false self is created, causing a split wherein the girl is in a state of intra-psychic conflict, setting her off on a journey in which psychological borders are created, as a necessity for psychic survival; the awakening to and deconstruction of the borders, as she tentatively begins to create new boundaries through a psychotherapeutic relationship.   

Dr Julie Sutton, music psychotherapist, joined with this creative collaboration to provide an improvised musical response to the film’s movement.

*Uncovering the Secrets of the Traumatised Psyche, in Sieff, Daniela F. (2015), ‘Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma: Conversations with Pioneering Clinicians and Researchers’



  • Cheryl Bleakley is an ICP-, and UKCP-registered psychoanalytic psychotherapist. The Vice-Chair of the Northern Ireland Institute of Human Relations, Cheryl is also a professional artist, and the creative lead behind the Institute's psychoanalytically-informed Art Project. Cheryl’s paintings and conceptual artwork have featured in both solo and group exhibitions, and secured her residencies in Berlin and New York. 

  • Mary Cairns is an Arbours-trained, ICP-, and UKCP-registered psychoanalytic psychotherapist and clinical supervisor. A former Chair of the Northern Ireland Institute of Human Relations, Mary has a special interest in how psychoanalytic principles and thinking can be applied across a wide spectrum of creative arts, particularly film and literature.

  • Erin Olivia Shanks is an ADMP-registered dance movement psychotherapist, a dance teacher, and a dance movement facilitator. She is the founder of the Lisburn-based dance company, Moving Essence NI. Erin’s work is underpinned by a firm belief in the expressive release that comes through movement, and a deep commitment to making the joy of a diverse range of dance widely accessible, as a vital component of emotional well-being.

  • David Smith is an ICP-, and UKCP-registered psychoanalytic psychotherapist and clinical supervisor, having previously facilitated creative writing and both art and music therapy groups within a residential therapeutic community setting. He is the Chair of the Northern Ireland Institute of Human Relations, and former Chair of the Psychoanalytic Section of the Irish Council for Psychotherapy. 

  • Dr Julie Sutton is a senior music psychotherapist and clinical supervisor, a former Vice President of the European Association for Music Therapy, and Trustee of of the British Association for Music Therapy. A widely-published author, she is the editor of Music, Music Therapy, and Trauma (2002), and the former Editor-in-Chief of the British Journal of Music Therapy. Julie is a BPC-registered psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and sits on the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Psycho-Analytic Society. 

  • Theresa Weir is an ADMP-registered dance movement psychotherapist. She has worked in a variety of private and public settings, with both children and adults. She performed in an award-winning research project on bereavement and loss, Your Story Calls Me, and also performed, in a creative collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation, Holding the Baby in Mind.

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