Art Therapy: What and Who?

By: Ferhana Hejazi

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy utilising art media to express and communicate our emotions and feelings, therefore, it acts as a medium to highlight and address emotional issues. This can be implemented when issues for the person are confusing and distressing.

Art therapists work with a wide range of individuals from children, adults and the elderly, who suffer from all kinds of difficulties, disabilities and diagnoses. Art therapists can help with art making, as a form of therapy that promotes an end product, that results in a tangible form in order to tap into that creative side to consequently create expression, and strengthen communication.

Art therapy is a subject that has rendered questions in terms of its usefulness and benefit. Sometimes it is given a dismissive wave of the hand, labelled “just arts and crafts”, and other times it is appreciated for all of its wonders. However, art therapy is not just arts and crafts, or the humble colouring book that can be found clutched under the arms of toddlers, or doodles made in teenage notebooks. Art that has an intention of helping, via therapeutic relationship, can promote engagement in self-exploration, and purposeful meaning-making from specific art making.

So, how and why does this type of therapy work, one may be inclined to ask.

Growth and development

For children within the age of 10 years or younger, artistic skill can shed some light on emotional experiences, cognition and sensory through their development, and this is just as well for adults. What is not apparent through talking-therapy, art can otherwise be useful in adding valuable information. This can be done through reading or creating stories to express previous events, which may have been traumatic or troubling.

Self-regulation

Neurobiology informs us that there is particular sensory characteristics of art making deemed as effective in mood improving, sensory integration and calming body and mind. Such like, when in times of dealing with any calamity that one may face, turning to prayer or listening to Qur’an very likely serves as a method to ‘deal’ with such situations. It often provides an outlet to unload worries and woes, thus coming away with feelings of relief and a certain lightness to the very centre of one’s core.

Meaning-making

Art therapy gives an opportunity to express metaphor through artful expressions. Story- telling about a drawing, painting or collage does not need to be literal for it to be therapeutic. Those who have experienced traumatic events, or are emotionally challenged may only be able to express through imaginative stories. This method can provide a way of release with support and guidance from a therapist as well encouraging a form of self-control, using your own pace to deal with the metaphorical “stuff”.

In its simplest form, art expression is a non-verbal communication. This bodes well for a child or adult that may not be able to communicate thoughts, sensations, emotions or perceptions. It is one way to convey when there is difficulty in expressing with words. In effect, this can be their ‘tell without talking’ about situations and feelings that they’re afraid to speak about, or are unable to because of fear. This sensory approach, identifies experiences for themselves, whilst communicating on multiple levels – visual, tactile, and kinaesthetic to name a few. This gives an opportunity to not only be heard from talking, but also seen and felt through art.

Despite the simplicity of making art, it is also complex with its many forms and meanings. As art therapy evolves and expands in knowledge and practice, it opens up possibilities for best practice for all needing help and healing.

Don’t forget to tell us how you creatively cope this month by participating in #creativecoping!

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