“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ~ Pablo Picasso.
As a qualified and accredited Counsellor and Psychotherapist, I have, for years, helped many clients to find innovative ways to express themselves when finding words becomes difficult. This has been through the use of art materials and the use of objects all aimed at helping elicit meaning and description.
When Self-Doubt Creeps In.
It’s often the case that my clients will say that they are concerned about using art materials due to feeling not very good at anything ‘arty’. I offer them reassurance that the end product is not what matters; it is the process of creating the artwork that is relevant in this case. This is a moment when the role of the Therapist becomes crucial, for the client must have confidence that their artwork is not going to be scrutinised and judged for the craftsmanship.
When we are creating an artwork that is not about the end product, but that is about self-expression and description, what we encounter are thoughts, feelings, memories, ideas, emotions and more besides. As we put that into a creative process, using the variety of materials that have been provided, we start to find that we can develop a dialogue that expresses something significant. With the support of the Therapist, this then becomes a helpful tool with which to help counselling and psychotherapy progress.
Parallels With Contemporary Art.
I recently attended an art exhibition; that of a very talented friend called George Farrow-Hawkins, here in Suffolk.
“George sees art as a means of being in the world. As a tool of self-knowledge and apprehending ones own subjective notion of existence. Authenticity to ones own experience is sought through investigating the idea of memory of touch. George’s artwork, which takes the form of raw materials such as graphite and carbon applied to surfaces such as bedsheets, paper and hair, exist as the residue of a lived moment and the visceral embodiment of the people and environments around him”. – The Cut, Halesworth.
The above quotation about George’s work may sound complex to those who do not work with conceptual art. Put simply, George was exploring life experience through memory of touch. In talking with George, at the Private Viewing, I was taken by how much the process he went through in imagining and then creating the art, was akin to the process and values of the use of art in therapy; self-exploration, self-expression and personal insight.
Here are some photos from the exhibition:
Of course, the difference between the work that George has created and that of a client using art in therapy, is that therapy is not about creating an exhibition. It is a uniquely personal and private process and I have already described how the end product is not the focus of the process. That said, it is interesting to consider the parallels between how those who practice contemporary art are similar to those who are approaching art as a therapeutic tool. George certainly wanted his audience to consider the creative process and how that linked each artwork on display.
I completely understand that feeling of concern about whether I will produce an artwork that is in some way worthy and acceptable. I believe that it is a natural instinct to want approval and affirmation and so this response, in the form of this need, is more instinctive than intellectual. I am reminded that the task is actually to interpret the things that I notice, recognise and learn from the process of creating the artwork, rather than any judgment of the end product. Identifying with the natural discomfort that comes from wanting my work to be approved of, is a useful experience as it helps me empathise with what my own clients may experience. They can be certain that I will offer them great reassurance and understanding.
Over the years, particularly in working in the field of addiction and substance abuse and working with trauma and PTSD, I have run many art groups with clients. I am always touched by the brave way that people take on a project that will touch them emotionally and impressed by their eagerness to share, explore and learn. Art’s role in therapy is a beautiful process and as much as a person can feel intimidated by the idea of it, it can also be incredibly enjoyable and even fun. It is my privilege to help others and so I am always happy to develop new skills and bring in a variety of methods for doing so.
If you have had an experience of using art in therapy, do feel free to share something of what that was like for you, in the comments section below. You may help others to feel encouraged about trying it for themselves.
Please Note: If you wish to copy this article, please have the courtesy to quote me as Author. Thank you.