Day Three: Art Therapy

I know absolutely zero about this subject, except that I love the process of making art, and I even often love the results too. I have very little space for creativity right now, in our little flat, and all my art stuff is boxed up in storage, so my indoor expression has been limited to felt pen doodles on cards for birthdays, while outdoors I have been arranging bits of the countryside into hearts for whoever wanders by before the squirrels get there. I know that making, drawing and painting make me happy and calm my mind. But I’ve never known why. Today’s lesson is to understand it and then excitingly to do a bit of it.

This lovely lady YouJung explains that:

  • there are mental techniques and physical techniques for wellness, and art is both. It uses the senses, movement and mindfulness to engage your whole being.
  • It uses and integrates both left and right brain
  • It uses images instead of words which can sometimes be easier to express
  • Things in your subconscious may be easier to express through art because your subconscious uses images more than words.

An Art Therapist called Anne Lawton reminds me that humans have been making art for 40000 years in order to make sense of the world. Art therapy gives people back control in a way that they determine exactly what each image means, which is true for them, regardless of anyone’s interpretation.

She explains why adult colouring in has become so popular, because its safe, and we crave artistic expression, and it’s a start, but as long as you are colouring in someone else’s expressions, it doesn’t count as therapy (even if the colouring books are titled to pretend they do). Authentic creativity is scary. As five year olds we expressed ourselves through art all the time, freely, bravely and with no rules. As adults we deny ourselves the chance.

Another excited woman (they all seem to be women in this field) Ann Basting talks about the power of imagination and creativity to connect people through stories, art, music and therapy, and the transformational work she has done with older people, using art as medicine.

Katya Simonsen talks about her experience of overcoming depression through art therapy, describing how ‘All the tension, anger and sadness built up inside of you is released from your brain, to your heart, to your hand, to the canvas. You can walk away from your artwork and leave all the bad emotions with it.’

So, after an afternoon with these lovely artsy ladies, I appreciate that there is a clinical psychological profession of art therapy, that there are therapeutic techniques that require professional psychological support, which I don’t have access to today. So, in the absence of a professional, I’ll have to find the calming nature of artistic expression and the transformational power of authentic creativity with just my sketchbook and a beautiful box of pencils from Charlotte.

10.34pm. I suppose I’ve asked for it, haven’t I. I’ve said, ‘Hey, anxiety, I’m going to gain control over you!’ And anxiety has raised her eyebrows at me and said, ‘Oh really now?’ So that this afternoon, while I was happily watching videos on art therapy, a strange sort of pins and needles thing began to occur, and because it’s unusual, my brain (the crew of chimps) started screaming in my ears, ‘Watch out, there’s an unknown thing! It’s probably really serious, and your man will be off on his night shift so it will manifest into something awful in the night while you’re on your own…’

Yes, my brain went straight there. You see what we’re dealing with. It instantly manifested hot and cold rushes of fear down my back, a very pressing need for the loo (as always, very grateful for the proximity of the bathroom) and a sick sinking sense of dread. It is like clockwork, on the week of his nightshifts, some minor concern will trigger a world of worry.

I thought I would welcome a real life opportunity to illustrate my anxiety, as lovely YouJung suggests, via the medium of colourful scribbles, but I was feeling so awful that I did not want to dwell on it, and instead headed defiantly in the opposite direction. Let me remind us all that art therapy is not about artistic skill, and that what was produced tonight was done out of a determination to find a source of strength, clarity and light to keep the dark tangles of fear away.

It may have been because I did my drawing homework on the sofa to be near my man before he left, or that I had my lovely weighted blanket draped all over me while I drew, but either way at the end of it I did feel better.

It is like I know the fear is there, I can’t get rid of it, as we learned on Day One, but I can strengthen myself to be impervious to it. And for some reason it results in me floating sideways in a yellow bubble, with orange hair why not, but you know what, I’m smiling in it.

I was still smiling when he went off to work at 9.30pm, after giving me a big hug and saying, ‘Now you make sure you take that heavy blanket to bed with you.’

I will love, thank you.

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