Have you ever wondered about art therapy? What it is and whether it’s something you would benefit from? It was professionally established nearly 80 years ago, but has grown in popularity as clients realise the power of using art and creative media to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
Art therapy is a valuable way of expressing feelings that can often be difficult to discuss. I’m a huge advocate, and am fortunate to have two fantastic Integrative Arts Psychotherapists here at Altum Health: Nicole Worrica and Katrina Hudson. Today, I’ve called upon Katrina to tell you more.
Katrina, what is art therapy?
In summary, art therapy uses creative methods to help clients explore difficult feelings, trauma, or emotional patterns and challenges. It’s about employing our senses to communicate something about ourselves that is hard to reveal using words alone.
Art therapy can also help to access the lesser known parts of ourselves that might otherwise be too difficult or dangerous to express, for example due to cultural circumstances or messages received when we were young. It can sometimes feel too painful or frightening to share difficult feelings directly through words, but by transforming them into an art form or movement, clients can begin to convey those feelings in a safer way.
As an example, I might ask a client what a particular feeling looks like – is there an animal that represents that feeling? If the client then draws a lion, that difficult feeling is held within their drawing of the lion, which creates a safe environment from where we can start to develop communication, awareness and an understanding of that feeling. Within this accepting environment, provided by the arts and the therapist, we may then come to terms with parts of ourselves we often reject, which can ease emotional distress and dissatisfying patterns.
How does art therapy work?
Art therapy can either be conducted as a 1-2-1 session, or in a group, depending on the client’s requirements. It’s imperative that the client feels comfortable, so we offer a wide range of creative resources to choose from, and ensure the session moves at the client’s pace.
The creative resources I offer include: paint, pencils, collage, modelling clay and sculpture, the use of objects, movement, music or poetry to help facilitate expression. We can also work with imagination and metaphor to explore experiences if the client doesn’t want to physically engage in the arts.
Integrated with psychological principles, art therapy can be a really useful way to help clients understand their difficult feelings or characteristics, and hence create a better relationship with themselves, other people and their surroundings.
We also use techniques to help clients ease into the session if needed, so that they don’t feel intimidated. We might ask the client to choose an image from a set of postcards that they particularly relate to and – if they are happy to – display the postcard and talk about why they selected it. This might trigger a memory, meaning, an idea or an association, which can aid the discussion, and ‘break the ice’.
Do you need to be artistic to benefit from art therapy?
I would like to stress; art therapy is not an art class! Clients do not require any artistic experience or indeed, prowess, to benefit from art therapy. It’s not about creating a beautiful piece of art, it’s about allowing the creative process to enlighten clients to thoughts and feelings they might not have previously been aware of, or have ‘parked’ for understandable reasons.
What are the benefits of art therapy?
Being a form of sensory, non-verbal communication, art therapy is accessible to all: from young children to the elderly and everyone in between.
What art therapy does very well is connect our mind with our body and our senses. It allows clients time to connect with ‘play’, time to be creative, which in turn helps us to express ourselves.
Connecting our thoughts with our feelings and even physiological reactions helps to understand why those feelings are there and where they might have come from. As difficult emotions arise, I monitor the work with the client so that feelings are expressed at a manageable pace. For example, if anger is expressed safely in art form, it can feel more contained, and safer, than expressing it in words alone. I also practice in a co-created manner, where the client and I ‘explore’ together and I help them to come to their own understanding.
And lastly, by transferring feelings into an art form, clients are given the opportunity to separate a little from their feelings or emotions and view them more objectively. This can help them to act more compassionately towards themselves, while harnessing a better understanding of their feelings and those of others.
Katrina, thank you so much for talking to us today; art therapy can be an immensely cathartic and facilitating process, which I wholly endorse.
If you think art therapy could be helpful to you, please do get in touch to discuss the range of treatments that we offer.
For further information about art therapy, including client testimonials, take a look at The British Association of Art Therapists.
Take care and stay safe,
Dr Courtney x