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Art Therapy

Art and Healing

Some people may find it very difficult to talk about their feelings for a number of different reasons. These includes not being able to find the right words to describe what they are feeling, or feeling embarrassed and ashamed to open up about something so personal to a therapist who may seem like a stranger. These reasons are all understandable. After all, emotions are very complex and an intimate part of one self. Yet, these former emotions are often the ones that need the most attention, release and analyzing. Doing so will greatly aid the process of healing.


 

 

 

What is art therapy?

According to the Institute of Mental Health Singapore, art therapy is a form of psychotherapy where art making is used to allow people to express their worries and feelings in a different way, at their own pace. Although art therapy involves painting, drawing, and other forms of expression, individuals do not have to be good at art. There is no focus on one’s drawing or painting skills, and there is no right or wrong way to make art in therapy. Instead, it is focused on picking out feelings, thoughts, or emotions that are difficult to express into words, and converting them into pieces of artwork.

Following the completion of the art piece, the art therapist analyses the art piece together with the individual to explore and understand issues and feelings that may be troubling them.

History of art therapy

Art therapy gained popularity during the twentieth century, when asylums were being replaced by mental hospitals and patients were encouraged to not only talk about their feelings, but also undergo community-based therapies.

During this period, Edward Adamsom, who is known as one of the pioneer artists of art therapy started work at the Netherne psychiatric hospital in Surrey and established the very first studio. In his studio, individuals were given free rein to explore and create.

The concept of art therapy was initially based on the theories of Naumberg (1973) and Kramer (1973) that our deepest emotions exist within the unconscious mind in the form of images and not words. Adamson was also inspired by psychiatrist C G Jung who believed that art had a healing mechanism. As such, using drawing and painting in therapy should theoretically help to explore hidden emotions and aid mental illness recovery.

When analysing the pieces created by patients in Adamsom’s studio, certain patterns were found and used as a tool for diagnosis. For example, they believed that schizophrenic patients used a lot of red paint.

How does art therapy work?

Some people may find it very difficult to talk about their feelings for a number of different reasons. These includes not being able to find the right words to describe what they are feeling, or feeling embarrassed and ashamed to open up about something so personal to a therapist who may seem like a stranger. These reasons are all understandable. After all, emotions are very complex and an intimate part of one self. Yet, these former emotions are often the ones that need the most attention, release and analyzing. Doing so will greatly aid the process of healing.

Art therapy allows the person to make new discoveries about their thoughts and emotions that may usually be hidden, and allows one to express their feelings in a tangible, physical form. It also allows them to reflect on their thoughts, desires and challenges.

Art therapy can also help to boost self-esteem if an individual views his or her art pieces and possible attainment of art skills as a personal achievement. It can also be used as a distraction technique. An interview with a bipolar patient named Gary Molloy resulted in the following excerpt: “I think… channelling that energy into painting …took my mind off the thoughts of depression and extremes.”

Although art therapy is not a substitute to pharmacotherapy, it serves as a good complementary form of therapy especially to individuals who are interested in different forms of art. A survey carried out targeting individuals who have undergone art therapy showed improvements in stress reduction, therapeutic benefits, improved sociability and skills development.

Who can art therapy be used for?

Art therapy has proved useful for, but is not limited, to patients who have PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Benefits and risks of art therapy

There are two main benefits of art therapy, mainly cost and lack of side effects. Generally, resources needed for art therapy which includes drawing materials can be purchased at a low cost. Cost effectiveness reviews have shown that art therapy indeed appears to be cost-effective compared to a wait list control with high certainty. In addition, “wrongly prescribing” art therapy to an individual is unlikely to cause any physical or mental harm compared to pharmacotherapy.

However, it is important to note that an area of potential harm would be that an individual could possibly bring to surface emotions that he or she is previously not aware of. If left unresolved, or if the art therapist is not skilled enough to discuss and resolve these feelings, it could further compound the emotional baggage faced by the individual.

Art therapy in Singapore

There are several hospitals, organizations and private clinics that offer art therapy in Singapore. In particular, the Institute of Mental Health Singapore and The Red Pencil are two prominent organisations that have helped to promote the use of art therapy in Singapore.

1. Institute of Mental Health

IMH’s outpatient Psychotherapy Centre is located on Level 2 (above Clinic B, opposite the Woodbridge Museum) provides a quiet and conducive environment for patients who have been referred by IMH clinicians for therapy. The Centre is equipped with 16 therapy rooms, including an art therapy group room and a family therapy room.

To find out more about art therapy offered by IMH, click here.

2. The Red Pencil (Singapore)

The Red Pencil (Singapore) offers both creative and clinical Arts Therapy services to various organisations in Singapore: hospitals, family centres, homes, shelters and schools with a target audience of those from the low-income families.

To find out more about their past and upcoming events, click here.


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One thought on “Art and Healing”

  1. SAMH runs creative hub, creative mindset and creative say – these are all community based art and mental health support services. While LASELLE does both short courses and a masters program in art psychotherapy. Various hospitals may offer art therapy groups as well for patients w specific conditions in/outpatient e.g. NUH, SGH, Singapore Cancer Society etc 😀

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