Art therapy is a subject that I have been drawn to over the past few years. I first began searching for the real meaning of the therapy whilst writing my dissertation in my third year at uni. Today, I thought it might be useful to revisit this area as I’m coming to a point in life where I really need to start thinking about what kind of path I’d like to take – I’m thinking that maybe art therapy could be the way to go.
I’ve found that not many people seem to be aware of what the treatment could possibly involve, and when I first heard the words ‘art’ and ‘therapy’ placed together, even I imagined some strange kind of healing of paintings. It made no sense to me. But in reality, art therapy has become increasingly popular amongst mental health patients in recent years. It first became recognised in the mental health profession in the 1930s and now takes place in a variety of settings – art education, occupational therapy, within social work etc.
Art therapy is based around the view that we all have the ability to respond to the arts within us. Injury, illness or disability often leaves this unimpaired. As a treatment, it is used for people who have difficulty making sense of or communicating with their environment. The British Association of Art Therapists describes it as ‘‘a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication’’. The view is that we often find it easier to reach expression in images rather than in words.
From my own research, I have learnt that a typical art therapy session involves patients being prompted to express strong emotions using an artistic medium that encourages their own special language to emerge. The artwork made may explore themes relating to dreams, fantasies, fears, conflicts and childhood memories from within the individual’s unconscious. No previous experience or skill in art is required of the patient. The aesthetic assessment of the image produced is not the therapist’s primary concern; it is the feelings that are expressed that are of significance. The therapy allows the patient to go through a process of healing, allowing them to open up with feelings that they may not have been able to through words alone.
Although it is a treatment method used for illnesses of all severities, looking into the subject has made me see how important the therapeutic benefits of art are on a daily basis. On a personal level, art does not only allow me to say things that I would otherwise not be able to say, it relaxes me, gives me some kind of release from the everyday stresses of life. Even just sitting quietly with my sketchbook and pencils, I can escape to another world, my mind stops and I am free for a little while – this is my art therapy.
If anybody else has their own personal art therapy experiences to share, it would be lovely to hear about them.
What is art to you?