Art Therapy Model
Art making, play, creative self-expression and music are all natural forms of human communication, they are part of our "language". Children particularly engage in this form of self-expression naturally. Adults, however, sometimes lose touch with this aspect of themselves, and so much of their life goes unexpressed...uncommunicated.
Art Therapy invites the client to use this "language" in order to communicate, to express their internal world which is so hard to put into words. We've all heard the saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words". This is the value of making art in a therapeutic context. Because, sometimes we don't have the words, or don't really understand all that we feel in our mind, heart, body and soul. Or, speaking the words is too scary, threatening, or confusing and therefore not an option.
The art facilitates the healing process by allowing emotional burdens to finally be expressed. It is a wonderful medium for initiating the healing process. Art Therapy allows personal content to finally be externalized and acknowledged, often for the very first time. It allows people to access and manifest aspects of themselves which would otherwise go unheard. Simply put, it gives "voice" to the WHOLE person.
As Cathy Malchiodi states, "Art expression is a way to make tangible what is secret and confusing."
Some experiences/memories are "unspeakable", confusing, or too painful to put into words. The containment of the art, the non-verbal nature of the art making process, and the safety of the therapeutic relationship, allow some experiences to be expressed for the very first time. What a relief for the client. Finally, the healing process can begin.
I frequently hear the expression "art saved my life". Art, for some people, is literally the life-line, the life-preserver. It has led many people out of despair and on to a path of meaning, communication, connectedness, healing and growth.
Art therapy is cathartic, grounding, contained, and empowering.
Art Materials Available
A large variety of art materials are available for use during sessions: graphite pencils, colored pencils, crayons, oil pastels, chalk pastels, markers, acrylic and watercolor paints, clay, plasticine, collage material, mixed media, fabrics, glue, and craft items. A variety of colors, sizes and textures of papers are available as well.
My office is also equipped with a full sand tray studio. This includes side-by-side sand trays along with a multitude of objects & figurines. Sandtray is a profound projective experience allowing clients to make pictures and stories in the sand with chosen (and created) objects and figurines. They are allowed to create, adjust, and control their own "world", their own "story". Sandtray allows for non-verbal expression, the use of metaphor or realistic symbolism, story telling, the opportunity to practice making alternative choices in a safe and contained arena, and the opportunity to change the course of their story. Sand tray allows a client to process and understand an event, to heal from an event, and to move it through to a resolution.
(Some of the figurines available for sand tray)
Puppets, stuffed animals, figurines, toys, games, books, musical instruments (great for lead/follow games, self-regulation, self-mastery, joining, and fun), action figures, and dolls/house are all available for a range of therapeutic interventions for all ages.
Clients are also invited to bring in music and art of any type to share which is meaningful to them as another aspect of creative expression. Often, the art or the music "speaks" to them, or "speaks" for them, and leads the way to deeper discussion. A C.D. player is available in the office.
Art and Neuroscience
Neuroscience research is showing that the language/words which we use to explain our experiences are stored in one area of our brain, while so many other aspects of an experience are fragmented and stored in various other areas of our brain. With the opportunity to use non-verbal forms of self-expression, we tap into other areas of the brain and externalize the imagery that speaks for our body, mind, spirit and senses. We then come face-to-face with entirely new aspects of our own reality. Now this content is available to contemplate, to heal, and to restore.
With information from the left and right side of the brain available, all the "pieces of the puzzle" can be put together. Their narrative is more complete. The client can finally make sense of their story and process it as a whole event. This finally allows a person to transcend the experience.
Art Therapy with Children
Art Therapy is used with children to address a multitude of issues, whether it's developmental, behavioral, emotional, social, or familial. Art therapy techniques can raise awareness to particular roadblocks, issues and experiences that a child is struggling to cope with. Often, how they are trying to cope is what distresses the parents to the point of seeking help.
The child may be burdened with; stress, trauma, loss, chaos, instability, transitional issues, relationship conflicts, violence, abuse, attachment issues, safety issues, disabilities, or other deep-seated concerns.
As a result, the child may be displaying emotional, social or behavioral problems such as: sadness, grief, anxiety, anger, aggression, regressed behavior, withdrawal, "spacing out", dissociation, depression, self-harm, sleep issues, eating issues, deviant behavior, acting-out, identity confusion, low self-esteem, boundary & impulse issues, home/school/social difficulties, and other concerns...
Through the therapeutic art process, children can express and identify the cause of their pain. They can "work through" their conflicts, problem-solve, and practice new coping strategies. Healing and change can occur within THEIR comfort zone, and in THEIR language of imagery and creative self-expression.
Art Therapy is used to promote social, behavioral and emotional competencies.
Ultimately, a stronger self concept leads the way to higher functioning.
Art Therapy Process
I'd like to give you one example of how art therapy is used to allow people to transcend their current experience of life. I have seen unique versions of this occur over and over again in my practice, and it's a wonderful thing.
It goes like this. Imagine...that every single person out there walks around with total awareness, all the time, of all their pain and suffering. How would we be able to function? How could we drive to work without getting in an accident, make it through a meeting without an emotional break down, or provide for the complex needs of our children throughout the day? Our brain has a phenomenal natural response to painful experiences, which is to separate it from our conscious thought. Depending on the severity of the pain, it gets packaged up and put in the far recesses of our brain. A very good coping mechanism if we are to be able to continue functioning.
However, there are those confusing, unexplainable times, when we think and behave very uncharacteristically of ourselves. It can be downright confusing, humiliating, discouraging, self-sabotaging, hurtful to those we love, or even unsafe. What is happening???
Something in our environment is poking at that painful experience that is all packaged up. Only now, it is not so far from our consciousness, it is very close to our awareness because of some trigger in our environment. So, we are reacting to that trigger. The trigger is causing us pain. It is causing us to react in ways that are out of proportion to the actual event in the here and now. We are reacting to it from our wounded place.
It is at this point in time that I hope you will come in to see me. Because now, your unconscious is telling you, "I'm ready to look at this stuff. I'm moving it from the furthest recesses of your brain a little closer to consciousness." Your mind has faith in your ability to handle this information right now in a safe and contained way. So, it's saying "it is important that you process this stuff now so that you can heal from it and grow...live a healthier life."
As your therapist, I provide compassion, containment and skill in order to help you through the issues which are bothering you. I honor your mind's lead regarding the pace and content to be addressed. Art Therapists are trained to work with abstract, metaphor and symbolic imagery that people often use to express what it's experiencing in the mind, body, heart, soul and in one's personal environment (past, present, future). Your right brain uses symbols and imagery to sort of by-pass the editing left brain.
When the right brain is engaged in creative expression, the left brain doesn't know how to edit the information, since it's not the usual language or thinking. Once the creative expression is externalized and tangible, it can be looked at for the first time, contemplated and discussed. It can finally be addressed as another aspect of the client's reality.
Therefore, by utilizing verbal and non-verbal forms of expression, all the fragments of the client's reality can be expressed. With a full story produced from the left and right brain, there is a sense of total awareness and understanding. The experience can then be processed, healed and transcended.
Free from the grip that an experience can have on daily functioning, the client can now explore alternate ways of functioning in order to improve the quality of his or her life.
I have total faith in the resiliency of the human spirit. There is hope for healing, and transcendence to a more fulfilling experience of life.