By Jaimie Byrne-Hoida, Art Therapist, and Psychotherapist
“Art therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. The goal in art therapy is to improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or/ her sense of personal well-being.” (American Art Therapy Association,2013)
As in all types of psychotherapy, there are different schools of theory and no one way of practicing therapy. Art therapy is the same; clients can choose from multiple methods of treatment including psychoanalytic, systemic, cognitive behavior therapy and person centered, among others. Although some therapists specialize in one approach, the most common approach used today is a psychodynamic one; which encompasses many of these theoretical approaches which are based in the philosophy that the treatment must be adapted based on the client’s needs. Most art therapists are trained in psychodynamic theory, allowing them to work with and meet the needs of a diverse population.
How can art therapy be beneficial for caregivers?
I am often asked what the difference is between creating art that feels therapeutic and participating in art therapy. Simply, it is similar to the difference between having a cup of coffee with your friends and talking about your difficulties, and seeing a therapist to resolve your difficulties. Both are therapeutic in nature because they relieve stress and tension and we feel better having released these negative feelings. However seeing a skilled therapist can help work these difficulties on a different level. The job of an art therapist is to assist in making insights, challenge unhelpful thought patterns, assist in learning better coping tools and to guide clients on a path to recovery. In group art therapy the experience can be even richer due to the multiple perspectives of the group participants who are present to share similar experiences, help motivate and stimulate thought and creativity. “There is great comfort and support to be found in a non-judgmental group of women with similar life circumstances.” (Past participant)
How does it work?
At Friends for Mental Health we use a psychodynamic approach which means that we believe that every client has a unique way of expressing themselves and that we need to be able to adapt our approaches and sometimes combine approaches to be able to assist each client in a way that works for them. Some clients prefer to analyze their images for metaphors and meaningful symbolism to help gain insight, while others prefer to create with intent to further explore existing insights about themselves. For example: Clients often create objects to remind themselves of their goals. Building brick walls out of clay to remind them to maintain boundaries, creating beautifully decorated packages that represent gifts to remind them to give back to and cherish themselves from time to time. Others prefer to use the art as a form of expression. Often we bottle up a lot of emotion and it becomes difficult to express in words. Ripping paper, painting flames, creating chaos with stickers, covering a surface with pointy, sharp toothpicks, throwing paint at a large piece of paper on the wall; these are all ways that art can help to express complex emotions that can be difficult to express verbally due to shame, guilt, or fear of judgement. Our art therapy groups do not require any artistic skill or ability or even a creative personality. In each session, clients have access to a variety of materials that they can choose from so that they do not feel intimidated or overwhelmed by having to use unfamiliar materials. Materials range from coloring books, to collage and decoupage to painting and printing, as well as clay and other 3D materials. Often a new client will prefer to start off working with familiar materials such as markers and paper or collage and gradually will feel more comfortable trying new materials. Clients are encouraged to choose goals to work on individually and receive support and guidance through this process from the art therapist and other group members. Weekly themes are provided to help stimulate thought and creativity based on the common and individual goals of the group. There is ample time allotted each week to art making as well as reflection and discussion between group members to provide multiple points of view and group support. Clients have the opportunity to attend the art therapy program for a total of 2 years. We offer art therapy in 12 week sessions 3 times each year (fall, winter and spring).