What is art therapy and how can it help women?
What is art therapy and how can it help women?
When Dana Robbins, 45, began working with an art therapist to help her with her overall mental health, she was amazed at how liberating it could be to throw paint on a canvas.
“I felt so free,” Robbins said. “I could paint whatever I wanted. There were no rules. And unlike meditation, it wasn’t hard for me to get to a meditative place because I had something tangible to do.”
As a single mom leading a busy life, Robbins also appreciated the lack of expectations.
“There was no pressure to do it right or to do it perfectly,” Robbins said. “How many times in your life do you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in something and not have to worry about the outcome?”
Robbins said she no longer sees an art therapist, but the experience of working with one has been helpful, particularly in helping her connect with her childhood self, who has experienced great trauma. A sense of connection to one’s younger self is one of many possible goals of art therapy
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy facilitated by a professional art therapist.
“It’s an expressive therapy practice where people can use artistic materials, creative expression, and the relationship with the therapist to improve their emotional, mental, and physical well-being,” she said. Emilia Sharpart therapist in New York.
Just like any therapy, the goal of art therapy depends on what the client aims to achieve, but that said, the main goal of art therapy is to help clients with self-expression.
“Art therapy is used to help the client express their emotions and also learn things about themselves,” she said Lori Gordon, a therapist who offers “intuitive artistic expression”, a form of art therapy. “It can also be used as a tool to support clients on their journey of exploration, whether healing is needed or just for personal growth.”
How does art therapy work?
In an art therapy session, the client and therapist usually start by talking.
“I’d ask how things are going, how the week has been, and then I’d ask something like, ‘Would you like to express that visually?’” Sharp said. “Or, if we’re talking about a difficult situation or a difficult feeling, I would say, ‘Can you consider how you would express that in colors or shapes or textures? What density is the color? What texture does it have?’”
From there the artistic process begins.
In regards to the types of visual arts used in art therapy, paint is typically the most recognized medium, along with clay, but journaling and other tools can also be used in an art therapy session.
What are the benefits of art therapy?
“The benefits (of art therapy) range from pure enjoyment and meditation to self-discovery and release,” Gordon said. “I once had a client who was painting and after I randomly put paint on the canvas (for) a few sessions, a huge bear appeared.”
The takeaway from the bear image?
“Their inner soul was speaking through the bear, they said, telling them they are strong,” Gordon said. “This helped (the client) go from fear to freedom.”
In addition to potentially helping connect with one’s inner soul, art therapy can also help people find relief from an issue that is weighing them down. For example, suppose you are going through a relationship conflict and are having trouble opening up or describing the problem in words. You can paint what the conflict feels like. This helps people take some distance from the problem, which may feel like lifting a weight.
“In a way, creating art allows you to externalize what’s going on inside so you can take intense thoughts or feelings and put them somewhere else,” Sharp said. “The art materials and paper you’re working with are like a container to hold things so you no longer have to hold them yourself. There’s also a sense of security in being able to express things metaphorically.”
Who helps art therapy?
Although art therapy is available to anyone of all ages and no background in the arts is required, Sharp, which provides art therapy to a diverse range of people, including those living with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, she sees a special place for art therapy in the lives of women, especially those with anxiety.
“Lack of self-confidence can be deeply rooted in anxiety, and art therapy really helps with that,” Sharp said. “With art therapy, you are forced to make decisions: choose materials, colors, topics, etc. You may, in the process, notice self-doubt arising. You may feel that inner critic. You can choose to work on it and make your own choices and see that you deserve to take up space.
Gordon often uses art therapy often with postpartum clients, noting that it offers them a way to reconnect to the world and to themselves.
“It’s comforting and calming in the storm of disconnection,” Gordon said, adding that she also finds art therapy helpful for women who have been abused, as it helps them release anger, disappointment, mistrust and shame.
“Art is a good medium because they don’t have to talk, but they can release pent-up emotions in a healthy way,” Gordon said.
Making art at home can help
There’s also a strong argument not just for art therapy — a clinical practice — but for art AS therapy, which anyone can do on their own.
“An exercise I really enjoy is drawing a trash can on a piece of paper and writing on top of all the things you want to get rid of in your life — all of them — even just thoughts,” Gordon said.
Give negative colors. Anger may be red; depression might be black or dark blue; frustration may be brown. Then tear the paper into small pieces and throw it away.
“After we remove the paper with the negatives, we take another piece of paper, draw a trash can, turn the paper over and say, ‘What do we want to invite into our lives?’” Gordon said. “Write down all the wonderful things that we wish had come into our lives. Decorate paper with stickers and color, and even paint – words written in bright colors. We keep this document and put it in our homes somewhere so we are constantly reminded of the care for the good things we are working to bring into our lives.
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