By Cathy Wilson
As children we innately express ourselves through art. No form is wrong; it is a pure expression of our inner, mental or emotional state, or a representation of our external, physical experience.
As we age and move into adulthood, we often leave art behind due to other interests, lack of time, or simply because we feel we are not good artists, and in turn we become disconnected from this inner form of self-expression and communication.
Art therapy offers a unique process guided by trained art therapists that benefits a wide range of people with varied needs in diverse environments.
In a recent interview with Laura Andrew, visiting artist and art therapist, I sought to find out exactly how art therapy works:
C: So what is art therapy, exactly?
L: Art Therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Using simple art materials and varied techniques such as painting, drawing, sculpture and 3D art as a means of self-expression and communication, an art therapist guides individuals or groups to explore and express feelings, experiences, memories and dreams, and to process challenges and difficulties in life.
C: Do you need to be an artist to benefit from art therapy?
L: Absolutely not. This is a misconception that I often hear in my work. As an art therapist, I believe that the creative process is inherently healing and life-enhancing. Everyone can benefit from creative self-expression.
C: Who does art therapy?
L: There is not a single population of people or stage of development that wouldn’t benefit from art therapy.
An art therapist works in a wide range of environments including schools, senior centers, community centers, hospitals, group homes, women’s centers, etc. Art therapists work with children, adults and elders and populations such as at risk youth, people struggling with addictions, grief and loss, chronic pain and disease, developmental delays or disabilities.
C: What are some of the unique aspects that making art offers to therapy?
L: Unlike more traditional methods of therapy, making art offers the opportunity to make creative choices, to be playful, and find pleasure when dealing with difficult emotional or physical challenges. For individuals with physical impairments, art therapy provides the opportunity to engage in an activity that promotes not only emotional reorganization, but also a reorganization and stimulation of the sensory spectrum that may have been disrupted.
C: What happens in an art therapy session/workshop?
L: The therapeutic art focus will be determined based on the needs or interests of participants, or artist-clients. There are various art therapy approaches which can support us to tell our stories, and to know ourselves more deeply. We use spontaneous art expression with a focus on the creative process to allow the unconscious to be expressed, and to connect on deep authentic levels with ourselves and others. A few areas of focus are:
Art Therapy for Self-Expression
Exploring the Self through Altered Art Media
Self Care for Professionals
Art Therapy for Grounding and Relaxation
Coping with Grief and Loss
C: How do people benefit from art therapy?
L: In general, art therapy develops communication skills, and the ability to express and accept one's feelings, and the ability to gain personal insight. Art therapy also improves social interaction, develops self-awareness, and enhances self esteem. It aids in developing problem solving and coping skills, and the ability to make choices and handle frustration.
C: What are some more specific benefits of working with an art therapist?
L: By expressing yourself through art, an art therapist supports and guides you, to gain personal insight, and to learn more about yourself. Art therapists can help you process emotions and feelings that you are struggling with, integrate life experiences, process grief and loss, learn self-care techniques, etc. Trained in art, psychology and therapeutic skills, an art therapist can guide you through the process of creative expression, and also provide insight into the artist-client’s creations, helping you understand certain aspects of yourself that you perhaps were not aware of.
Laura Andrew has recently attained her Master’s in Art Therapy at the Kutenai Art Therapy Institute in Nelson, BC, Canada. Graduation requirements included academic, practical, and experiential components. As an art therapist in training she was required to experience her own therapeutic art process. This involved delving deeply into her inner world and allowing for visual expression of the unconscious through simple art media.
According to Laura, this process was necessary for several reasons:
- to allow for psychic and emotional healing and integration of my life experience
- to bring awareness and clarity to my personal worldview in order to avoid projection of my beliefs and biases onto the client’s creative process
- and by doing one’s own deep self-work, an art therapist prepares herself to hold space for the client’s creative process and inner journey
"Leaving my Home in Taiwan after 13 years and returning to my country of origin, I was faced with a new journey: the exploration and meaning-making process of this profound experience in my life. As I worked towards building community and growing new roots, I faced the challenges of reconnecting with my family of origin, navigating reverse culture shock, adapting to a new environment, integrating my cultural experiences and identity. It is my relationship with art making that has accompanied me on this journey, and which has supported me to grieve what I had lost and to embrace the present moment as I worked to ‘Integrate Two Worlds’. "
During her Personal Case Study Exhibition at the finale of the Program, she filled an entire studio with the art she had produced. What you see in her recent exhibition at Lei Gallery in Taichung, 'Integrating Two Worlds: Expanding My Concept of Home' is the essence of the art that she created over a two year period while she was training. It is an expression of her inner journey. Together the pieces tell a story. She welcomes you to witness her visual story. Presenting this art show here in Taiwan is the final step that brings her journey Full Circle.
Published in Guan Xi Magazine-Summer 2016 issue