Introduction to Art Therapy, 8th of August 2012

What is Arts Therapy?

Arts Therapy uses creative processes, including art making, drama, and movement to improve and enhance physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Arts therapy based on the holistic and transpersonal traditions recognises the spiritual dimension of human experience and uses creative processes to enhance spiritual wellbeing. 

Arts therapy is suitable for all ages and many life situations, and can be done with individuals or groups.

Arts therapy works by accessing imagination and creativity, which can generate new models of living, and contribute towards the development of a more integrated sense of self, with increased self awareness and acceptance.

It differs from traditional art making in that the emphasis is on the process of creating and meaning – making, rather than on the end product.

This explanation is based on the one used on the ANZATA website. It encompasses art therapy using the visual arts as well as other creative therapies.

On the 8th of August, I conducted an Introduction to Art Therapy workshop at The Basin Community House for students undertaking a course offering introductory information on various healing modalities. The workshop was largely experiential with the students participating in two art therapy activities. I also provided information on art therapy as a career.

Art Therapy Activity One: – Body Scan

The purpose of the body scan is to bring the mind to the present moment and to focus inward. In doing so, we develop our awareness of bodily and emotional sensations. We learn to be sensitive to the information our bodies are giving and make decisions about how to respond.

Initially, the students found the exercise confronting for a few reasons:

  • the process was new to them
  • one participant had to be ‘real’ about what was going on in life that week
  • the students had to overcome their reluctance to draw because they were not ‘artists’.

One of the challenges of living in our culture is the belief held by many adults that only ‘artists’ can paint, draw etc. Indeed, after being told at some point in their childhood that they were no good at art, adults can be afraid to draw.

To their credit, the students rose to the occasion and entered into the process of filling their body outlines with shapes, lines and colours representing feelings and physical sensations. They added details of the ground they were standing on emotionally  and filled the background of their drawings with how their week had been. Words were added as they reflected on the drawings they had made.

Students connected at a deeper level as they shared information about their body scans.

Art Therapy Activity Two:  – Symbol Work

Symbol work makes use of the ability of humans to give meaning to inanimate objects. Art therapy uses processes which encourage clients to engage in a variety of ways through imagery, imagination, language and physical movement or touch.

This activity built on the earlier body scan exercise and its purpose was to encourage students to explore their priorities in life at present in terms of where they expended their time and energy.

I asked the students to find a symbol which represented themselves at this stage of their lives. Students could choose from a range of objects and pictures which I had provided. They were then asked to surround the symbol of themselves with others which represented their priorities in life at present. Students reflected on what they had created and wrote words on small cards which were arranged around the symbols. Finally, the students reflected in writing in response to my questions: Did their priorities cover a range of life areas such as health, practical matters, emotions, relationships, intellectual stimulation, nurturing the spirit? Were their priorities concentrated in a few areas? How satisfied were they with how they spent their time and energy? What did they learn from the exercise?

In undertaking this activity, the students found they could connect with each other through their shared experiences and where they currently were in their lives.

As happens in symbol work, the students readily found cards and objects which they could give meaning to. Throughout the activity including the sharing and discussion, the students handled their cards and objects – touching, moving, holding them up, interacting with each other through the symbols.

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5 Responses

  1. I find art the most healing when it takes me out of myself … when it frees my mind and subconscious from dwelling on what is going on inside of me and allows me to observe the world around me. It’s funny how well my body does for itself without my interferance.

    • Merrill, I guess the mantra of art therapists is ‘Art Heals’ and that healing can occur in its own way according to the needs of the person making the art. Thank you for sharing.

      • Well said. Thanks for your posts.

  2. Several years ago, when I was very ill, I did a course of art therapy and it helped me enormously, especially in expressing my emotions. Money well spent. Your workshops look wonderful too!

  3. Eremophila, I am glad you found healing through art therapy.

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