Art Therapy, A Whole New World
In the words of Howard W Thurman, civil rights leader, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and then do that… Because what the world really needs is people who come alive.”
Kirstin Van As is an Alternative Therapist, who has lead many people through pain to healing using the incredible medium of art. she has prepared for us a short overview on what art therapy is all about.
Art Therapy – A Whole New World By Kirstin van As
Adult colouring books seem to be the newest top sellers in bookstores. Bringing bland pictures or mandalas to life is the new form of meditation, getting a break from the overwhelming amount of distractions we have to deal with everyday, shortening our attention span more and more.
Art can be a way to rekindle our creative side, self-compassion, self-healing, and even our mental focus and mindfulness. I believe everyone is creative. It is a matter of finding where your creativity lies and developing it.
“Art is a non-verbal medium, which provides the participant with a safe space to express themselves, without needing to talk about it. Art speaks in metaphors, imagery and symbols, which reveals much deeper information about underlying words unspoken or even unaddressed subconscious issues.”
As Hugh MacLeod, author of Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity puts it: “Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.”
I am mostly referring to visual art in this article, although please keep in mind that expressive arts have a much wider scope from gardening, baking and cooking at home to dancing, acting, music, singing, digital art and many more.
“Whether we find ourselves enjoying pottery, painting, sketching, beading, mosaic making, collaging, photography, writing, designing, even doodling or colouring in, we somehow explore a part of ourselves which has been shut off for a long, long time.”
Art is a non-verbal medium, which provides the participant with a safe space to express themselves, without needing to talk about it. Art speaks in metaphors, imagery and symbols, which reveals much deeper information about underlying words unspoken or even unaddressed subconscious issues.
This is why the use of art therapy is so accessible. It creates a platform for self- discovery and self-healing while enjoying the process of crafting something which carries meaning to the creator, as he/she finds a way to transform their raw, heavy emotions into a piece of art: another form of Alchemy.
I believe art is medicine for the soul. Whether we find ourselves enjoying pottery, painting, sketching, beading, mosaic making, collaging, photography, writing, designing, even doodling or colouring in, we somehow explore a part of ourselves which has been shut off for a long, long time.
We have been conditioned to believe the only way to survive and to be accepted in society is by submitting to the system: the left brain, the thinking, analytical, “safe” side of reality where everything is intellectualised, planned and structured. This is true to some degree, but what if there is a whole world waiting for us to explore a completely different part of our psychological make-up – of what makes us human?
I recently participated in a couple of activities in an Expressive Arts Workshop. During the workshop, I realised that art brings up to the surface whatever you are facing at that stage in your life, whether you are aware of it or not; whether you planned it or not. Whether good or bad, it shows itself. You cannot hide your true self once the art-making process starts. And that’s the beauty of it. This workshop has been such an insightful journey, not only for every individual who took part, but seeing each other’s art works as a group, has brought up universal themes and ideas for discussion. It is extremely rewarding and enriching to bring to our awareness those hidden parts of ourselves, and of life in general, that we usually don’t ponder about.
As for Art Therapists working at clinical settings with patients, who may include creative arts in counselling, play therapy, arts in healthcare and expressive arts therapies, reflecting on the art-making process and the experience of creating art, the facilitator or therapist draws on the strengths of the artist to help empower clients to have the courage to face their challenges. Facilitators or therapists will be careful not to interpret or judge the artwork and label it, leaving it open for interpretation by the artist herself, which usually brings something completely different to the table than what would have been expected.
“One lady called me closer, squeezed my hand and with tears in her eyes she said, “My brother passed away a couple of days ago. I’m going through a very tough time. But I was comforted when I read my quote: “A queen will always turn pain into power.”’ (Rumi) With renewed hope, she smeared some glue on the back of the paper and stuck it on her piece of art.”
Expressive artwork does not have to be aesthetically pleasing, finished or valuable, but is rather kept as a record of emotions and emotional states where the journey of growth is usually evident after a couple of sessions.
Positive results in art therapy may often be achieved by those facing issues such as: (“Art Therapy”, extracted from GoodTherapy.org)
- Severe or light emotional abuse
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Substance dependency
- Attention deficit hyperactivity
- Aging and geriatric issues
- Compassion fatigue
- Heart disease
- Other eating disorders
- Cognitive impairments
- Family or relationship issues
“Art therapy has been shown to benefit people of all ages. Research indicates art therapy can improve communication and concentration and can help reduce feelings of isolation. This type of therapy has also been shown to lead to increased self-esteem, confidence, and self-awareness.” (“Art Therapy”, extracted from GoodTherapy.org)
One of the art therapy exercises I facilitated was “Painting with Music”. I spread a couple of Rumi quotes over the table for each person to randomly choose from as inspiration. After a short mindful meditation, I played some classical notes. The most inspiring images started to take shape on their blank paper sheets. I was amazed. One lady called me closer, squeezed my hand and with tears in her eyes she said, “My brother passed away a couple of days ago. I’m going through a very tough time. But I was comforted when I read my quote: “A queen will always turn pain into power.”’ (Rumi)
With renewed hope, she smeared some glue on the back of the paper and stuck it on her piece of art.