Art therapy uses creative media such as paint, crayon, collage, textas, clay and pastels to express and explore your emotion and experience. It can also include other modalities such as music, dance, drama, movement, photography, digital media, psychodrama and sand play. These visual, physical, tactile and auditory media are a form of non-verbal expression that help you externalise your internal experience. We like to say that Art Therapy is like a doorway into your inner world.
Transpersonal Therapies are holistic therapies that focus on all aspects of you; the social, emotional, creative and spiritual aspects of your life. All of your life is interconnected; no part is separate. Transpersonal therapists help you to find meaning through meditation, guided imagery, dream work and mindfulness practices that explore your spiritual self and your life. Transpersonal Art Therapists use these techniques to help you connect with your inner wisdom when facilitating your art making.
Art Therapy is not about creating perfect art. In fact, no art experience is necessary or required when you come to Art Therapy. Plus, it is so much better if you come to therapy with no expectation of what you will produce. Whatever you make will be used by you and your therapist to make meaning. We will ask you to reflect on the colours, the marks and the symbols that you see in your work. We don’t interpret your art or make judgement on what we see. Rather we encourage you to talk about the feelings, sensations and ideas your pictures evoke in you.
For example, the use of the colour red may mean anger to one person but life-giving joy to another. A waterfall may represent nature and peace to one person and uncontrolled crying to another. A long tunnel may seem like fear and uncertainty to one person and endless unconditional love to another. It really is all about your view of the world, your life and your art.
Studies have shown that art therapy is beneficial as a therapeutic medium for people with PTSD, cancer, stroke, disability, women with infertility, people with acquired brain injury, and much more. It is offered to clients in aged care facilities, prisons, children’s services, women’s refuges, veteran’s services, hospitals, health care and many others.
Further the process of creating art can be used to assist with the regulation of your nervous system. Slow quiet processes have been shown to lower cortisol and help you destress while active body movement can increase energy in more lethargic clients.
My client, who I will call Louise to protect her privacy is a woman in her thirties. She has tried lots of psychological treatments and is quite sceptical that anything will work. She is also not convinced about the positive effects of Art Therapy. The idea of accessing her subconscious and inner wisdom is appealing but she is not sure it is for her. For starters, she hasn’t found meditation easy and has difficulty seeing images in guided visualisation. Still, she wants to give Art Therapy a try.
Louise has been experiencing a lot of health issues which she realises started when her father died about 8 years ago. He was a strong and influential man as well as much loved presence in her life who was taken from her far too early. I offered her an Art Therapy exercise to get in touch with a Healing Symbol, which she could carry with her on her healing journey.
During the meditation, I asked her to imagine walking in nature where she would find an object which would become her healing symbol. Louise was amazed that the object which jumped into her mind was a toy from her childhood; one which had a strong connection to her father and her health issues. I didn’t know about this object and she had not thought about it for a long time.
This was her subconscious offering her a symbol of hope for the future; a connection with her lost parent and her desire for good health. This surprised and delighted her and me.
I invited her to create an image of this toy and keep it with her as photo on her phone and a picture by her work station as a reminder of the message from her inner wise self. She was excited to try this strategy as she felt a strong emotional connection to the idea.
So, if you are thinking about seeing an Art Therapist and these stories whet your appetite to give it try, do so and you too may be surprised at the new insights you gain from the experience.
It’s your art and it’s your meaning, take the opportunity to see what it reveals to you.