“The purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life off our souls.”
Pablo Picasso’s belief illustrates that the role of the arts and creativity in improving health and wellbeing has long been appreciated.
Many art therapists believe that the soul expresses itself through art. We also believe that every human being is an artist. The fact that art can assist in therapy has been known for decades, since the birth of the discipline in places like Great Britain, Israel, Canada and the United States.
That our souls often express themselves in imagery and other forms of visual art should not surprise us. People frequently describe themselves as visual thinkers and we have all heard the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
But what is it about creative expression that heals and transforms lives? And if creating art is so healthy, shouldn’t artists be among the healthiest members of society? For Canadian expressive arts therapist and researcher Stephen Levine, “Expression is itself transformation; this is the message that art brings.”
Therapy is not magic, nor is it a panacea for mental health issues. Levine underscores this point when he asserts that “The task of therapy is not to eliminate suffering but to give voice to it, to find a form in which it can be expressed.” Effective therapy also depends on a deeply attuned therapeutic connection between client and therapist.
Emotions, stories, beliefs, things that we value and things that we fear tend to emerge in imagery, and the process of creating and then considering this imagery can be profoundly illuminating for the artist/client and therapist, alike.
A common misconception about art therapy is that the therapist will look at the art the client has created in the therapy session and know what is happening for the client, cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally. Although this is not literally the case, it is true that over time, the artist/client will see for themselves that, as Canadian art therapist and teacher Peggy Clarkson expresses it, “When we quiet our minds, the soul speaks.”
Listening and attending to their soul, together with the trained therapist, the client may find that their art and art making begins to act as a catalyst to change their experience and perception of their life. And, so it is that deep connection combined with soul expression that can lead to healing and transformation. Some people might almost call it magic.
What does an art therapy session look like?
Working from your home “art studio,” you may find yourself painting with water colours or finger paints in your virtual art therapy session. You may create with fabric, brightly coloured tissue paper, found objects from nature or modelling clay. Alternately, you may draw with ink or charcoal. Art materials do not have to be expensive to allow for highly expressive work. Sessions typically begin with a check in and finish with some form of verbal processing. The art making is comfortably sandwiched between these two elements.
Who might benefit from art therapy?
Art therapy has been shown to be effective for clients who identify with issues including anxiety, depression, life transitions, grief, trauma and many other mental health concerns. There are art therapists who specialize in individual counselling, couples and families, or youth and children. In addition, there are an increasing number of therapists who specialize in working with BIPoC and/or LGBTQ2S+ populations.
Call us at 780-222-7405 to discover if art might play a role in your healing journey.
Jillian Paschen, MPS – Art Therapy Intern
Jillian is currently working under the supervision of Brian Welling, Registered Psychologist, at the Welling Centre in Edmonton, Alberta and under the supervision of Registered Canadian Art Therapist, Lucy Lu.