Updated: Sep 9, 2021
✦ This article was written by Brilliant-Online in support of World Suicide Prevention Day, Friday 10th September 2021
Art Therapy for Mental Health
When we say 'art' we think of museums and the Van Goghs and how much skill is required or how intellectual the content is. You'll probably have to be quite a special person to be an artist.
Making art is actually something natural to humans, and we've been doing it for a much longer time than we realise. 'Paintings' were found in caves in the Iberian Peninsula in Spain 64,000 years ago and whoever made them didn't go to the state's top art schools nor did they have fancy art supplies. And yet, with whatever material they had, neanderthals then were able to express ideas, even if it was on a rough cave wall.
We're all natural born artists, and as Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
This is where Art Therapy comes into the picture, literally.
Art Therapy as a Tool
Art therapy is a tool for mental health recovery. It allows one to create something concrete to give a voice to their experiences and feelings.
When was the last time someone asked you, "How are you feeling?"
Was your answer the run-of-the-mill "I'm fine, I'm okay, all good, not too bad..."? It doesn't really say much, does it? To really be aware of how one is feeling is not something we tap into often, especially in our modern lives where we run nonstop 24/7 like the Duracell Bunny and multitask any moment we get.
Right now, stop what you are doing. And kindly ask yourself. How am I feeling? Right here, right now?
When we're stuck and not able to express how we feel, art therapy is like a key that opens up the doors and allows us to look at what's inside us without fear or judgement. And there's a reason why children love painting. It's not just because making a mess is basically lots of fun. It's a great way to simply play around, experiment, relax and destress.
Benefits of Art Therapy
Over time, people who have experienced the benefits of art therapy find themselves developing self-awareness and self-esteem. They see a change in their social skills. They start noticing a shift in how they manage their behaviour and symptoms. It's about giving the choice of having a different perspective of our problems instead of being stuck and not being able to move through difficult emotions.
There's another important reason why art therapy is working so well for people. It focuses on the process. Not the final product. So it's not about being the next Michelangelo and having the pressure of putting an entire cluster of angels on your kitchen ceiling. No one is going to judge here, and there is no competition. Simply an open, safe, creative space for anyone to simply just be and not be afraid of what comes up in the process, and to continuously make discoveries. The most important thing is how you feel while you are in the creation process and what you learn about yourself.
Art therapy is not a magic pill and it's not meant to be the fix-it-all solution. What it does is it helps people cope with difficulties and stress, and it can be a useful complement to other therapies and to speed up the recovery process, and make it a little kinder.
How Art Therapy Works
Art therapy can take place in an open studio setting with little guidance, or it can be in the form of a structured class where people can learn specific art skills. It is a great way to help people leave distractions outside the studio, and just come in to focus, relax and express.
It's a safe way to represent one's inner experiences, develop awareness and also support personal change. The art therapist can also sometimes use relaxation and visualisation techniques and guided imagery in the session. The most important thing is, the art therapist offers a safe and supported space where each person is held as they process their difficult emotional issues.