Founded in a person-centred practice, therapeutic arts provide an opportunity to explore any issues or challenging life events. Rather than a ‘talking therapy’ where the tangled and ever changing emotions may be difficult to describe, art allows us to express what’s going on inside in a nonverbal, creative way. Our artwork may purely express feelings and emotions or it may communicate something meaningful. Creating are is a journey of self-discovery.
I studied Transpersonal Arts in Therapy at Tobias School of Art & Therapy. This course is anchored in the anthroposophical tradition of Rudolf Steiner as well as contemporary psychology and psychiatry. There are many books, some of them listed below which go into depth of working with therapeutic arts. However, I would like to explain my own understanding how therapeutic arts aid healing, based on my artistic work with grief.
A way of expressing
I was suffering inside and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Art had the ability to access deeper level of my soul to show me what was wrong, what was living inside me. The images were telling a story which was written for my own ears.
In this way art and I have been in an intimate communication. I came to an understanding that my soul has its own language and the images are its words. They contained emotions, messages and valuable insights and in a language I was able to understand. It explained things which the doctors weren’t able to.
A way of processing
So the art became my companion, my older, wiser friend that I could turn to. This friend was helping me to make sense of events and emotions. Once I understood ‘why’, it was much easier to accept what was happening to me.
I learned to come to my friend with the most difficult of emotions. Anger, hatred, you name it. Art didn’t judge me when I was throwing pieces of clay on the floor or put torn out artwork into a blender. It just accepted me as I was and patiently transformed the artwork into a new piece. In this humble process it transformed my emotions into something manageable.
A way of letting go
I realised that my body had a big part to play in my healing. It was no use to me to ‘meditate’ on transforming my anger. My emotions were deeply seated in my body, my muscles, my cells. I needed to move, work, dance, rave, throw, tear. When I was sad, I need to touch, stroke, smooth to feel better. This notion didn’t come from my head, it came directly from my body. My body knew what I needed to do.
At first, it was just the images which were able to speak loudly. With time and journaling practice, there came a need to explain in words. A weak, uncertain voice at first. More of a whisper. With more images, the urge to speak grew stronger, to let the sound out of my body. I began to sing again. Dancing became a powerful way of expressing my emotions. Now I share my world with you in writing. The pain is no longer locked deep inside, it has been set free.
Through art I learned to ‘trust the process’ and I’m now trying to apply it in everyday life.
Cameron, J. (2007) The Complete Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice. Penguin Books, London
Gussak, D.E. & Marcia, L.R. (2015) The Wiley Handbook of Art Therapy. Wiley-Blackwell
Hinz, L.D. (2009) Expressive Therapies Continuum. Routledge, Oxon
McNiff, S (1993) Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of Imagination. Shambhala, Boston
McNiff, S (1998) Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go. Shambhala, Boston