Art therapy is often misunderstood and brings out different reactions in people. People usually relate it with being artistic and creative, a common misconception. While still evolving it has gained greater acceptance in recent years.
The most effective learning is that which is self-discovered
Roots of art in healing are ancient even though the profession is quite young. Many circumstances led to an environment for the need for art therapy in the 20th century such as the increasing level of comfort with the idea of play. There was a period when we were not so ready to emphasize the playful aspects of work. Movements in art like expressionism and surrealism led to its development. Most of it was the spontaneous work of mentally ill patients in psychiatric and clinical settings. Margaret Naumburg was known as the ‘Mother of art therapy’ and founded it in 1943, USA stating it was an interdisciplinary mix of visual art and psychology. (Karkou 2006)
About Art therapy
Art therapy is a mental health modality involving a psychologist – an art therapist and a client conducting sessions in the form of an individualized session or a wellness group session bringing together physical and emotional care by offering eclectic and creative ways for patients to respond to their disabilities, illnesses, and stress.
Culturally the world is based on analytical thinking – left brain world. In comparison, the right brain focuses on creativity and imagination- one that should be used by all more often.
Art therapies make an individual shift from worrisome rumination to mindfulness and form an integrated bonding with the inner sensory system. It helps gain self-control, improve coping skills, and create self-awareness. It is globally known as one of the most effective methods of relaxation, unleashing creativity, and releasing emotions. Drawing allows the client the opportunity to communicate wishes, dreams, desires, and fears in a non-threatening manner. It serves as a vehicle to express unconscious as well as conscious issues. Individuals feel less threatened as they are not expected to create a perfect picture and can establish a deeper connection with an inner sense of vitality while creating. (MALCHIODI 2003) (Moschini 2004)
Review of Literature
The healing benefits of art therapy could not be possible without the flexibility of neuronal processes or neuroplasticity. The brain is malleable from infancy to adulthood and therefore significant positive experiences can restructure attachments and change neural pathways, which provide opportunities for rehabilitation and change. Konopka and Belkofer (2008) were interested in capturing a shift in brainwave patterns pre and post-art-making and did so through a brain mapping technology EEG and observed many parts realigning in the brain hence gaining further evidence on how it is beneficial at every developmental and cognitive level. (Silverstone 2009)
Group therapy can be structured and non-structured. A structured group has a structured theme proposed which is crucial when the therapist wants to achieve certain set goals, within a certain time limit as instructed by the therapist compared to non-structured group sessions wherein everyone pursues their own way from beginning to end and have no time limit. (J. A. Rubin 2016)
Important requirements for the session
Some important variables to prepare beforehand the session are a safe and comfortable space, materials (papers, colours, pens, paints, water, mats, music, beads, wires, clay, beads wire crimping tubes, Preprinted outlines or designs can be prepared off the Internet for colouring basis.
Sufficient lighting and the required suitable facilities are a must. Timing is crucial while conducting activities and to factors such as offering material, beginning a new activity, giving instructions, closing of an activity. (Buchalter, Art Therapy Techniques and Applications 2009)
Some advantages are of the verbal discussions among all clients; group cohesiveness is encouraged along with interaction. Clients find these enjoyable and these are all tangible sessions to be examined further. Clients develop a broader perspective with respect to other’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It has several advantages over verbal therapy as the process involves interacting with different materials, colours of different basis solids, liquids and different surfaces while using all senses such as auditory (music), visual (materials, drawings), kinesthetic (different materials and surfaces) and olfactory (smell of crayons, paints, inks). (J. Rubin 2005)
There are some factors that serve as hindrances to art therapy group sessions such as Disruptive clients, not enough space, lighting, materials supply, lack of knowledge and training of the therapist, music cannot be heard, instructions should be learned and vocalized well to minimalize interruptions.
It is important that the therapist’s intentions are not verbal and he/she should not hoodwink someone into before the session. (Hogan 1973)
‘The truth is for any creative process to occur one must truly engage in it.’ – Winnicott.
Effectiveness of these sessions
In these sessions, adults bring out the inner child and are able to use their whole personality. Many approaches have been proposed but the humanistic approach worked as a force even In Art therapy. Art therapy and person-centred approach are much more than a powerful response to individual Art therapy as it gives a clear voice to feelings and becomes a wide platform for clients to explore internal issues. (Buchalter, Art Therapy 2004)
The themes that are covered in Art Therapy are Confidence building, self-validation, Freedom to make decisions, self- awareness, and recognition. The therapist must be aware of all assumptions implicit in the task and create a conducive environment. They assume responsibility for their artwork and gradually let down their defences. To gain someone’s trust the therapist must honour his or her experiences and refrain from any degrading evaluation. (Gussak 2016) (LIEBMANN 1986)
Name: Meeting Your Monsters
Materials: 2 sheets of white art paper, colour materials- pens, crayons, pencils, scissors, glue
Music Cue: Mandala Meditation, Zen Flute Healing Sounds
Duration: 25 minutes.
The first round of this activity begins with members having to draw the worst version of themselves. They have to draw everything negative they associate themselves with, others associate them with, labels, tags, insecurities, fears, and hurtful things they encounter on a personal level.
In the second round, members were asked to draw the best version of themselves. Everything they like or love about them and to construct a person who did not have any negative notions in them. They were suggested to draw someone from whom the weight and burden of judgment and negativity had been lifted.
In the third and final round, they were told to cut out the good parts of what they had made and stick it overlapping the negative parts almost like bandaging wounds.
Results and Discussions:
Beginning from the first member she drew herself as someone on the obese side as a reflection of herself as a child who was pressured into Losing weight and reaching the ideal body type. She makes a faceless and clueless person lying around on the bed and the couch. The colours she used were a peaches cream and covered it with people around her in the second activity. She felt much happier and she was able to express her realization for people around her, how she was happy with being social, and slowly began to up her self-esteem.
The second drawing is one of a girl who is constantly attacked with harsh statements on the way she appears. She uses dark black colours to project the hard exterior people think she has but she covers them with slogans of sensitivity and love and one can see the transition in colours from dark to softer colours of pink and blue. Several times clients chose to draw the self inside (dependence, comfort, resistance) or outside (independence, adventurous) and that can be seen here.
The next participant sketches herself as a scarecrow and puts statements of people calling her skeleton, skin, and bones and how she is supposed to always overachieve however she covers it with things she enjoys doing the most which are dancing, singing and elocution.
After that, the next member has similar drawings to those of the previous one on being body-shamed for being underweight however she covers it too with a quote and a girl dancing happily.
Then, the next member expressed herself in the colours of blacks and brown confined within the walls of a jail. The confinement and darkness portray a lot about the participant but in the next round, she draws herself as a shining person on a beach surrounded by flowers, the sea, and a beautiful rainbow sky.
The last member is one who touched everyone with her poem. Her first poem speaks about a child with self-esteem issues, one is who taunted and is made the ‘bad guy’ in several situations.
She seems drawn between who she is and what society wants her to be and draws herself with her mouth covered symbolizing muteness, speechlessness, or one with no voice behind broken glass. It shows how trapped she is within herself.
However, in her second poem, she expressed a tree that’s growing and how she is keeping herself open to being loved.
As can be inferred from the drawings of activity 1 the transition cannot only be seen but also felt among the group members. A sense of emotionality had set in as everyone had really opened up, delved deeper into his or her authentic beings.
Name: Art Factory
Materials: 1 sheet of white art paper, colour materials- pens, crayons, pencils
Music Cue: Loud Luxury Remix ft. Brando
Duration: 10 minutes
This activity is similar to musical chairs wherein when the music stops everyone takes a seat. Except here the members pass the papers further after drawing something and continue the drawing of the previous person’s sketch. This follows until a complete circle is reached.
Results and Discussions:
With this activity beginning the members were slightly apprehensive first but with the upbeat music, they began to enjoy it. As can be inferred from the drawings we see a similar pattern in nearly all of the drawings. There is a sun with clouds, land with people. In some, there are houses, plants, the ocean, and even words. It is here we see the stored images in our cognitive levels come into action. These are images that are stored in us as an infant for several years.
The challenge for the therapist is to provide an art experience that makes a transition possible and to keep the therapeutic space alive. The group could foster emotional healing and resolve inner conflicts. 4 out of 6 people told me prior to the session of their disinterest and lack of skills in art and creativity but felt the transition through the activities. They could feel themselves use art as a language of communication to communicate with themselves, their truths. Even if it meant delving into our inner realms, discovering feelings to express them through visual art, movement, sound, and Poetry. We use art to let go and release. Energy levels are measured and the need for comfort and security is challenged when you work on someone else’s work. (Rappaport n.d.)
Strong Clients always come into therapy with an expected end result in mind even if they cannot identify the problem But colours are a medium that gives clients the ability to experiment with style and movement. It is useful for clients who need to break free from rigidity and structure as we engage in both verbal and non-verbal intelligence, both rational and intuitive knowing. It keeps us away from judgmental, cerebral processes and in the here and now the world of imagination, endless creativity, and inspirations.
We project a significant part of ourselves as an image and working with an image is safer as it is more of a gentle process gathering our complete attention where Words are less censored rather than eyeball-to-eyeball verbal contact. The essences of meanings can be revealed instantly from images
for words distract, defend, and deceive the person himself and those around.
The feedback was a 4 point rating scale with two open-ended questions. Out of 5, all 5 members rated the workshop venue to be comfortable and well located. The workshop content was relevant, comprehensive, and easy to understand for all 5 members. They rated the experience as useful and one they learned from the highest score being 4.
The members stated that what they liked best about the workshop was that they were able to express themselves in a way they had never before, had an enriching experience, and felt positivity towards themselves. They enjoyed the first activity the most and felt as if it were an outlet to release their fears and insecurities and how insignificant were the opinions of others. They felt the session to be insightful, interesting, novel, and enlightening.
As an aspiring art therapist, I was curious to know how I can improve my future sessions and wanted their opinions on how I could do that. They stated they would have preferred if it were longer! And if there was more time they would have preferred a detailed discussion and more activities.
The additional comments were those of thanks from the members and how they felt it was worth waking up early for!
The workshop evaluation sheets are attached after the activity sheets.
Art therapy directs a person to move towards an autonomous state of being and are encouraged to make use of their senses and uniqueness deriving as much as possible from each creative experience. Individuals often focus on what they cannot change and do not exercise much control over. Art therapy helps them observe differences between what they can and cannot change.
It helps them focus by becoming aware of self-defeating thoughts and transforming them into positive ones.
Everyone has an innate ability to be creative and express previously unknown facets of themselves. The process of creation is transformational and I think that through every activity I succeeded in doing so. Feelings of grief, anger, stress are tunnels we passed through and got through to the other side of understanding, wholeness, and tranquility. It was a rewarding experience to conduct this workshop and gain so much insightful knowledge.
The google drive link below contains videos and photographs of the entire workshop:
- Buchalter, Susan I. Art Therapy Techniques and Applications. London: Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data, 2009.
- Silverstone, Liesl. Art Therapy Exercises Inspirational and Practical Ideas to Stimulate the Imagination . UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009.
- Rubin, Judith Aaron. Approaches to Art Therapy. New York: Routledge, 2016.
- Rubin, Judth. Artful Therapy. Canada: Wiley Publications, 2005.
- Hogan, Susan. Healing Arts The History of Art Therapy. USA: Blackwell, 1973.
- Buchalter, Susan I. Art Therapy. Philadelphia: British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data, 2004.
- Gussak, David E. The Wiley Handbook of Art Therapy. Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2016.
- LIEBMANN, MARIAN. Art Therapy for Groups. USA: Croom Helm Ltd and Brookline Books, 1986.
- Karkou, Vicky. Arts Therapies. Great Britain: Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data, 2006.
- MALCHIODI, CATHY A. Handbook for Art Therapy. New York: The Guildford Press, 2003.
- Moschini, Lisa B. Drawing the Line Art Therapy with the Difficult Client. USA: John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
- Rappaport, Laurie. Focusing-Oriented Art Therapy. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.