What is Art Therapy?
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Transforming Walls and Defenses
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Whenever I tell people that I'm an art therapist, the question that always comes next is "What is art therapy?" I respond by saying that "it's just like any other therapy except we use creativity to move things along that much more quickly." People nod their heads in understanding, but still look confused. So, I continue by saying that we have walls that are built up, both in our verbal and nonverbal communication. When we are being creative there are no walls. Things are flowing smoothly and, when coupled with emotional challenges, can assist with identifying what is going on and being able to let go of the emotional blockages easily, often effortlessly. For this reason, art therapy has been referred to (by many of my clients) as being "magical".
Art therapists are put through rigorous training for this reason. Without understanding how it works, there is the possibility of "re-traumatizing" someone, leaving them feeling emotionally unprepared for what is coming up. It is necessary to pace each client and prepare him or her ahead of time so that when the negative emotions arrive the person is ready for it and has confidence that the supports in place will make the needed difference in resolving the emotional turmoil. Training in Ethics is also highly emphasized, making sure that each art therapist knows that being that much more aware of ethical complications is critical. Having healthy boundaries is one of the important skills that is necessary to fulfill this outcome. Using structures for success are also incredibly useful and help to facilitate a positive and healthy outcome to therapy.
Learn to Let Go and Trust Yourself
Art therapy is a comlex, yet fun process. After I say I'm an Art Therapist people often respond to me, saying "I'm not good at art, so I probably wouldn't be a good candidate for art therapy". Once I let them know that it's actually better if you're not an artist, they look at me, confused once more. So, I explain that when someone is trained in making art, their focus is on making a great piece of artwork, often struggling to make it "perfect". With each client I work on having them let go of focusing on the outcome being "beautiful" or artistically pleasing, and instead have them focus on having fun with the process, allowing the finalized piece to be beautiful because of what it represents. To do this, you have to let go of being critical of yourself. It's important to let go of the "internal critic", turning it off long enough for the creativity to flow and for the process to work its magic.
Once you are able to let go of the internal critic, then self-acceptance begins to take place. This is where the real magic happens. Self-acceptance is critical to healing. Once you are able to accept yourself, liking who you are (or are becoming) then you can "check in" with yourself to see what is needed for you to feel good about yourself. In the Self-Empowerment Techniques Workshop we cover Healthy Boundaries and discover what it takes to have life work. These are powerful concepts that, when learned and utilized, can transform the quality of each person's life, allowing him or her to gain back a sense of control which will lead to empowerment.
Dive In and Give It a Try
Diving in is often what it takes. Give it a try. Being creative is about having fun with yourself, with life and with your process. Each person has their own process, and honoring that process is just as important as self-acceptance. Having patience with your own healing that needs to occur and what it looks like for you to heal is part of self-acceptance. What it takes for you to heal from something painful may look very different than someone else. Giving yourself a "break" can help to expedite the healing that needs to occur.
Giving yourself a break can look many ways. Letting go of worrying, just for a day, an hour, or a minute can be what is needed to turn the tide. Realizing that it takes a little bit of "work" each day, rather than one big shift or change, is also important. People often say "I'll try." I stop them there and ask them to consider that "trying" is doing either/or. But, "working on it" means you will do a little bit each day. Before you know it, you are heading in the direction that you say you want to go. It takes one step at a time, and it takes giving yourself a break. Jump in to the process of healing by making a choice to give it a try. Then, be patient with the process.
They All Turn Out To Be Treasures
The great thing about Art Therapy is that everything you make is a treasure. It has meaning and depth; it is an expression of you. That is why it is a treasure. Choosing to see it this way, having value not because of the "artistic" qualities of the piece, but instead as an expression of your soul, wordless expressions of how you see and relate to the world, is part of this process. These approaches are important and they matter, just as you matter.
Recognizing that you matter, that what you think, feel and experience matters is another part of healing. Until you allow this to begin to be true for you, you will find that life is difficult and eventually not want what life has to offer. When, instead, you realize that you are worthwhile, because you are alive and you are human, then you will begin to let in those things that are good for you, inspiring for you, and joyful for you. Once you do this, life will take on a whole new meaning and the creations you make will be expressions of your uniqueness, your beautiful and interesting point of view.