Exploring Art Therapy

This time of the year can be stressful for many, with added tasks and responsibilities, family dynamics that can be taxing, financial pressures, obligations, and the effects of less daylight and colder weather on mood and energy. During this time of year and in the winter months it can be extra important to take care of your mental health and wellbeing. Consider art therapy; learn how it works, its benefits, how to find an Art Therapist in your area, and additional resources.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is the blend of psychotherapy with the creative process. It involves the use of art materials to express and explore our internal world of emotions and experiences with the guidance of a trained Art Therapist. Art therapy can be helpful for all ages and different presenting concerns. No artistic abilities are required as the process of art therapy is more important than the final product meaning the emphasis is not placed on the aesthetic value of the completed art but rather the experience of making the art and the insights gained in the process.

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy uses art as a means of acknowledging, witnessing, externalizing and releasing emotions and experiences. For example, for those who have experienced trauma, you most likely experienced flashbacks and intrusive memories which are stored in the visual cortex (the visual memory of the brain). The art helps with the processing in a safe way as the art acts as a natural grounding and containment tool, both of which are important in trauma processing to ensure the person is not re-triggered. For those who experience anxiety, art therapy can allow connection to emotions in a tolerable way which helps the body to learn overtime that it is okay to experience all emotions. Here are four ways of how art therapy works:

  1. Externalization: the art allows what is inside the mind and body to be translated into imagery in the art making process. In the externalization process our bodies can let go of needing to be the soul container of the experience or emotion. Keeling and Bermudz (2006) found that art helped in externalizing emotions and increased awareness of personal resources and fostered sense of empowerment.
  2. Self-regulation:The process of art-making helps to connect to the senses, can allow for self-soothing of the body and brain, and in turn can settle the nervous system. Malchiodi (2021) talks about the expressive arts allowing us to connect with body-centered intelligence.
  3. Clarity & Insight: Combining the experience of externalization and self-regulation via the art can result in insight. There is an opportunity to see from another perspective, and in releasing we allow space for other possibilities to enter our conscious awareness. Rubin (2016) shares about the various insights derived from the art making experience.
  4. Holistic Integration: the art engages body and mind through the creation of the art and then the sharing, and simultaneously engages left and right brain through imagery and verbal dialogue.

When we are able to activate the whole brain functioning and mind-body, we have the possibility to delve deeper into understanding, reflection, awareness of our capacities and natural abilities to self-regulate. Within this experience we can connect more to ourselves, and find the balance to navigate life’s ups and downs.

Where Do I Find an Art Therapist?

As an Art Therapist, I have seen time and time again the power of art to help people heal, to gain deeper understanding of their feelings both physical and emotional, to empower and give voice to experience, and develop healthy coping.

If you are looking to find an art therapist within Canada in your local area, please refer to the Canadian Art Therapy Association Art Therapist Directory (https://www.canadianarttherapy.org/art-therapist-directory).

If you are looking for additional information about art therapy, please check out these resources: 1. Ontario Art Therapy Association (https://oata.ca/what-is-art-therapy/), and 2. Canadian Art Therapy Association (https://www.canadianarttherapy.org/what-is-art-therapy). If you would like to learn more about art therapy, or to see if it may be the right avenue for you or a loved one, feel free to reach out.

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