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Art Therapy

Art Therapy like Music Therapy, is another way of getting people to express their feelings through non-verbal means and as such convey thoughts and feelings that they might not otherwise be able to express.

Patients can use any kinds of art materials and techniques, from painting and drawing on paper, fabric or ceramics, to pottery, clay modelling and sculpting. As well as releasing repressed emotions, the colours, shapes and recurring symbols in their work can help to reveal a patient's mental state. This revelation will not be a 'cure' in itself but it can help a person to understand what is going on in their own mind.

What is Art Therapy?

People have been using art to communicate and make their inner world real for as long as time can remember. Art therapy is a medium used to tap into that creative communication.

It is a way of encouraging aspects of the personality into physical reality in the form of a painting or sculpture. A trained therapist will then help to integrate what was previously submerged. The therapist is trained in empathic listening, giving the client full attention. The aim of the therapist is to be non judgmental and help the client come to their own answers to reclaim their power.

The process works by liberating clients from the confinements of words, and setting loose a much wider vocabulary of paint and clay. Images contain messages from the subconscious which are helpful in reaching areas of the personality that otherwise might remain in a submerged state. These are then used as the catalyst to formulate the meaning of the client's predicament. Art Therapy releases and enables shifts in awareness by mobilising resources latent within the client's own personalities and helping them to heal themselves.

Creative energy frees the mind and distracts it from the defences that it might put up in speech. In addition, the art remains beyond the session and allows previously faint ambiguous feelings to come to the surface in a visual and poetic form.

A basic session may include the following kind of timetable:

1. The image manifests itself within the client 2. The client conveys that image on paper with appropriate art materials. 3. The client has the opportunity, with a facilitator, to dialogue with the picture, so that its meaning might become known on a conscious level. 4. Then it may be necessary to work on the revealing meaning.

There are many ways that a therapist can guide and create a safe environment for the client to work in. Firstly, it is important that there is safeness in the interpretation and judgment. The therapist may have ideas about the work but does not know the meaning of the work beyond what is true to the client. Here are some examples of how the therapist would work.

Guided imagery
This is a form of visualisation often called 'guided fantasies' usually performed in a group session. The therapist will talk the group through a relaxation exercise, i.e. a boat journey, travelling on a magic carpet or through a secret cave. The group will then draw or paint their interpretation of their experience. This would be followed by the group sharing their experiences verbally.

Working with dreams
This taps further into the subconscious and can act as a way to stimulate imagery.

Meditative drawing and painting
This is done by relaxing and concentrating on bodily sensations. Then the concentration is focused on drawing a sound word or syllable.

These can be made and then used in plays. This can be useful in approaching situations dealing with anger, especially for younger children.

Memory dexterity and concentration
There are many activities that are good for maintaining memory concentration and dexterity. i.e. draw a bus, walking or cycling route to school, hospital or the day centre. This is useful for elderly patients who have senility problems.

Who can Art Therapy help?
Art therapists work with a wide variety of clients including children, the elderly, psychiatric patients and offenders. They work alongside their clients in groups or on a one-to-one basis. Some clients may not be able to speak so art work provides a valuable means of communication. The therapist then liaises with the doctors and psychotherapists to interpret a client's work to help with the diagnosis and treatment.

Places where you could find therapists working would include: Psychiatric in-patients, admission wards in both large urban mental hospitals and small therapeutic centres in the country. There are also specialised day hospitals and centres such as those for the elderly, alcoholic units, ex-offenders' units, cancer help centres and those for children in difficulties.

There are also community situations such as art communication day workshops, women's groups and mixed groups for adults and children. These are just some areas where art therapy is working to help people to communicate more effectively and express feelings and emotions.

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