When words “fail”, “get in the way” or “are not enough”… sometimes you can “picture it” and the picture indeed “paints a thousand words.”
As art therapists, we would sometimes ask our clients, “What is the feeling like? Does it have a colour? A shape? Can you show me?”. No two pictures have
ever been the same. Each and every individual is so unique in expression. A simple line or symbol can often tell a story and be a form of release from
inner tension or confusion.
There are a few misconceptions about art therapy (also called art psychotherapy) that we would like to mention here.
- It is not just for children. We have worked with kids as young as 4 years old and seniors in their 90s and everyone in between. The important thing is
that you have an open mind and not let judgemental thoughts get in the way of letting yourself just be…be messy, be free.
- The therapist cannot read the drawings. The goal is for the therapist to support the client in creating something personal and meaningful to him/her.
The therapist will work together with the client and in the process gain some insight into his or her life.
- It is not only for people who suffer from severe trauma or mental health problems. While art therapy has proved effective as a treatment for both
trauma and mental health problems, it has also proved effective for those who perhaps are going through a life transition and would like to gain some
- It is not just for those who can draw. Being artistic is not at all a requirement or determinant to whether you will benefit from art therapy. In fact,
sometimes, art is not made at a session. The session is client-led; therefore, the decision of making art is up to the client. However, on occasions, we
would suggest a visual expression when we sense it is helpful.
The representation not only facilitates communication but allows the person creating the piece of art to access parts of him/herself that are not so easily
accessible otherwise. As psychotherapists, we call this the sub-conscious or even the unconscious. And soon, what is drawn on the page, looks back at us – both the client and the therapist – and brings us into a deeper space, a sacred space ready to be gently and reverently explored and seen.
This 3-way relationship, between client, therapist and the artwork is what is considered to be the key feature of art therapy.
Clients often experience this approach as less threatening as it provides an indirect platform for discussion rather than addressing emotional problems
in a straightforward fashion. One client explained that her artwork “shielded” her from her pain.
Art therapy is a professional method of treatment that draws both on the principles of psychotherapy as well as the creative experience of the client to
gain insight and to achieve growth, healing and integration. Engaging in art therapy helps the client get “unstuck” by releasing what they need to release
and to understand and make meaning of what they seek to understand.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM ART THERAPY?
Art therapy has proved effective as a treatment for
- Individuals going through a life transition or seeking deeper self-awareness and insight
- Individuals trying to manage anxiety, stress, depression, and anger
- Individuals trying to cope with grief and loss (e.g. illness, divorce, employment)
- Adult and child survivors of trauma and abuse
- Individuals suffering from various addictions
- Children with emotional, developmental and/or behavioural problems
- Couples going through a difficult period or facing a breakdown in relating to each other
- Patients and families in Palliative care and/or with chronic illness
- Eating disorder, issues with body image, addiction, psychosomatic illness
- Mental health problems (e.g. depression, schizophrenia, psychosis)
Art therapy may, by itself, prompt change as a primary therapeutic approach. Art Therapy can also complement as well as provide stability and continuity
within other treatments.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A SESSION?
An art therapy session will typically begin with you and your art therapist getting to know each other and building a relationship, a foundation. This
foundation is important in order for you to feel comfortable with your therapist and for insight and change to happen. We would usually recommend
weekly sessions as a start but as time passes, the relationship will inform us on the regularity.
Joanna Tan, BA, MA.(ArtTh), AATR, is an award-winning artist and a pioneer in the field of art therapy in Singapore. Her work includes private practice,
training and directing several community programmes. As a qualified and registered art psychotherapist, she works with individuals and groups to
strengthen identity, increase self-awareness, explore life direction, cope with change, anxiety and depression and other mental illnesses and build
healthy relationships. She also conducts professional training and supervision and retreats for specific purposes.
Joanna is committed to engaging with the whole person, their specific concerns as well as their strengths and capacity. She works to develop a robust
sense of self and productive relationships in both brief and long-term therapy.