All of us have admired the myth of the tortured artist at some point in time. Have you not been in awe of the “Starry Night” (1899)? It is normal to wonder what Van Gogh went through when he took up his brushes and painted the classic. However, art is not bound by such stereotypes. In fact, art is now a part of therapy.
What comes to your mind when someone utters the word “therapy”? Definitely not blank papers and bottles of paint! You’re most likely to imagine a cozy room with a sofa and loads of fat books on how the mind works. Well, things are changing and art therapy is now a thing. The main purpose of therapy is to come to terms with your unprocessed feelings and express them. For some people talking itself is a stressful task and so they prefer putting it on paper. It is a less exhausting way for them to explore their issues.
Dr. Sheridan Linnell, who runs the Master of Art Therapy course at the University of Western Sydney says, “expression through art can be healing in itself, and it can also be a stepping stone for being able to make sense of yourself and express your story to others.” Creativity can be an outlet for your pent up emotions or a way to get in touch with your subconscious mind. People who suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) find it difficult to articulate their lived experiences and art comes to their rescue.
Art therapist Melissa Walker says in her Ted Talk, “Due to advances in technology and neuroimaging, we now know there’s an actual shut down in the Broca’s – or the speech-language area of the brain – after an individual experiences trauma.” An isolated interaction can very often trigger such people hence they find group activities much more relaxing. It is mostly the kids who embrace this form of therapy as it is a game for them. If you sign up for family art therapy, you are reconnecting with each other while working on your own problems.
Is it only painting that is considered to be therapeutic? Dr. Sheridan Linnell explains that the spectrum of contemporary art is a wide one. It includes text, music, gardening, dancing, digital art, or anything under the sun that works for the patient. The aim is to make the patient feel at ease with his or her mind.
The focus of art therapy is not the ultimate result but the journey. There should not be any anxiety associated with the artwork, it is just a creative exercise. It should help one to gather their sense of self, something PTSD patients struggle with. Some people might need medication vis-a-vis therapy for best results, while others may benefit from a mix of various art forms.
Breaking away from traditional therapy practices may help in de-stigmatizing mental health. It is still a taboo topic in various parts of the world, hence, something as liberating as art might make it seem more accessible to the masses. Will you consider making art for therapy’s sake?
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