A brief talk with an art psychotherapist concerning art therapy.
“You’ve got sadness in you, I’ve got sadness in me – and my works of art are places where the two sadness’s can meet, and therefore both of us need to feel less sad.”
Recently I met with an art psychotherapist named John in Aberdeen, Scotland. Although my practice is mainly practical, it is still important to me that I have thorough research – so my little trip to John was just part of my process. I was unsure 100% that I knew what we were going to talk about or what I was going to ask him – I had a rough idea but I didn’t want to force the direction of conversation so I left it quite open.
We started off talking about how beneficial art therapy can really be to people. It has so much potential for helping people. Although art therapy is an actual ‘thing’, it is not really so well known. When people ask me what I want to do with my degree in Contemporary Art – I always say something along the lines of art therapy because I want to be there to help people, to serve a purpose. Most often or not, the response to this is ‘What is art therapy?’. With that question in mind, I think this is a good place to start. Art therapy is defined as; “a form of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through painting, drawing, or modelling, used as a remedial or diagnostic activity.” Although this is the defined term, I believe that is some leeway between what art therapy is and how it can help people – because there are so many different ways and meanings for various individuals.
Art Therapy can be beneficial in many ways and can sometimes be a better form of therapy than your traditional psychotherapy, talk therapy etc. It allows the patients to be more free, whether they realise or not. It isn’t the case of the therapist asking repetitive and unhelpful questions. Within the situation of art therapy, the direction of flow is completely up to the patient. It allows the patient to take control and make their own decisions about what they want to make or do or talk about. It isn’t just a case of the therapist being able to just give simplistic instructions of ‘this is how you get better’. There is no easy or quick fix way to solving mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. And from personal experience, it is hard being in therapy. No matter how much you want to get better, it doesn’t always work. It is perhaps a case of just being able to find the correct therapist or perhaps the case of being truly ready to tackle one’s demons. Within art therapy, the simplest mark that has been made can lead to glorious results. From deciding how to make that mark with paint or pen or whatever the medium may be, it is a way to help one make decisions. A common symptom of depression is being very undecided. It can be hard for one to make such a simple decision, it can be hard to be decisive. So even by making such a mark that may seem inconvenient, it has spectacular meaning. It is a carnation between the conscious and unconscious thoughts that will perhaps pursue these artistic/creative endeavours. It can bring a sense of achievement for patients, a sense of that they are in control, even.
I know from my own experiences that even just a small doodle or sketch can help me just relax (even if only for a little while). Even if the drawing etc. doesn’t look like anything, why does that matter? It doesn’t. There is something deep within ones subconscious that made us make that exact mark. The exact shape. The exact size. The exact density. Why did one do that? By creating the art within therapy sessions; or out with therapy sessions, the art is one’s mirror. The art creates what you feel. Sometimes when you look in the mirror you are not sure what you see. Just like sometimes when you look at your art, you are unsure what you see. You’re uncertain. But within the terms of art therapy, the therapist acts as the mirror as well as the art. They can help reflect on the ideas that you as an individual may not be able to grasp by oneself. Everyone has a different vision with how they look at things in a certain way. The therapist in this case, helps the individual reflect in their own work. The give feedback, not only on perhaps artistic talent, but the therapist is able to suggest reasons as to why this work was created. Is it a case of reading people? Is it a case of being able to have the correct emotional response? Or is it just a paradigm of everything all put together? I think it takes a certain person to understand certain people.
If one is broken, they are more likely to notice the other broken people – in my opinion. Not everyone understands mental health disorders and I can totally understand why. If someone has never experienced any mental difficulties or known anyone who has experienced any mental health difficulties – it is practically a whole new world. Perhaps it is also just a ‘thing’ that one notices. Their certain mannerisms or slight look of empathy on ones face. It takes one to know one. I know myself that I am both consciously and subconsciously make friends etc. with people who can see the world in a different way than the ‘normal’ people. Is it just a gravitational pull? Maybe its just fate that all the broken ones end up together. According to ancient philosophy, there was an idea that the ones who were broken or sad or melancholic, were both gifted and cursed. The blessed were given an overworking mind which created the curse. Having too much depth and understanding of the world can often lead to deep anguish and despair.
“Art is such an action. It is a kindred form of action to idealism. They are both expressions of the same drive, and the man who fails to fulfil this urge in one form or another is as guilty of escapism as the one who fails to occupy himself with the satisfaction of bodily needs. In fact, the man who spends his entire life turning the wheels of industry so that he has neither time nor energy to occupy himself with any other needs of his human organism is by far a greater escapist than the one who developed his art. For the man who develops his art does make adjustments to his physical needs. He understands that man must have bread to live, while the other cannot understand that you cannot live by bread alone.”