Art therapy is a relatively new alternate therapy to grace our presence in the battle with mental health illness. What might be laughed at in certain medical circles, may actually be a powerful tool in recalibrating a patient’s sense of well being and grounding them back into reality for hospitalised mental health patients. This is going to be an exciting article to write, because I am not writing about the benefits of Art Therapy, but rather a patient’s personal journey into the world of Art Therapy.
I’m sitting across the table from an extraordinarily talented young woman. Her name is Elise, who owns and operates “Explore your Core”; An art business aimed at helping young women explore who they really are at their core through artistic expression. She is also a qualified psychologist and hopes to become an art therapist to help other young people battle their inner demons through Art Therapy. Having engaged in Art Therapy during a hospital stint to treat anorexia nervosa, she is a living, breathing example of what it means to use art therapy as a life saving medical intervention for mental health illness.
During her time in hospital, Elise had the opportunity to participate in Art Therapy as part of her treatment program. Her need to be perfect, inability to express negative emotions and fear of food, burnout paved the road to her anorexia nervosa diagnosis. “My mum made me a ‘fruit cake’, essentially a cake made out of fruit because I was so scared of eating cake”. Engaging in creative activities allowed Elise to redefine her connection to life by having something to offer through her artistic expression. “I found art therapy grounding”, it gave her a way to process how the illness, understand the triggers, how it all came about and learn what self-love is.
In the picture below, you can see Elise creating pottery with her eyes closed. The goal of this was to live ‘in the moment’ “you had to think about how the clay felt in your hands” The patients also created a “Safe Haven” out of pottery, which represented what a safe space looked like to them.
One of her most remarkable sculptures was a life size cocoon made out of natural materials. Sitting inside of the cocoon was people, and body parts. This expressed that if you don’t care for yourself, then you will wilt and die, just like nature, if you don’t water a plant, it too, will wilt and die.
Although she sees herself as “always recovering”, Elise is remarkably well and has achieved quite a lot since her time in hospital. She now completing a degree in psychology and hopes to one day become an art therapist. The awareness of her triggers, behaviours and thoughts allows her to live a productive and engaging life. This puzzled me, I wondered why, if she has achieved so much and clearly has insight to the inner core of what makes her tick does she consider herself as always recovering? So we sat down to discuss the nature of Art Therapy:
Why do you consider yourself as always recovering?
Creative expression is like peeling an onion, each time you reveal another layer of your psyche. It is with this self-exploration and insight I know what I am capable of and how far I can take it. That is why journaling and expression whether it is through poetry, drawing, painting, pottery etc is so important. Art increases our self-awareness and decreases burn out.
“Do you think you would have come to this realisation without Art Therapy?”
When people have a connection to what they’re doing that’s where the therapy actually comes from. Its about finding your own joy and that’s when therapeutic events happen. When I found poetry and art, that’s when I found that spark that then became a therapeutic event.
Although we can see evidence this treatment works, an underlying stigma still exists. (Majority) of patients shy away from these activities. Elise believes that “people tend to think that it’s just ‘drawing pictures’ or they don’t want to ‘feel like a kid’; Why do you think this is the case?
It’s (art) is an expression has so much more emotion. Its about connecting to those emotions or disconnecting from that experience to give you some space from it to be able to heal.
How can we overcome these barriers?
We should not classify it as art or art therapy but determine whether it is therapeutic or not.
So there you have it, a perspective of Art Therapy from someone who has lived the experienced and now thrives in life. A key takeaway i would say to you is, never negate a possible therapeutic process no matter how foreign it may seem, you'll never know when that spark will kickstart your life again. Perhaps, it might just be a little bit of art therapy. x
A big thank you to Elise, and you can see more of her art work via her IG hold: https://www.instagram.com/exploreyourcore_/
If you are considering learning how to draw, simply click on the link below to get in touch.