Chronically Creative #4: Alana Stewart, Art Therapist
Hey there Spoonies! It's Sunday, and that means another blog, this time in our Chronically Creative series! Today's entry was very kindly written for us by Alana Stewart, an art therapist from Melbourne, Australia. Previously on this blog we've explored how Spoonies have used their art as a means for expression and healing on an individual basis, but we thought it'd be super interesting to get a professional perspective on things and maybe even inspire you to pursue art therapy yourself if you don't fancy going it alone!
Be sure to give Alana's Instagram a follow @embodyarttherapy for loads of great content around art therapy and healing!
Alana Stewart is an art therapist from Melbourne, Australia who has a degree in Psychology and a Masters in Art Therapy. She is also an art maker who has understood from a young age that art making helps to express difficult feelings and cope better with life’s challenges. Alana runs a blog on instagram about art therapy and psychotherapy which can be found at @embodyarttherapy, she's also on Facebook and can also be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org
What is art therapy?
Art therapy is a form of counselling or mental health therapy that assists people in achieving a better state of wellbeing. The word “art" may put some people at unease, however art therapy is open to people of all abilities and does not require any technical skill as an artist or “creative person". Many people, when they are first introduced to the idea of art therapy, are a bit sceptical of how making pictures may improve their life or help with their problems. Making art in itself has a number of therapeutic benefits and combining this with the psychotherapy skills of an arts therapist, art therapy can be useful to many types of people. Art therapy helps people to find a visual language to express and explore difficult to verbalise sensations, feelings and thoughts. For many people, the ability to find a way to express these difficult to verbalise inner experiences can help to improve a person’s mental health through a number of ways, such as gaining mental clarity, finding meaning, improving self-worth, and learning to cope better with certain emotions.
To those who live with chronic and mental illnesses, one benefit of art therapy is that it can help people to cope with and experience growth after difficult and life changing experiences, such as being diagnosed or going through life changing surgery. Commonly, people who experience being diagnosed with chronic illness and mental illness often can have their identities disrupted. This can feel like their life now revolves around their diagnosis, and their identities outside of illness feel drowned out. This is a distressing experience that can make a person feel less worthy and isolated. There is usually also a grieving process for losing the life that they thought that they would have, as their identities change from "not sick" to "sick". Art therapy may help people to cope with this grieving and to help rediscover positive aspects of identity that have been hijacked by an experience of illness. This, in turn, can help people to regain their self-worth and confidence in the world.
Art therapy also shares many similarities with mindfulness. Many art therapists, including myself, would also say that art making is a mindfulness practise. Mindfulness and art therapy have both been shown to help people to relax which reduces stress hormones in the body. Furthermore, mindfulness and art therapy can also help people to cope better with the uncertainty of life with chronic illness and cope better with chronic pain. Many hospital services are now recognising the medical benefits of art therapy and are beginning to offer this as a part of their services. As the writer of this blog and an art maker, I can also testify for the benefit of art making to relieve boredom and reduce anxiety if you ever find yourself stuck in a hospital bed.
What to expect in art therapy
On the first meeting with an art therapist many people may feel nervous. Some may feel worried about drawing something "not good enough" or letting out too much emotion at once. A trained art therapist is always well aware of this concern and has an in depth knowledge of art materials and how to ease a person gently into the art making experience. For example, if a person is not feeling comfortable with drawing, the art therapist may offer collage materials or use image cards. Art therapists are then there to help you to explore the process of using art materials and making images. Often, people find that these experiences help them to gain greater insight into some aspect of themselves or their lives. Again, this process does not require any artistic skill or ability and the focus is not on making a finished art product.
I have listed just a few general benefits of art making and art therapy here. Art therapists have worked in a range of diverse settings such as hospitals, rehabs, prisons, schools, community centres and private practises. Art therapy workbooks can also be found in stores and online. Some of these offer colouring in activities and some have themed drawing activities. However, a lot of people benefit additionally from the opportunity to have an art therapist to help them explore art materials and help them to verbally process their experiences.
Thanks again to Alana for such an informative and insightful post! Keep your eyes peeled next week for a real extravaganza of a blog to celebrate Mothers' Day, featuring multiple voices from Spoonies with mums, Spoonies who are mums, and Spoonie mums with Spoonie kids! See you then!