I love art, Human’s inner world and her process of emotional growth and/or healing. This has led me to study and practice Art therapy with great satisfaction for a long while. In this two-part article, I will try to explain what art therapy is and what advantages it has over the mainstream talk therapy. I will also explain an art therapy session and its two components, which are the process of art-making and the exploration of its product.
Drawing, painting, and modeling can be used to bring unconscious material to light. Once a series has become dramatic, it can easily pass over into the auditive or linguistic sphere and give rise to dialogues and the like. -Carl Gustav Jung, 1941
Art therapy is the process of creating visual images and responding to them within a safe, contained and supportive environment and relationship with a therapist to express and explore inner conflicts, feelings, and thoughts for the purpose of emotional healing and growth. It is for individuals of all ages, ability levels and cultural backgrounds presenting a variety of social, psychological and physical difficulties. No special talent in art or previous experience with art materials are necessary.
Some people have no words or only limited words for what has happened to them. They need a visual voice because their verbal voice was taken away from them. Art Therapy can help them form and express clear and precise pictures of whatever is sucking them into downward spirals and blocking their ability to be present, to grow, and to become who they want to be.
Visual art materials, art-making process, created images, and clients’ responses to all the above play a central role within the therapeutic relationship. Clients’ responses to their art are viewed as representing their concerns and conflicts. The art therapist’s intervention is based on her familiarity with art-making process as well as with human development, psychological theories, and different models of treatment for reconciling emotional conflicts, reducing anxiety, increasing self-esteem and fostering self-awareness.
Art therapy takes place in a studio, a therapeutic space that is ideally located in a quiet, bright, comfortable and safe building. Ideally, the art therapy studio incorporates good quality art materials laid out on a table, natural lighting from windows, private sink and washroom, paper storage area, shelving for the wet paintings and clay works, recycled and found objects, artworks on the walls, plants and fountain, and inspiring music from tapes or radio stations. All these elements, together, would create an atmosphere that is claimed by feelings, transmits a creative energy and confirms that it is a safe place to do art.
Advantages of Art Therapy
Art therapy has many empowering aspects and advantages over verbal psychotherapy.
– It offers many possibilities for opening up, involving you in a tactile, visual and kinetic way, in works that use physical sensations, feelings and ideas.
– It enables those who cannot verbalize what is going on in their lives and how they are feeling, to express themselves.
– It enables those who over-verbalize and thus block their real feelings, to express themselves.
– It provides you with a means of communication that is more holistic and closer to the spatial way the mind works, instead of struggling to come up with the right sentence or logic.
– It accelerates connecting to the issue, as art making for self-expression cuts quickly to your soul.
– It is boundlessly flexible in relation to children’s and adolescents’ developmental level, as it allows them to create and express themselves with the help of whatever knowledge they would have at the time.
– It is helpful for abused children and adolescents who cannot engage in an insight-oriented verbal psychotherapy with an adult authority figure.
– It allows for the process of objectification whereby you externalize your feelings in an art product that serves as a bridge for you to get in touch with your inner self and connect to the outside world. Looking at an art object that embodies your dilemma, you can recognize it and integrate your feelings more readily.
– It enables you to produce something tangible and visible out of what is within your heart and soul, bringing it to conscious awareness in a concrete manner.
– It offers you a container, in the form of the art medium, for your sometimes uncontrollable feelings.
– It offers you the possibility of tapping into deep layers of the collective unconscious by exploring the world of myth and dreams, something that is not available in ordinary talking therapy.
– It inspires in you the desire to create out of your discomfort. It allows you to master your anxiety through creative expression and thus have a corrective emotional experience.
– It strengthens your healthy ego instantly by offering you the twofold venture of releasing the unconscious material (sublimation) and receiving satisfaction from the finished art work.
– Finally, artistic acts of empowerment help you to transform yourself from victims to survivors or heroes.