“In an art therapy session, the artwork becomes the third person in the room, gently helping to turn on the lights of those dark rooms we avoid.”
Since I was a child, I have always in one way or the other been busy with some creative activity and in retrospect, I think that even then, I was aware of the therapeutic benefits of art making. Creating through drawing, painting, colouring or sculpture brings a sense of focus, satisfaction and calm that remains long after the activity is over. It was this belief in the therapeutic value of art that, after completing a BA degree and subsequent diploma in Graphic Design, led me to complete a Post Graduate in Art Psychotherapy.
During my career as an Art Psychotherapist, I was privileged to work in many settings including, adult psychiatry, with the elderly and in the prison service, however I soon realised that I felt especially drawn to working with children and subsequently spent several years working in London with children who had been subjected to severe abuse and neglect.
Here, I need to point out that art therapy in a clinical setting is very different from the popular belief that art therapists simply interpret or decode drawings. Art psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media, as its primary mode of communication and expression. The art therapist, builds a therapeutic relationship and trust with the client as to engage them at a deeper emotional level and over time, through using art materials and art making, the therapist helps the client identify, express and process difficult emotions. Art therapy can help people of all ages explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, manage addictions, relieve stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and cope with a physical illness or disability. Nowadays, the powerful and therapeutic effects of art making on mental health are widely recognised and documented.
Personally, in working with children, I really like that the artwork becomes a “third person” in the room. This triangular dialogue between the therapist, the child and the artwork makes the process feel safer, as the therapist can explore the child’s feelings through the artwork rather than in a two-way dialogue focussing directly on the child.
However, besides art therapy being a specialised area of mental health, doing art is therapeutic in itself! Most of us have personally experienced the calming and healing qualities of doing art. Whether it is drawing, painting or making something, the time flies by and we are drawn in by the activity, experiencing a sense of wellbeing and satisfaction.