For the next two years, I will be returning to academia in order to attain a Masters degree in Art Therapy. During my work as a practising artist, I have been made increasingly aware of therapeutic benefits of art and creativity on our individual wellbeing. Through community engagement, I have seen the important role art plays in bringing communities together and bringing a sense of fulfilment and spontaneity to our everyday lives. A large proportion of my outreach work has been with vulnerable groups; children, the homeless and other disadvantaged members of society. I am aware of the positive impact the process of art making can have on someone who is coming to know themselves (again).
Life is a journey and whether we have had a hard day at work or home, or are overcoming a traumatic experience, art can play a crucial role in restoring a sense of balance and wellbeing.
I will explore ways art can be incorporated into our daily routines in order to support a sense of wellbeing and positive mental health.
What is Art Therapy?
“Art [making] demands the presence; in body, mind and feeling. It engages the whole person. Moves in and out of words; it explores the places in between the spoken, the unspoken, the meaningful, the chaotic, between thoughts, actions and feelings.” –Karen Huckvale, Art Psychotherapist (she produces a resource for art therapists called Insider Art).
In short, Art Therapy is a way of exploring and resolving our sense of self without words or where articulation is challenging.
Art is a form of therapeutic expression which uses creative and artistic means to encourage physical and psychological wellbeing. From a psychotherapeutic point of view, it works by encouraging personal engagement in the process of recuperation, by offering a means of creative autonomy bounded by support from a psychotherapist.
Art Therapy is a person-centred therapy available to children and adults. It has far reaching benefits that have been used for issues relating to mental health, physical illness, trauma and terminal illness. Saying that, it can also be used simply to support positive mental health in individuals who do not present any psychological issues. Hence the possibility that taking up art making independently can make us feel better about life in general.
The term Art Therapy was first used in the UK by the British artist Adrian Hill. Hill fought in the First World War, recording his time in the trenches through his pen and ink drawings. In 1938, he used the process of drawing to assist him in recovering from tuberculosis, a restorative theme that he later revisited by teaching art to soldiers returning injured from the Second World War.
Hill wrote several books on Art Therapy, the first being ‘Art Versus Illness’ in 1948. In this book, he wrote that creative expression allowed the patient to experience relief from trauma “by completely engrossing the mind [and] releasing creative energy.” Art Therapy can be separated into three categories:
-Analytical Art Therapy: Based on theories of psychoanalysis
-Art Psychotherapy: Emphasises the meaning being expressed within the art, often through symbolism
-Art Therapy: Places the emphasis either on art as therapy or art in therapy
Beyond these approaches, it is agreed that Art Therapy, per se, is the process of image making used to develop new ways of releasing unexpressed emotions.
This process of creative enfoldment enables us to communicate in a way that cannot otherwise be articulated, realising emotions, both consciously and subconsciously, with the emphasis being to effect change and growth.
Do try this at home…
Or in the office or your daily commute. Art making need not be a scary experience where the outcome is disappointing and proof of a lack of ability. The process of art is what is learned and experienced along the way and not about the end result. It’s about how it makes us feel, how our ideas or decisions change as we work with the material/s, be it paint, clay or a pencil.
It’s what we come to know about ourselves that we were not aware of before the process started. It’s about getting out of our heads for a while and enjoying a more sensory experience.
Task One: on a plain piece of paper and a pen or pencil and using your non-dominant hand draw a picture of a something in the room that has caught your eye. It could be a flower, an ornament or the way light is being reflected in a particular area.
Task Two: with closed eyes make marks on a piece of paper that reflect your mood. Let the pressure you use, express how you are feeling. Keep going until you feel you have filled the page. Open your eyes and observe what you see.
Art making is a perfect opportunity to be carefree and childlike again. If we observe children being creative, we soon realise that they are not limited by the possibility of failure in the same way we may be. Instead, they embrace the prospect of being creative wholeheartedly and appear to explore materials without setting limits on the outcome.
So just for today, be playful. Create something, enjoy the process, and be surprised at the outcome.
The Butterfly project is a grassroots organisation which uses Art as Therapy to offer therapeutic support to survivors of domestic abuse. The project is currently working with Homestart, a national charity offering support to vulnerable families, and Women’s Aid.
The aim of this project is to create a safe space for women to unload negative past experiences and move on, so they are able to start afresh with renewed self-esteem and a strong sense of self-worth.
Workshops include person-centred discussions and creative activities to gain a greater understanding of how they identify with themselves. They aim is to reconnect individuals with whom they truly are, above and beyond their experiences, moving forward to create a positive and balanced world for them and creating the opportunity to build healthy, new relationships.
For more information, visit www.butterflyproject.org.uk