Saturday, September 1, 2012
Art therapy, art to heal
"... By looking at the art, acknowledging it, and by listening to the client who made it, we give that person a much needed voice."
Artists and viewers have different ways of looking at art. For artists, art is a way to express ideas and feelings in a creative form that brings splendor into the world. For viewers, art is often a roadway that helps them to escape into a fantastic world of magnificence and pleasure. Viewers go to museums and art exhibits to find special works of art they enjoy seeing. Sometimes they go to a gallery and find a work that is so special they buy it, take it home, and live with it forever. This makes art an agreeable and mutually satisfying situation for most of us.
However, there are some people who are not able to express their problems or their feelings with words. Something so deep or so frightening might have happened to them in their lives that it becomes impossible for them to describe what is going on inside their hearts.
We all want approval, and we are all afraid of doing something that will displease others, or worse, of doing something that will make us look foolish. Everyone wants to be rewarded. Everyone wants to avoid punishment. When the only thing people receive in life is disapproval and punishment, it is not unreasonable that they will close themselves off from the pain. They will shut down and stop connecting with others so that they eventually lose the ability to communicate altogether. Every day is a struggle for them as they try to get approval from their employers, from family, friends and neighbors, even from strangers.
The field of art therapy helps people who are suffering make art with which they can express their feelings in a way that does not need to have words. Simple projects and familiar art materials open doors that would otherwise be sealed shut to them.
Through art therapy, a person can reveal their hidden thoughts and discover a deeper understanding of what is really going on in his or her life. Art therapy can provide the tools to help them manage the way they feel about themselves and about the world around them. It can reduce stress and improve self-esteem. A comfortable process of working with simple art materials in a relaxed environment can help a trained therapist call their attention to where they really are in life. It can help them develop ways to manage how they behave. It can even help them conquer many of those unspoken personal demons that are causing them to suffer.
Dedicated classroom teachers were the first to understand how useful art activities could be in helping their troubled students work through serious problems. They were the first to see how change becomes possible when their students let themselves be absorbed by art projects. Psychologists began to realize that art programs could help their patients.
Art therapist Jackie Richardson Glover was so moved by the way her high school students were encouraged by working with art projects that she became interested in studying art therapy.
“When teaching high school, I realized how personal and important art is to the one who makes it. Particularly to advanced students, it was far more than learning the elements of design,” she said. “It was their identity. How many times have we read of inner city art programs for troubled youth? Dance programs? Music programs in places like Harlem? These programs exist, although far too sparsely. And they succeed.”
Glover explained that art therapy is not limited to young people in school. “Art therapy works with any population,” she said. “Geriatric adults, patients, the terminally ill, military personnel with PTSD, victims of abuse — you name it. Art therapists work with people of all ages. They deal with individuals, couples, families, groups and communities. Each example of client art is a self-portrait. That is my philosophy. By looking at the art, acknowledging it, and by listening to the client who made it, we give that person a much needed voice.
“Presently, I’m semi-retired,” she added. “I’m learning Spanish to help with my international art therapy endeavors. My friend and colleague, Trish Robbins, and I recently worked with young people at a school in the Dominican Republic and will go there again in 2013. In addition to studying Spanish, I’ll soon enroll in facilitator training for the Combat Paper Project. My goal is to offer this highly successful program to veterans in our military community.”
Art therapists are professionals whose training is both in art and in therapy. Art therapists are required to study for a master’s degree in art therapy or in clinical therapy with an emphasis in art. They study human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural, and artistic traditions, and the healing possibilities of art. To become an art therapist, it is necessary to complete a program accredited by a regional or national institutional accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education. The American Art Therapy Association is currently working on stand-alone licensure nationwide.
Art therapists use art as part of treatment, assessment and research. They provide services, both as individuals and as part of clinical teams. They not only work in community outreach programs, wellness centers, schools, and nursing homes, but also in mental health, rehabilitation, and medical institutions. They often work in corporate structures and in open studios, or they are in independent practice.
If you would like further information about finding an art therapist, or if you are considering a career in art therapy, contact the National Office of the American Art Therapy Association in Alexandria, Virginia, at: 888-290-0878 or 703-548-5860, or visit their website.