Friday, June 23, 2017

Art therapy, emotional regulation and so on

Alan comes into the session somewhat anxious. As soon as he sits at the drawing table, he chooses his favourite medium: pencil. Alan begins to draw skyscrapers with multiple storeys, stairs and lifts as is always the case at the beginning of each session. He spins a story around his image as it progresses. The pencil is easy to control, also its marks can be erased, hence it feels less threatening to Alan than paint which has a mind of its own. The deep pressure of the pencil and its willingness to obey Alan’s commands seems to calm him down. 10 minutes into the drawing Alan appears excitable once again, perhaps it’s the turn that his story has taken or something else around him that has triggered this change of mood. I sense Alan’s frenzy and draw his attention to the clay that I have at hand for moments such as these. Clay will help Alan channelise his energy into a medium that has the capacity to ground or contain his anxiety. Alan begins to pound and knead the clay and once again a sense of calm pervades him. Later in the session, I  will ask Alan to use paint as I want to dig deep into his emotions. The session will probably end with Alan back to using the pencil, in control.

This brief anecdote provides a glimpse into how the inherent qualities of art materials are used within an art therapy session. Art therapists are trained to work with a large variety of materials to induce or subdue psychoemotional states according to the specific needs of their clients. Especially in the case of children with self-regulation issues a deep knowledge of the effect of art materials is necessary to modulate sensory/emotional states. For children with sensory integration dysfunction (SID), art materials can be used to sensitise or desensitise hypo or hypersensitive children. Art therapy is being used effectively with children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), learning differences and developmental issues. It is an effective mode of intervention for all ages and a wide range of psychoemotional issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, bullying, trauma, abuse loss, grief and so on.

 When words are not enough; where language has no access to emotions; when verbal expression feels threatening and unsafe, art therapy is the way to go.

*You do not need to have any artmaking skill to do art therapy.