Creative Counselling: Art Therapy
by Marie Bruce
Kindred Spirit online columnist Marie Bruce returns for another instalment of Creative Counselling, this month focusing in on the creative.
From the earliest cave paintings of primitive man, Art has been a core part of humanity. In times of war it is squirrelled away and protected; in times of peace it is exhibited and paraded.
When Notre-Dame de Paris burnt recently, a human chain formed to rescue precious Art from the flames. The Romantics cherished it; the Bohemians lived in poverty for it. Art and language are the things that separate us from the animal kingdom, yet for many Art is discounted as a waste of time.
Do you remember when you were a child the amount of fun you had with a new box of paints or felt tip pens? As children we are encouraged to freely express our creativity, both in school and at home. Art classes form a vital part of the education curriculum and even if you had no real talent for it, chances are you used to look forward to art class as a time to relax more and chat with your friends.
Why is it then that, as adults, we are encouraged to leave artistic creativity behind and find something ‘more productive’ to do? I would argue that art is one of the most productive and useful ways to spend your free time, and that it should not be viewed as child’s-play. In fact, indulging in artistic pastimes is something highly recommended by most psychotherapists, who refer to it as a form of Free Play.
Free Play is anything fun and spontaneous which takes us back to our childhood, in a safe way. For instance, dancing, singing and acting are all forms of Free Play, because they hark back to a period of innocent ‘let’s pretend’ and role play. The same is true for artistic pursuits such as crafting, sketching, painting etc. Free Play and Art Therapy facilitates self-expression. There might be issues someone cannot talk about openly which become apparent in their artwork, which is why art therapy can be a valuable tool in the counselling profession.
I remember seeing a painting in school that had been created by one of the boys in my year. It was a self-portrait – but it depicted him in a coffin, surrounded by Ouija symbols, pills spilling down from a bottle, all watched over by James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. It was a very powerful piece of art and extremely well painted. This boy was clearly a talented artist; he was also just as clearly troubled and romanticising Suicidal Ideation – that is, a preoccupation with thoughts of suicide. Had he not painted this picture, people might never have known he needed help because on the surface, he was bright, popular and had everything going for him. But a picture paints a thousand words, and he was able to get the help he needed.
“I would argue that art is one of the most productive and useful ways to spend your free time, and that it should not be viewed as child’s-play”
This is the power of Art. It will speak when you can’t find the words. It will free those things you keep locked inside. It can liberate you when you feel trapped. But what if you don’t have the talent to paint a picture from scratch, or to sketch out the inner corners of your mind? Does that mean that you cannot use Art Therapy? Absolutely not. You don’t have to be a Rossetti or a Renoir to use creative art as a form of self-therapy. You could simply splash a bit of paint around in an abstract way, using colours that represent your mood. You could use a tool, such as the old Spirograph, to create colourful patterns and shapes.
One of my favourite ways to use Art Therapy is to indulge in my childhood love of colouring in! I’m not much of an artist when it comes to drawing and painting but I always enjoyed colouring in, so when this form of art became trendy for adults in recent years, I was thrilled. There are so many adult colouring books to choose from that you’re bound to find one that interests you. My personal favourites are the fantasy art books of Selina Fenech, who creates colouring books with magical themes such as fairies, angels, goddesses, fairy-tales, vampires and unicorns, and which are all available readily online. Grab a colouring book and a tin of coloured pencils, and you’re good to go.
You can use Art Therapy whenever you choose, but it is particularly useful for people who suffer from depression (it gives a sense of accomplishment); anxiety (it stops the mind racing); and feeling overwhelmed (it slows things down). Spending thirty minutes to an hour each day working on your art can help to create a sense of calm because it puts you into a higher state of consciousness, a bit like day-dreaming. For those few minutes, you can go back to the free play of childhood, leaving the cares of the adult world behind. Even better, you can create a ritual of this pastime, setting aside an hour a day as your ‘art class’ and creating a lovely atmosphere in which to work. Play some soft relaxing music, light a scented candle, and release your inner artist. And remember that as you paint, sketch, craft or colour in, you’re offering your mind the chance to rest, relax, dream and create. Take time out for yourself and free your inner artist. The world will still be there when you get back. Until next month,
Marie Bruce x
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