Unlike traditional psychotherapy in which patients are encouraged to discuss painful emotions or events to gain better insight and awareness to inner conflicts, art therapy is a vehicle which allows the patient to express difficult emotions without words. Emotions, especially those that result from trauma, loss or crisis, are often hard to articulate – and sometimes, words are not enough to completely convey what’s inside a person’s mind and heart. Because feelings are sometimes difficult to relate with words, many people push them inward – causing depression, confusion, anxiousness, shame, hopelessness or frustration.
The process of making art helps individuals confront painful, overwhelming or complex emotions that need to be expressed and processed to achieve optimal mental health. Art can be used to help people confront uncomfortable emotions, overcome depression, integrate traumatic experiences, and to ultimately achieve relief, healing and resolution. Throughout history, visual art has been used to make sense of crisis, pain and psychic upheaval through a variety of media. Personal turmoil and social upheaval has traditionally been reflected through paintings, sculptures and other art forms. Art is undoubtedly one of the most ancient forms of healing.
Healing Art Therapy
Healing art therapy does not seek to teach art or even to interpret art. Although some art therapy programs allow complete freedom in their client’s expression of art and are justly called “client-directed”, at Sovereign Health, our art program offers our clients a bit more structure as is often needed in residential treatment. Our “therapist-directed” art program gives our clients a set task in which they are able to explore their creative freedom – a chance to express themselves through art and to gain symbolic control over circumstances they fear may be out of control and a sense of self-empowerment. With one movement, the process of art can unify a person’s thoughts, feelings and outward expression. This can be especially powerful with individuals in recovery.
Some of our therapeutic art projects at Sovereign have included: worry boxes, gratitude trees, angry postcards, authentic self/social masks, jewelry or keychain making, calming canvas acrylic paintings and watercolors. Meditative music is played while our clients create their masterpieces and chatter is kept to a minimum. At the end of each session, group participants are encouraged to share their art with others in the group.
The creative process, like the therapeutic process, provides an opportunity to explore and experiment with new ideas and ways of being. In art making, the individual is modifying, altering, improvising, and transforming. These are the same characteristics that are essential to creating a new understanding, insight and awareness. These are indeed the preludes to making changes in oneself, one’s perceptions, and one’s life.