thoughts & ponderings
I have found through discussion with friends, clients and other wellbeing professionals that art therapy is still a bit of a mystery. Some people are still unsure where it belongs. I’ve been asked if it is like occupational therapy, diversional therapy or even an art and craft class. Is it for mental relief, is it for personal growth or is it to make us feel more relaxed. So I decided it was time to put some of the most common misconceptions to rest and also highlight some of the absolute positive benefits that are gained from art therapy
Myth #1: Art therapy is only for kids.
Art therapy helps people of any age to attain improved well-being in a holistic sense. The very nature of the process focuses on the creative energy and lessens the dependence on language which is useful particularly for children and the elderly. But let’s face it, words can be restrictive especially when we are feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed. It is a powerful modality that taps into the subconscious, the home of our imagination, dreams and intuition. This makes it suitable for people of any age to explore.
Myth #2: I can’t draw so I can’t do art therapy.
If I had a dollar for every time I hear this in relation to art therapy. People often believe that they need to create beautiful works of art and this is not true. Some people may never have engaged in art before while others may not have done so since childhood, so it can take a little time to get comfortable and explore. As a facilitator, an art therapist will often do some relaxation activity to begin with and may even engage in art making with you. In art therapy, there is no right way or wrong way to create so once you can let that go, the faster you can make progress. The focus is not on the finished product but experience of the inner journey which provides insights and is often very healing.
Myth #3: Art therapy is too “woo-woo” for me.
Ok, so I promise I will not smudge you with sage or ask you to assume lotus position and balance a crystal ball in your left hand while painting with your right hand. Art therapists are “real therapists.” I worked hard to get my degree in art therapy and did the work of looking at my own shadows. Australia is a little behind but is becoming more prominent in mainstream medical fields. In other countries around the world like the UK and US, it has been used freely in hospitals for many years and is accepted as having great therapeutic value.
Myth #4: An art therapist will look at my art and see things I don’t want to reveal.
While art can give us an idea about your thoughts and feelings, only you can ultimately say what the meaning is in your art. It is after all your inner world. An art therapist might help you explore different perspectives or possibilities, or turn your page around to see it from a new angle, but as in talking therapy, you remain the expert on you. The place in the relationship of the art therapist is as a facilitator, giving support and holding a safe space for your exploration. Looking at your art, I can’t tell if you stole anything as a child or what bad or regretful decisions you may have made in your life, or even where you left your car keys. When you work with an art therapist you don’t even have to voice your issue if you don’t want to.
Myth #5: An art therapist won’t be able to talk through my problems with me.
Verbal processing is a very important part of art therapy. During our training as art therapists, we learn to generate art therapy exercises tailored to each client. The art therapist focuses both on the client’s process of making art, as well as the product. The art therapist will talk through all of this information with the client.
Finally, do not assume that an art therapist never engages in talk therapy. If you find that you have a good match with an art therapist, but feel less pulled to the art, talk to him or her about how you might structure the work in a way that meets your needs. I have some clients who use art every week, others who use it some sessions and not others, and a few who never or only occasionally use art. The goal in art therapy is to tune into you and what will best help you meet your goals.
Myth #6: You have to make art in every session.
Despite art-making being a major component in art therapy, art is not necessarily made in every session. The session is client-based. This means the client decides whether to engage in art making. Engaging in creative expression is useful because using verbal language may be difficult when explaining a traumatic or unpleasant experience. Another positive factor with engaging in art making as that the art can be a catalyst for verbal communication for the client as memory can be triggered by an image through the different thought process experienced by the right brain creativity as opposed to the left brain logic. But regardless of the direction of the session, the therapist will check in and see how you feel about the direction.
© White Sage Wellbeing & contributors. 2017