A SAFE WAY FOR PEOPLE TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES IN A NON-THREATENING ENVIRONMENT
The need for mental health is direr than ever before. With rising awareness about psychology in India, there are a few schools of psychology/ therapy which are well established in our country. Words such as REBT, CBT, psychiatric medication, etc. have become a part of our colloquial lexicon. Apart from these, one more therapy which is assuming significance is the “Expressive art therapy.”
I am a consultant psychologist with a specialization in Clinical Psychology.
I am also a trained visual art therapy (VAT) facilitator. VAT comes under the umbrella of expressive art therapy. This new branch of psychology has armed me with multiple tools to help my clients’ battle anxiety, depression, daily stressors, effect of trauma, and facilitate their overall growth. Visual art therapy consists of using art material to express emotions. The art material includes clay, photographs, sculptures, collages and lots of craft material to help clients express something beyond articulation.
It’s no wonder that the therapists are showing interest in this field, given the deep affinity between art and Indian culture. My journey in this field began with a glimpse of passing curiosity. I have never been much of a creative person. When I heard about art therapy, I was intrigued simply because I wanted to learn something out of my comfort zone.
When I started learning this therapy the first instruction given was that ‘you don’t need to be creative to learn this form of therapy. You don’t need to create something aesthetically beautiful as this is not an art class. This is about learning to look at art form as an expression.’ I heaved a huge sigh of relief.
It’s easier to explain how this therapy works through an example. Have you ever been so angry that you just scribbled lines harshly on a paper? So much so that sometimes the paper tears apart. Most of the children do that. And it does help in reducing the tension. If you have ever done that you have experienced VAT on a minute level. In the therapy setup, it is used for deeper emotional challenges, with the help of the therapist and also in an emotionally safe and non-judgmental set up.
Hypothetically if a client is going through depression and if he is finding it difficult to talk about it then VAT can come to the rescue. The therapist might ask him to choose according the comfort zone any art material. He can choose from colorful papers, craft material, stickers, colors or clay; use it as a tool to express something he is not able to say.
Another example could be using a collage. If a client is facing difficulty in deciding his path for future he can be given a lot of magazines and a chart paper. He can cut the pictures that represent what he wants in the future and create a collage for himself. Later in therapy it can be discussed how the client would love to go about it in reality.
I have been using visual art therapy for over 2 years. The most important reason it’s effective for some clients is that, it’s less threatening than talking in regular therapy. It reduces the focus from the client to the art/craft that he has created as an expression of his emotions.
They can start talking about what they have created rather than focusing on their emotions directly. They can use their creation as a tool to channelize their emotions. In this process therapist plays the role of a facilitator or a guide.
Visual art therapy is never used in isolation. It is always used as an additional tool, along with the traditional therapy to help clients with their issues. It is not necessarily used for negative emotions alone. Sometimes, clients face difficulty while expressing thoughts which are positive like happiness, joy, gratitude, love or empathy because of their past experiences. In such scenarios also art therapy lends a helping hand.
According to psychology, most of our problems trace their origin to our childhood. In therapy, we as therapists try to bring back these unsettling memories of childhood so the client can face them as an adult now. And yes, it is indeed as complicated as it sounds. The biggest problem is the clients are unable to connect with the child within because they are conditioned to be a mature adult. But with visual art therapy, when they are given crayons, colorful papers, stickers, paint brushes and lots and lots of glitter, it becomes easy to connect with the child within them.
The most important lesson this therapy has taught me is that art is not just about beauty and aesthetics … it is much more than that. It has deeper dimensions. It is a method of expressing how you feel in the safest possible way.