Healing Through Art

It is said that art is the best form of expression for the soul. You put your bare feelings out there, in the open, when you create something. Whatever you feel, or are going through, be it anger, pain, sadness, happiness, or confusion - all your emotions can be beautifully portrayed using forms of art. These are a few of the many things kept in mind when talking about Expressive Art Therapy. This is a tool used for therapeutic techniques by specialists, which has its roots in creative art and psychotherapy which uses expressive art to help improve a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

The way it works is that the theme of the art should focus on personal history and the story underlying the mental/emotional stress. It is concerned with the process and the final product. The process of creatively expressing oneself helps in resolving deep and hidden issues, managing behaviours and feelings, and reducing stress. It is healing, enriching, and pleasurable. The client need not be a talented artist to be able to progress through the therapy successfully, but they should be able to work with the therapist to express their true self. Sometimes it is completely spontaneous and done solely by the patient, and sometimes the therapist intervenes and helps the person in creating different themes to be able to express their feelings better.  The therapist provides a safe environment to clients so that they are able to express well and heal throughout the process. This provides the person with a safe atmosphere and enables getting a different perspective on life and current problems. The one thing to keep in mind is it works in different ways for different people, which is why an individual’s progress shouldn’t be compared with another’s.

Visual Art Therapy involves using different mediums such as paint, clay, chalk and photography to create something that expresses yourself to help you with your mental and emotional wellbeing. One of the most interesting visual art therapies I have come across, is ‘Mask Making’. Melissa Walker, in her TED talk, speaks about the use of mask making to help veterans deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder faces due to the exposure to traumatic events during war (Walker, 2016). The idea is, they make a mask out of their recurring nightmare, which makes it take a physical form. This makes the nightmare easy to deal with eventually. Another type of therapy that is widely talked about is Mandalas and adult colouring books. Colouring in circles, i.e., mandalas, is supposed to be extremely calming. The continuity of the mandalas helps you get a clear perspective if you’re feeling stuck. Adult colouring books also provide a medium for free expression. Pop culture colouring books including the themes of Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and even colouring books containing swear words. It helps you release your confusion and your anger. Another unconventional method used popularly are the digital colouring apps that enable you to express your creative self anywhere as long as you have a mobile. Apps like colour-fly facilitate you with drawings and a range of vibrant colours. Painting a rainbow heals sadness, drawing squares help you arrange your thoughts, etc. Even if these are not necessarily scientific methods, using them to generally relieve yourself of the stress is a good idea.

The aims of expressive art therapy differ with respect to the needs of the client. In rehabilitation centres, where clients might be reluctant to talk about their problems freely, art therapy serves as a useful tool to establish a stronger bond of communication between the therapist and the client. They are able to express themselves freely since it is a means of self-expression and exploration, which in turn helps the therapist to develop a better understanding about the problems faced by the patient (Johnson, 2008). It also provides the patient with the freedom to self-direct, which helps them gain new perspectives and deal with their problems in a better way. Clients can be taught to look at the world in a different way by pushing them to express their true creative self (Edwards, 2004).

In today’s busy and hectic times, taking a moment for yourself, and expressing yourself in some way is important. We get so caught up in catching up with the time, that often no time is given to our own mind and body, which results in extreme stress. In India, the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 reveals that nearly 15% Indian adults need active intervention for one or more mental health issues and one in 20 Indians suffers from depression. This reveals that it is high time we start paying attention to our mental health. Art therapy is one of the most preferred way of helping us deal with our mental and emotional problems since it is a creative expression of our true emotions in the form of art. Even if one does not need serious medical attention, it can be a great way of relieving stress.

Archa Joshi