There are many ways to answer the question of “What is art therapy?” as the spectrum and benefits are vast. As a graduate of Transpersonal Art Therapy, I will share from the perspective of looking beyond the physical person to also look at the soul within.
The simple act of creating art can be a catalyst for healing … breathing hope into one’s life that was previously absent. Art transcends boundaries, generations and cultures. It is the opportunity to express ourselves fully through creative forms such as painting and drawing, sculpture, collage, photography, even dance and guided imagery, to allow one’s innate wisdom to bubble up to the surface.
This is where the real magic lies, where emotion meets courage, the inner critic meets acceptance and fear meets love.
Our well-being is a fine balance between our emotional, mental, spiritual and physical states and these states are in constant interaction. So, when something happens in our life to produce a form of distress such as physical pain, mental instability, emotional outbursts etc, it is necessary to look at ourselves wholistically, in order to relieve and heal our suffering. It is simply not enough to go to the doctor and get medication to deal with the pain, this generally just suppresses the underlying issue. More important questions to ask could be: “Why do I feel this way? What is causing my blood pressure to be so high … why am I so stressed …. what is inside me that needs to be expressed and acknowledged?”
When we start to ask ourselves these types of questions we are beginning to take responsibility for our own happiness and well-being. The next step we can take, is to see an Art Therapist whose role is to create a safe healing space, acting as your guide as you explore similar questions through art processes. Some of you might be thinking, “but I am not artistic”, but don’t worry, the focus is not on the art work produced but the process itself, so no aptitude for art is necessary. Besides, we are all creative in our own way, we simply need to give ourselves permission to express whatever we need to in each moment.
Art Therapy is suitable for all ages, both genders and cultures.
Art therapy has been growing in popularity since the late 1940’s and is now being utilised in a variety of settings such as hospitals, jails, community service, mental health, dis-ability, aged care etc. It is a modality that can assist people to work through issues such as, trauma, anxiety, grief, depression, dis-ease & dis-ability. It can also be helpful in those big life transitions such as the start of menses or menopause or discovering one’s life purpose and direction.
Art Therapy has been proven to be of particular value to children where verbal language is challenging. Children who have suffered trauma or are too young to express their feelings in words can share their inner world through art. Children on the Autistic Spectrum also benefit tremendously through Art Therapy as it helps development in many areas such as cognitive skills, socialisation, communication & imagination.
Some of the benefits that people have experienced through working with an Art Therapist include increased self esteem and confidence, increased social skills, stress and anxiety relief, self awareness, communication skills, sense of purpose, joy, clarity and inner peace.
I will leave you with a profound comment that a lovely 90 year old lady with dementia said to me during an art therapy session in the aged care facility I was working in two years ago – “this feeds my soul.”