They say a picture paints a thousand words. I’ve asked the agency’s art therapist, Michele Calzavara who will be presenting at this week’s Poverty Symposium to provide a road map for healing through creative expression.
N: Can you briefly explain how art therapy works?
M: Art Therapy utilizes the healing and self-reflective aspects of the creative process to address issues across the whole spectrum of human conditions… It uses art and the creative process to therapeutically explore and reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, develop social skills, solve problems, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem. (Kutenai Art Therapy Institute @ www.katikics.bc.ca)
In particular, art therapists are trained to pick up on nonverbal symbols and metaphors that are often difficult to express with words that the client expresses through various forms of expressive art such as painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, or a variety of other types of visual art expression.
N: Who can benefit from this type of therapy?
M: Art Therapy is effective for people of any age. An art therapist works with individuals, couples, families, or groups in settings such as counselling agencies, schools, treatment centers, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, correctional institutes, and elder care locations. It can be especially beneficial for work with young or traumatized children.
N: Do you have to be artistically inclined to do art therapy?
M: Absolutely not. You need not be afraid of expressing yourself through art. Though it may seem different and unnatural at first, it is typically because many of us are not used to communicating via the arts. The creative process can be one of the most rewarding aspects and a wonderful form of self-care.
N: What are some of the benefits of art therapy?
M: In addition to using art to relieve stress or tension, it can also be used as a mode of self-discovery and healing. Sometimes, I work with clients who are going through a very painful part of their lives and they have virtually shut down verbally. The art provides a safe haven, a focus in which they can communicate their feelings without having to talk about it or be questioned. The art becomes the object to which they speak through. In time, this process allows them the ability to find the words and means to move forward.
N: As someone who practices both talk and art therapy, what do you think are some of the differences or added advantages of using art therapy?
M: Like talk therapy, Expressive arts therapy is used as a treatment to improve one’s emotional state or mental well-being. However Art Therapy is extremely useful in allowing the client to lead their own healing and even continue their treatment outside of the sessions by using art as a means of expression, decompression, recording their feelings, and expressing and relieving an immediate feeling. The art work becomes a conduit for the therapist to understand the depth of the client’s situation or experience.
The art also acts as a permanent record of the client’s journey which we can review visually, at intervals or in the end of therapy, to validate the progress and to give honour to the client’s courage to share their experience and to move through it.
Similar to other forms of counselling, Art Therapy promotes greater self-understanding and helps clients find answers. However, using art has the added potential to relieve built up feelings in a safe and tangible manner and give a voice to others when clients have no words to express the depths of their pain.
N: How do you think people can benefit from including more creative expression in general in their lives?
M: I believe we are innately creative beings, when we stop being creative, we shut down our emotional growth and health. Those who cultivate their creativity lead healthy more connected and whole lives.
N: Any suggestions for how folks can start this process?
M: Creativity comes in all forms; cooking, gardening, model planes, crafts, poetry to the fine arts. Our community offers a whole host of programs for those who are seeking the structure and programming to increase their abilities. Sitting down with your child and drawing with them can start the process of reconnecting to oneself.
N: What do you find most rewarding about this work?
M: The reward is in witnessing a client honouring their own journey and finding hope and healing in their life.
As a last word, Michele reminds us: A balanced and healthy life encompasses a little creativity every once in a while. Let’s get expressive!
I am indebted to my sister for this gift many years ago that both helped to unlock some of my creative potential and challenge some of my unrealistic self-expectations.
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