Sometimes words are not enough to express oneself
Art therapists help children and adults visually express and record experiences, perceptions, feelings and imagination. They capitalize on their vast knowledge of art media and arts-based approaches to enhance young clients’ ability to communicate through creative expression.
In art-therapy, we encourage children and adults connect with their inner feelings and thoughts, and bring forth their inner resources. By engaging in the creative process, they may heal and move beyond personal difficulties, life’s challenges and how they cope with their emotional responses by using art as a medium.
Within this frame of work, Art therapists settle children and adults into a position where they can use their imagination, their creativity, to expressive themselves and create freely in an emotionally safe, compassionate, non-judgemental environment. Our approach is also suited to those who are shy and not naturally inclined to creative activities.
Indeed, sometime we can experience difficulties in verbalising our thoughts and feelings, especially when we are dealing with blocking thoughts, soul-searching questions, emotional angst or repressed feelings. Art-therapy allows us to express ourselves with a different language.
In classical psychotherapy, people talk to their therapist. Talking about our sufferance, our past, our life histoire can be extremely difficult and bring about some relief. However, the relief is not always long-lasting. Speech has an undeniable cathartic effect within psychotherapy and with art-therapy we can go further by bringing about a complimentary long-term catharsis.
By creating works of art, children and adults not only connect and express themselves but also distance themselves from the issues at hand. Thanks to the creative process, art-therapy allows those who use expressive arts as part of their healing journey to transform themselves in order to achieve resilience and/or a new level of personal well-being.
No one needs to be creative or an artist or any experience with creativity on any level to heal with art-therapy. Indeed, the creative process is as important as the work produced. The aesthetic quality or “beauty” of the work is not so important as what takes place during the production phase. We can look at the end work more as a “messenger” sent out to us from our psyche and very often, it is on a subconscious level that the understanding of the “message” – what it symbolises – takes place. Moreover, the work produced is also a forerunner of what lies ahead of us, and hints at the solutions we can turn to be more resilient.
The following content is adapted from an excellent article in Psychology Today
Art therapy is NOT just “arts and crafts”
Art therapy often attracts such a remark: “But it’s just arts and crafts!” Art therapy is not just “arts and crafts” or even its first cousin, the ubiquitous coloring book. Child art therapy is also often confused with play therapy and for many good reasons. Play therapists introduce various art-based activities in their work with children when appropriate; similarly, art therapists who work with children my include play activities [toys, puppets, props and games] to supplement art therapy and stimulate children’s creative expression.
Art making within the context of therapy is, however, a slightly different experience from play because it encourages the creation of a tangible product in most cases.
How and why art therapy “works”
Art expression can be considered as a form of non-verbal communication. For children who may not be able to articulate thoughts, sensations, emotions or perceptions, it is one way to convey what may be difficult to express with words. For those who have experienced abuse, it is one way to “tell without talking” when they are unable or afraid to speak about specific events or feelings. It is also a sensory-based approach that allows the children to experience themselves and communicate on multiple levels—visual, tactile, kinesthetic and more—and to not only be heard (talk), but also be seen via images (art).
Growth and Development
Art expressions, particularly drawings, provide useful information on development in children, especially young clients who are 10 years or younger. For example, differences in artistic development can help us understand something about a child’s emotional experiences, cognition and sensory integration —but only up to a point because most of what has been widely published has been derived from largely Western cultures. Despite this challenge, the currently accepted stages of artistic development, especially with younger children, are still generally helpful and add valuable information not always apparent through talk therapy alone.
Neurobiology continues to inform mental health professionals about why specific art-based activities, within the context of therapy, may be helpful to children. In particular, certain sensory characteristics of art making seem to be effective in improving mood, sensory integration, and calming the body and mind, especially with children who have experienced traumatic events.
Like play therapy, art therapy provides an opportunity to express metaphor through art expression. In fact, one of the strengths of both approaches is their ability to encourage and enhance storytelling and narratives. Storytelling about a drawing, painting, collage or construction does not have to be literal to be therapeutic. In fact, a child who has experienced traumatic events or is challenged by an emotional disorder may only find it possible to generate imaginative stories. With the support and guidance of the therapist, these narratives serve as a way to slowly and safely release disturbing or terrorizing experiences.
Creative expression on its own is not a guaranteed “cure”. Art therapy is predicated upon a relationship with a helping professional. All creative arts therapies are inherently relational therapies because they involve an active, sensory-based dynamic between practitioner and individual and emphasize the “right-hemisphere-to-right-hemisphere” connection between child and therapist.
In this sense, art therapy can be helpful in repairing and reshaping attachment through experiential and sensory means and may tap those early relational states that existed before words are dominant, allowing the brain to establish new, more productive patterns. Any professional who effectively applies art therapy principles to work with children is well-versed in how to establish positive attachment, attunement and reflexive convergence, the latter referring to the experience in which two individuals feel “felt” by each other and thus deeply understood and unconditionally accepted. Art expression adds to these positive relational experiences on multiple levels involving sensory, affective and cognitive channels of communication.
Creative media (not exhaustive)
- visual arts: paint, drawing, collages (images, textiles, organic matter, …), clay
- writing: fantasy tales, fiction writing, poems, dialogues…
- theater-related: puppet making, scenarios and role play
- smell and taste: food, essences, spices,…
For further information, please contact Eurydice Labaki : firstname.lastname@example.org.