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Art for Healing

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ART FOR HEALING

As Life Coach and applied Kinesiologist Deborah K Bates discovers, many people have uncovered a tremendous sense of healing and personal transformation through the creative processes of Art Therapy.

Deborah chats with two professionals, Gold Coast artist/teacher, Shelena Russell and Northern Rivers, Community Artist/mentor, David Adams. While both work in different areas of art – David in community art with clients facing multiple life barriers and Shelena an artist and art teacher with her own gallery – they share a common philosophy regarding Art Therapy, that it’s a transformative process whereby we can unblock and unlock our past. It’s about freeing our future from the past – it’s about helping us becoming emotionally successful.

WHAT IS ART THERAPY?

Art therapy is a non-invasive form of therapy which provides a safe process for individuals to unleash repressed emotions, trauma and blocked feelings, art can be a window to the soul opening up the unconscious mind.

Shelena explains, ‘It differs from counseling and psychotherapy in that, rather than talking and analyzing it uses art as the medium. In essence the client doesn’t do the talking; the art does it for them.’

ART THERAPY ORIGIN

The origin of art as a therapy has appeared vague historically yet; art has always been a visual therapeutic tool.

David’s explains, “History is dotted with evidence of how art assists healing, I believe Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud played a role in the development of art as a therapeutic process. Both drew conclusions that art could reveal and heal. This seemed to spur a development whereby other professionals experimented with art as a therapeutic tool and Art Therapy began to be taken seriously and earned its place as a distinct profession. Nowadays, Art Therapy is included in wellness plans to enhance recovery and healing in numerous hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation or counseling centre’s.”

“Creative expression has the power to transform painful experiences, evoke healing, and change how we interact with our world.”

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Trauma brought about by illness or circumstances – physical or emotional – has the power to incarcerate our internal processes. The usual processing mechanisms seize up, thoughts and feelings become concealed, disguised, or suppressed, and the result is blocked emotions, muddled thoughts, and an inability to translate the experience through words.

David’s experience reveals, “Art therapy is a process of expression, the person doesn’t need to talk, the art does the talking. It works by allowing that which has been difficult to articulate or that which hurts to be expressed and released then healing can occur. Art Therapy is more than just about creative expression, communicating feelings and emotions using art as the medium is the objective not the end result. The process of emptying and refilling with a new sensation lets one see, safely, a little of how they feel on the inside. It has the power to transform painful experiences, evoke healing, and change how we interact with our world.”

Shelena shares similar findings, Art Therapy is a non-verbal process, and people don’t need to talk when producing art. The art does the talking.

 “Art is a silent therapeutic tool because it tells you what you can’t say verbally. For example, when I’m painting something extremely emotional I feel a rushed yet exciting feeling … Art provides a place of safety for people to express and an individual has the opportunity to understand their internal environment and see things that otherwise may not have been comprehended.”

“ … Art Therapy is a non-verbal approach, in the end it is the art that does the talking, no matter the medium.”

WHAT HAPPENS IN AN ART THERAPY SESSION?

Art Therapy uses many creative forms such as drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, phototherapy and numerous mediums such as paints, scrap-booking type materials, gems, stars, feathers and so on. A typical session may involve integrating creative projects such as making masks, painting, drawing, or writing. The materials selected are appropriate to individual’s needs and those that will produce the best results in terms of expressing feelings.

David explains, I like to design a session that has the greatest potential to elicit what has been locked away and then guide the client through the process. Remember, Art Therapy is a non-verbal approach, in the end it is the art that does the talking, no matter the medium. Most times the expression comes out as a series of symbols and the product is metaphoric and this alone tells the story. It is up to the therapist to help the client determine the meaning behind the symbols represented in the artwork. A lot of my work is listening and then filling in the blanks to help the client find the messages behind the symbols.”

WHICH CONDITIONS CAN ART THERAPY HELP WITH?

 “Art therapy can help anyone, anywhere,” David says. “Through my association with various community organizations I became aware that art therapy has been beneficial in assisting people with a number of conditions. In particular art has proved beneficial with ex-offenders and issues which affect many people such as bereavement, anxiety, and/or depression and post traumatic stress. Through my community work I have worked with many people with numerous disadvantages – vocationally, socially, economically, physically, including abuse and eating disorders. Art has proved successful in a number of ways, for example: self esteem, self pride, reduced stress levels, increasing communication and social interaction, better coping skills, improved motor skills and physical co-ordination.”

Shelena too, shares similar findings and confirmed individuals produced similar results including: increased self esteem, stimulate imagination and creativity, autism and grief. At the end of the day art, in any form, can simply leave you feeling good.

“When you paint it can make you focus on creating something you are feeling deep inside, the final brushstroke brings closure, a door has closed and another opens and that’s how you heal and evolve.”

WHY DO YOU THINK ART THERAPY CAN HELP A PERSON’S INNER WORLD HEAL AND EVOLVE?

Art itself is a process of evolvement and transformation, the simple act of connecting the mind and thoughts through art can have a positive influence on perception and personal expression and this leads to healing through evolvement.

David’s work with clients experiencing multiple social barriers reveals, “The act of working with art is healing to their inner emotions, and this transforms perceptions from negative to the positive. It is the journey of the creative process, unknown, or undiscovered, which elicits the healing process and that alone is a vehicle towards evolvement. And that will continue on for the rest of their lives.”

Shelena says, “When you paint it can make you focus on creating something you are feeling deep inside, the final brushstroke brings closure, a door has closed and another opens and that’s how you heal and evolve.”

HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM TRADITIONAL ART?

Traditional art offers an opportunity for the artist or viewer to experience a form of healing. So does traditional art differ from Art Therapy?

David explains, “It is my opinion that in essence it doesn’t differ, the end result can still be appreciated by the viewer. It is more about the process and motive that differentiates the two. Art Therapy has a motive – to unlock pain, the completed piece becomes a diagnostic tool to heal the artist; traditional art has no real motive persé– it produces a result, it is a journey of expression from the artist to heal the viewer.”

CAN WE BE OUR OWN THERAPIST?

Some people choose a less formal approach to healing through art classes with trained artists or home creative expression.

David explains, This approach has its merits, as art by virtue of its therapeutic properties has the power to heal. Anything people do that involves putting the heart and soul into it, will have a beneficial affect. If one wants to work in their own space I would suggest following art therapy principles of expressing without judgment or the need to have a specific outcome. However I suggest seeking out a professional when dealing with more serious issues. People can support their healing through their own creative practices using the principles of Art Therapy.”

Shelena suggest when working in ones own space to let that space do the work, “When I paint I go into my own world … I let it unfold without thought, it lets me create something that I feel deep inside.”

WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING AN ART THERAPIST?

Both David and Shelena agree, as with any modality it is important to seek out professionals who hold relevant qualifications in Art Therapy including someone you have a rapport with.

David adds, “Many counselors and psychologists adopt the methods used in art therapy, as part of their repertoire, art therapists are usually artists but they also hold other qualifications in psychotherapy as well.”

DOES THE INDIVIDUAL SEEKING HEALING NEED TO BE AN ARTIST?

You do not have to be an artist; in fact, lack of knowledge can be an asset in a session, it’s about the creative expression which comes from the inner person.

 Shelena explains. “If someone recognizes the artist within, that will trigger the right emotions, passion and mental framework. The focus of art making is personal growth; developing new coping skills and release.”

CAN THE SIMPLE ACT OF VISITING AN ART GALLERY DO YOU CONSIDER VIEWING ART AS THERAPEUTIC?

Definitely says Shelena, “When I visit other galleries or view others artwork, I feel overwhelmed, but it gives me a warm feeling especially when I see a piece that pulls me towards it. Conversely when people visit my gallery, often they share with me feelings of being inspired or moved.

David agrees with Shelena’s sentiment, stating when he views a piece of artwork he enters the window of the artist’s world, it transports him beyond his own space – it’s healing, stimulating and reflective.

WHAT INSPIRES YOUR ART?

Shelena says “Just being loved and cared for inspires me as an artist. The emotions I feel as an artist is like a roller coaster ride with no ending, when its running down you know there’s always an up. I’m still learning to train myself to enjoy the downs.”

Tips for Healing – Art Therapy principles

  • Ensure you have a safe, quiet place to work from
  • Work with materials you feel comfortable with, let them choose you
  • Don’t think, simply express with your chosen medium
  • You will know when the piece is finished you may release an audible sigh, tears, words
  • Appreciate the creation, suspend all judgments and analytical process

 Remember … Art does the talking – so … let it do the talking

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