Art Psychotherapy/Therapy

Art, in its many forms, is practiced by almost all human cultures and can be regarded as one of the defining characteristics of the human species.

 

Humans have been making art since the dawn of time, literally 40, 000 thousands of years or more to be exact. These early humans created images on the walls of their caves, as a way to communicate the animals that inhabited their World, their victories, their beliefs, and their rituals.

Art has provided humans with a uniquely exciting way to express ourselves.

Art therapy has grown from this concept that art images can help us to understand who we are, to express feelings and ideas that words cannot, and to enhance life through self-expression. It is accepted and widely recognized as a viable treatment method and a modality for self-understanding, emotional change, and personal growth.

 Cathy A Malchiodi 2007

Art psychotherapy / Art therapy is a mental health treatment that combines the therapeutic relationship with the creative process of art making. Art therapy usually involves some talking however it also relies on non-verbal communication.

 

This treatment can be beneficial for clients of all ages from an array of different backgrounds and experiences. Clients may have a wide range of difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses. These include emotional, behavioural or mental health problems, learning or physical disabilities, life-limiting conditions, neurological conditions and physical illnesses. 

 

Art therapy usually involves some talking however it also relies on non-verbal communication.

The creative process is an amazing way to communicate when words alone are not enough. By using art materials, we can express and release powerful feelings such as anger, frustration, anxiety and depression. These can be contained, transformed, or symbolically disposed of, through the artwork in a safe and non-destructive way.

Art therapy for adults is particularly useful for individuals who feel distanced from their emotions and feelings.

Some people find it difficult to articulate their painful experiences, without becoming overwhelmed emotionally and would, therefore, find it difficult to benefit from talking therapies. For those who cannot stop talking, it can sometimes be a good way of cutting through 'tangled verbosity'

Adults experiencing the following disorders or problems can benefit from treatment:

anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, conflict resolution, interpersonal relationship or family problems, learning disabilities, bereavement, eating disorders, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, terminal or chronic diseases, such as cancer and chronic pain, alcohol or drug addiction, trauma, including sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. 

Art Therapy for Adults
Art Therapy is particularly useful for children and young people, as it works with their natural sense of creativity and playfulness.

Art therapy can be used to help children who are struggling to make full use of school life and academic learning. This might be for a wide range of reasons such as a recent bereavement; changes in family circumstances; witnessing difficult things; learning or physical difficulties, or problems with peer relationships.

When pupils are experiencing emotional difficulties, they find learning very hard.

 

Children who cannot understand or name their feelings are more likely to 'act them out,' so art therapy can provide relief to a child whose only previous option was to dissolve into tears or have an angry outburst in response to overwhelming feelings. Art materials enable children to externalize troubling or confusing emotions, giving them form and enabling them to make links between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, perhaps for the first time (Brady,2016).

Children and young people who may benifit from Art Therapy include;
  • Children experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties.

  • Children with social or communication difficulties.

  • Children who are Looked After Children.

  • Children who have suffered abuse, bullying or trauma.

  • Children who have witnessed domestic abuse or other traumatic incidents.

  • Children who are struggling with particular life events such as bereavement, parental separation, or illness.

  • Children who have experienced loss.

  • Children who are in danger of exclusion.

  • Children who have learning difficulties or physical difficulties

  • Children who have Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Trauma -informed Art therapy is widely used in the treatment of unresolved trauma for children, teenagers and adults.

Exposure to traumatic events can become trapped within our memory network on a neurobiological level. These memories can become trapped and stay stored as sensory memories which are unavailable to our conscious mind. The memories are stored as sounds, tastes, smells, visual images, and feelings. Art therapy provides sensory experiences which are predominantly activities that are visual, tactile, olfactory and auditory.

 

As traumatic memories are stored in subconscious parts of our brain they are not easily assessable to our cognitive brain. Individuals who have experiences of trauma are unable to form a coherent memory of the event, their story is either disjointed of snippets. Trauma-informed art therapy takes into consideration how the mind and body respond to traumatic events; recognises that symptoms are adaptive coping strategies rather than pathology; and helps individuals move from being "survivors" to being "thrives" (Malchoidi,2012a)

 

The process of art making transcends words and triggers different parts of the brain and the subconscious. Which helps reconnect sensory memories to gain a new depth of understanding. The resulting artwork enables the child/adult tell their story.

The therapy is used to improve an individual's capacity to self-regulate affect and moderate the body's reactions to traumatic experiences to set the stage for eventual trauma integration and recovery. Trauma-informed art therapy can also address and enhance attachment, particularly in children who have experienced multiple traumas and losses (Malchoidi, 2014). In work with either a child or an adult, the goal is to help the individual recover the "creative life" (Cattanach,2008) and to gain or regain a sense of well-being in oneself and in relationship to others.