Painting What We See Within: A Look at the Insides of Art Therapy
One of the most memorable experiences I had last summer was visiting the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (3)At this museum, professional artists had created none of the works hanging on the walls. Visionary art is an individualized expression by people with little or no formal training; the rules of art as a school did not apply here. While I was there, I learned that for many years, the artwork created by patients of mental institutions, hospitals, and nursing homes were disregarded and destroyed by their caretakers. After seeing what powerful and telling work came from many people in these situations, I found this information to be very distressing. Fortunately, the development of art as a form of therapy has changed the medical attitude toward art created by the healing in the past fifty years. While the work created through this therapy is rarely showcased as at the American Visionary, it is aiding therapists and their clients in reaching a new awareness.
Art therapy uses media and the creative process in healing, the key word here being process. We all know how revealing the artwork of children can be of their emotions. Art therapy applies this concept across the spectrum in a multitude of situations. It functions in many of the same settings as conversational therapy: mental health or rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, educational institutions, nursing homes, in private practices or in a client's home. An art therapist may work with an individual or group, in families or couples. While most therapy is based on conversation between the therapist and his or here client/s, art therapy integrates visual communication into the experience through painting, sculpting, drawing or other media. (1)
What occurs during an art therapy session depends mainly on the client. The theory behind it is that visualizing his or her feelings will help him or her to get beyond masking them through language. Imagine describing a dream. It is never quite possible to communicate effectively the images we are left by our subconscious. Art therapy allows the client or patient to relay these images in a raw and powerful way. (1) During the therapy, a client's artistic ability is irrelevant. While the session is not just a relaxing diversionary activity, it is also not an art class. Most sessions are structured to help get the client started on a project, and oriented toward helping him or her reach specific goals. The idea is for the patient to be able to work at his or here own pace as the therapist helps them to explore the work's significance. The therapist is not an interpreter of the client's art but rather a facilitator to his or her inner discovery. (5)
Many art therapy practitioners agree that it is a good alternative to verbal therapy if the client does not speak English or is shy or frightened about verbalizing his or her feelings and experiences. If...