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Art Therapy Brings Change and Hope for the Future

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

✦ 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.

In the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, Australia, we met with several artists who dedicate themselves to this cause.

Art of Life

Kim Staples makes it a key part of her artist life to share it with youth groups, Alzheimer's sufferers, people with special needs, disabilities and other challenging conditions. She's an Australian artist, art tutor and art therapist.

She's healing hearts through the arts using imagination, intuition, creativity and self-discovery. For Kim, artistic expression is the key to one's soul.

Art is something that is giving these people self worth. It has become their limitless world which they can all access. There are no barriers and they have the freedom to express and feel.

Life's 4 Living

Letitia from Life's 4 Living has combined her passion for art, nature and helping people and created a safe space in Life's 4 Living.

Here, art is a valuable tool to help people recognise, look at and overcome their traumatic pasts while also coping with the curve balls that life continues to throw. Many struggle in silence with feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress. Being happy is something they hardly recognise and can only hope to experience one day. Art becomes a way to safely let go of the need to control everything, and it allows people to express themselves without being burdened by words.

For many, our artistic nature has been stifled in the work and grind of modern living where practicalities and logic rule. Letitia believes everyone can create. We've just had art literally taught out of us where we were told to focus, be 'responsible' and find a 'real' job instead of dabbling in paints.

Art stimulates the happy endorphins and dopamines which stimulate us to continue doing something we enjoy and have fun with. Life's 4 Living is a person-focused, non-judgemental, safe and secure space to experiment, express and create.

Letitia is an NDIS and Aged Care provider who provides one on one sessions and group sessions, at their homes, in a centre or simply out in nature. To extend the help available, she has also turned to sessions on Zoom to be able to continue offering sessions.

Butterflies for Mental Health

Ashley Whittington is an incredible young lady who started The Butterfly Effect project. It's aimed at promoting mindfulness for positive mental health. People get together to make origami butterflies while having positive conversations about mental health, resilience building, strength and connection.

For Ashley, the butterfly is a symbol of hope, change and transformation. It's something that she hopes can spread through the community. Local artists and the community come together to do origami and talk about mental health. Ashley believes in the ripple effect of kindness. It's something we can come together to generate, pass it on and also to receive.

Eclipse Suicide Group

Mental health is something people are starting to talk about more now, and it's an encouraging sign that it's no longer something to be ignored or swept under the carpet. Some topics may be scary to talk about, but when there's a safe and secure space with empathy from people who understand, it's possible to address deep painful experiences and find a way to recover.

ECLIPSE is a group for adults who have survived a suicide attempt. People meet and talk to others who have survived a suicide attempt. It's a safe space to learn new skills that can help participants manage their feelings and thoughts of suicide. It brings people together who understand and to build a new way to move forward to stay safe in the future. It is about strategies that can help keep people safe. An important part of what the group does is to help people see a more hopeful future. Change is possible, and in this non-judgemental atmosphere people can find someone able to and willing to listen. Suicide can be a topic that is very difficult to broach with family and friends.

There is help out there, and the beautiful thing is right in our own communities there are so many groups available and willing to offer a safe space for people to recover. Traumatic experiences and difficult periods can make one feel very much alone and hopeless. Knowing that there are people out there who care, who understand and are willing and experienced to help can bring relief, share tools and most importantly, offer hope for a positive change and a better future.

World Suicide Prevention Day, Friday 10th September 2021

Support Lifeline Virtual Garden

Since 2012, Lifeline has been observing World Suicide Prevention Day with Out of the Shadows – local walks around the nation providing a safe space for communities to come together and remember those lives lost to suicide, and support those impacted by suicide.

With COVID-19 pandemic, Lifeline launched a virtual garden of remembrance, a garden of reflection. Here you can plant a flower, hold a personal silence, smile or shed a tear knowing you are amongst friends. This virtual garden will be a place to come together, united in knowing you are not alone. The public can donate a flower to support their cause.

Remember you are not alone

Nobody is alone. And art is something that is incredibly comforting, because it's something that we can take with us wherever we go. It's that one constant we have and a reliable tool that we can turn to when we need to find some relief in expressing how we feel.

So don't throw out your old paints and kiddie crayons. They may be your greatest source of relief and who knows what your hands can create if you just let them do their work. Everyone is an artist.

How does the artist in you feel today?


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