Tattoos as a form of therapy and expression

Interview with Caroline Gourdier, “the tattooed psychologist”


As we saw in the article Psychology and Tattoos, the body speaks a lot about people and, just like them, the body is also undergoing transformations.

According to some approaches, what is expressed on the outside speaks of what is happening inside, which is a very interesting topic for psychology.

At 10 Masters, we find it interesting to research the relation between psychology and tattoos, focusing on the influence they have when coping with losses or when being used to cover scars.

If you want to know more about this, read our article One wound that heals the other: Tattoos for scars.

In addition, we believe that it is important to make clear the influence of tattoos as a non-verbal language that conveys personal expression.

On this occasion, we are honored to have Caroline Gourdier answer all our questions on the subject.

Who is she?

Known as "The Tattooed Psychologist" and she will tell us why she has this peculiar nickname, her position regarding tattoos and the psychological influence they have on people:

My name is Caroline and I am a graduated clinical psychologist from the UAB. I help people going through a difficult stage or who feel discomfort, to be in peace and harmony and to act using the tools I offer them, to restore balance in their lives.

I chose the name “The Tattooed Psychologist” because people usually forget my name or don’t pronounce it correctly since it is a French name. For this reason, I thought I needed a name that was easier to remember, pronounce and assimilate with my style and personality. Today I have many patients of different social classes, nationalities ( Latin America, Africa, the United States, Romania or Great Britain among other European countries), ages and styles who are looking for someone who does not judge them, and with whom they can identify, presential or online”.

The therapeutic purpose of tattoos

When it comes to tattooing, it is usually thought that it is a practice that provides a simple aesthetic change, but this idea leaves aside a much deeper symbol. Let's see what the lawyer says about it.

“Tattoos can be useful to pay tribute to someone or cope with mourning (typically a portrait of the deceased person or pet, a date, often in the heart or a symbolic place on the body). It also attracts the attention of parents who did not pay them all the attention the person needed, because they never found a place in the family, or suffered bullying at school etc. In this case, it is a way of being reaffirmed to gain more self-confidence: if no one has accepted me as I am, or they have not given me the value I deserve, I’ll give it to myself, I claim my place, my importance and I want people to see me I want to be valued in the eyes of others (even negatively)...”

Tattoos can also be a tool to experience the limits of the body and, therefore, feel alive through pain. A way to self-harm, but in a "healthier" way, in which a drawing will remain on the skin but not cuts or scars. Somehow it’s a way to ask for help. Sometimes, when it is to cover up scars, it also has a therapeutic purpose because, in the end, the aesthetic side and looking better help to have a higher level of self-esteem. Tattoos have many therapeutic uses, although it also has a very socio-cultural role, if we speak, for example, about belonging to a group, or about a ritual of passage”.

It seems essential to do research in depth on the painful situations that can lead a person to get a drawing on their skin since this action is part of a much larger and more intense transformation decided to be expressed artistically.

“When they come to the consultation, it is because they want to start a deep process, from within and not just superficially. However, it is the first step. We use more powerful tools in therapy, but since I use my body a lot about emotions or wounds, going through the expression of these through the skin seems to me to be an excellent start.

Many people who cannot express their emotions through words or behaviour (crying, screaming, etc.), express them through art. This is also another way to do it.

The only thing is that I am very interested in providing solutions to the patients who, in general, since they decide to come, want to delve into their suffering to heal it with deeper tools, from within, with a work of introspection and reflection, before they become aware of the patterns that need to be changed. And then finally, they take action to change, which is when the main goal of therapy is reached”

The tattoo as a non-verbal language

Our need to communicate is something that identifies us as human beings. Over time, different ways of doing so have emerged, which do not necessarily require speech. One of them is tattoos.

Could we say that wearing a design on the skin is like wearing an identity document?

“Indeed, depending on the type of tattoo, they can say a lot about personality. You must have seen a tattoo and go like, even if you have many or that you like them: "I would never get that tattoo!" Well, that’s because they say a lot about us. Someone who wears a large piece can convey self-confidence because they are not aware of what people will think or if they will get a job despite being tattooed on visible parts of the body.

On the other hand, discreet and half-hidden tattoos will convey more delicacy, discretion, attention to the gaze or judgement of others, etc. Therefore, more insecurity. Symbols also give a lot of information. If I tattoo a swastika, I send a very clear message of violence or rigidity in my very radical ideas, and also that I belong to a clan, a social group, in which you will recognize your allies or your enemies”.

The metaphorical side of ink

As the last reflection, Caroline invites us to observe tattoos from the perspective they deserve.

I would like to give a metaphorical meaning to the tattoo, to open minds so that the people who still judge it negatively could see its therapeutic opportunity and that they could understand why certain people get tattooed. In my opinion, we can compare the tattoo with a therapeutic process because there is a request from the applicant (final objective). To achieve this, we will have to go through the process where a wound is opened, which will end up healing, through the self-care process, leaving room for the final result (initial demand).

In therapy, it's the same. The patient comes with a request to solve problems such as lack of confidence, affective dependency, or not managing their emotions. I ask them what result or objective they want to achieve (to be more self-confident, to be free and independent, manage their emotions). We deal with issues that awaken deep wounds (childhood, past relationships, etc.), in a vis-à-vis way with some techniques through which they can be processed to heal so that they no longer hurt. At the end of the day, only the beautiful things remain (change, new things), and no more pain prevents us from enjoying.”

You see, tattoos have an undeniable emotional weight. It's proven, they can even help boost self-esteem.

Caroline confirms this in the second part of this article, don't miss it!