Draw Out Your Emotions – Katreya Somerville – Natural Health Magazine

Draw out your Emotions
By Katreya Somerville
Natural Health Magazine

“I can’t draw”, is a complaint commonly made by adults who, indeed have often not picked up a pencil since they were 10 years old. It’s the same worry that people often have when considering art therapy. Yet this is one area where having no training in art at all can work to your advantage.
Art therapy is just that, a therapy; it has nothing to do with how well you paint or draw, and everything about healing you, helping you explore and express your feelings in a safe environment.
Whether you’re struggling with emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, bereavement, the feelings connected with a chronic illness, or something doesn’t feel quite right with you, you may be considering counselling or psychotherapy sessions. In preference, many are now turning to art therapy.
Art therapy has mainly been practised together with other therapies, in psychiatric institutions, schools and prisons to treat referred cases. It’s used in a variety of psychological problems including addictions and eating disorders. Yet since the 1980’s there are more art therapists operating privately, offering individual or group sessions for people who are not NHS referrals, but simply looking for a way to express themselves.

Therapy for all
Hephzibah Kaplan runs both weekly workshops and private art therapy sessions. She supplies a vast range of paints, crayons, and sculpting materials. In each two-hour sessions about half the time is spent on art, the other half in discussion. One exercise she likes to suggest that everyone make a symbolic portrait of their family – and she has seen these depicted in all kinds of ways, such as balloons or fruit and veg. She encourages you to ask questions about your drawings. “Who do you put first, father or mother?” One woman drew her father’s feet off the ground, and then acknowledged that that is how she always sees him – not down to earth.
Who attends these workshops? Hephzibah emphasizes that art therapy can be for everyone but says her groups attract doctors, educationalists, psychotherapists. “It’s particularly good for city worker-types who live inside their heads all day long – people who hide behind language. Conversely it’s ideal for those who are unable to articulate their feelings or people who are not fluent in English.”
Art therapy can help individuals in many ways. Hephzibah says it can give confidence and improve self-esteem. “I had one client who when she first came for one-to-one sessions, she could just put tentative fingerprints on paper. Later, she joined the ongoing workshops. She’s now sticking four pieces of A1 sized paper together, and doing the most dramatic paintings. Therapy has helped her to feel accepted in a group; it can give a licence to express feelings when these are very difficult or depressed.”

Discover yourself
Vicki Barber is an art therapist who also believes it can work for everyone. “I feel it’s such a brilliant tool for self-discovery and self- awareness that it should be readily available to everyone with, of course, the right support, preferably from an art therapist. The stresses of modern life can make us ill through fear, worry and anxiety. Art therapy can help the individual explore these issues in depth, and to counteract or stop us travelling along those particular roads.”
Art therapy is not about what you draw, but what you interpret from your drawing. This can sometimes bring up disturbing or distressing emotions, and it is here where the art therapist gives support and guidance towards finding solutions to these problems.

Turn around
Art therapy can change your life. Eileen, 40, had previously been working in fashion design, and teaching art and design. Joining an art therapy group four years ago had a very healing effect on her. She explains, “Three years ago my mother died suddenly. She was buried in the Caribbean where they use a lot of rituals around death. When I was about to come back to England I wanted to take stock, and accept that my mum was really buried. So I went to my mother’s grave and I did a ritual of saying goodbye. I took lots of photos at the graveyard. “In the beginning I instinctively wanted to get things right. I think you’re better off without an art background. I had to let go trying to make itlook good. Now, art therapy has led me to a different path; I’m doing a lot of stress management, relaxation classes, and am moving towards more spiritual work.”
Rebecca, 36, a massage therapist, also joined an art therapy group, without any art background. She didn’t find it as particular problem, “At least you don’t hae to unlearn anything,” although sometimes she finds herself frustrated that she hasn’t the technical skills. Yet she’s actually beginning to find some of her 3D objects aesthetically pleasing and displays them around her flat.
“Sometimes it’s quite cathartic, working with your hands – you express what you’re feelings. Yet when I’m working, I have no idea what will come out – I very rarely have a conscious idea.”

If it’s impossible to attend a session, Vicky Barber believes there is much you can do to help yourself. In her new book, Explore yourself through art, she suggests creative exercises to do at home, with guidance on how to interpret the results. These include: keep a therapy diary to log your creative life – in words and drawings, and meaningful cut-out pictures or photos. Keep a doodle book. Carry it around everywhere; keep it intact, and look back at all the doodles done in idle moments and see what you can make of them. Set up a scribble exchange with a partner. Each of you scribbles on a sheet of paper for three seconds. Then swap, spend some time looking at each other’s drawings, and draw some meaningful marks to refine their scribble. Do this twice more, and discuss any associations or thoughts that come up around these, remembering always to concentrate on your images not your partners.
Whereas traditional therapy involves two people, just you and the therapist, art therapy is a three-way process – you, the therapist and the image. It’s this that can really help to draw out your inner feelings.