The Art of Art Therapy

Anyone who has tried to put pen to paper – be it by doodling in a notebook during a stressful meeting at work or colouring between the lines of a colouring book – will understand the calming effect embedded in such creative endeavours. More than just a pastime, art possesses meditative and therapeutic powers that can help one relax, unwind, and deal with any underlying emotional issues.

Art therapy, defined as “a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication” explores modes of expression, and the understanding and healing that occur when paint touches canvas. It is a form of expressive therapy that uses art to analyze one’s feelings through discussing and grasping the meaning behind a produced artwork.

Some say that art is a language beyond barriers and beyond any written word. This type of therapy embraces the idea that art is a means of symbolic communication and expressing personality, emotions and other aspects of human experience. Unlike psychotherapy, which is mainly based on counseling and is considered to be “talking therapy”, art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art as a primary form of communication.

expressing one’s self artistically can help people resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviors and feelings, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and awareness.

This form of psychotherapy has recently been welcomed in Jordan, with a handful of certified experts raising awareness about its advantages and its potential to change lives during the last couple of years.

One of them is Sara Barjakly. With an MA in Art Psychotherapy under her belt and a background in Fine Arts, Barjakly set off to use art as a mode of communication with her clients through images and colours.

An artist herself, Barjakly explains that art therapy requires no previous experience or skills, is strictly confidential and uses a non-judgmental approach towards a person’s creations. “We focus on the creative process of producing art and use that as a way to bring to light the feelings that are being expressed in the session,” she said.

According to Barjakly, the creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help people resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviors and feelings, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and awareness.

“Art therapy enhances emotional and mental well-being and paves the road to personal fulfillment and self-awareness. It relieves stress and helps people resolve problems that they are undergoing in their daily lives. It can also increase self-esteem, which in turn aids one in developing interpersonal skills and learning how to communicate with others.”

This still-evolving field is open to children and adults of any background and level of experience. Recent studies have shown that visual art appreciation and hands-on creative artwork can support people dealing with different types of trauma and can help with emotional problems as well as physical ailments and terminal diseases. It has also been introduced as a solution for domestic issues and relationships.

particularly useful with children and young people who, when language fails to help them express themselves

Barjakly adds that this type of therapy can be particularly useful with children and young people who, when language fails to help them express themselves, find it easier to use non-verbal forms of communication in order to convey their feelings.

“For example, I worked with an 8-year-old girl whose father passed away recently. The intervention lasted for a few months with a total of 20 sessions. She used art to send him messages and describe how she feels about losing him, which helped her deal with the loss little by little,” Barjakly recounted.

Describing the process of art therapy, Barjakly says that the client and therapist usually agree together on the length of the intervention which differs from one client to another. “Usually, a session would last from 50 to 60 minutes using the last 10 to 15 minutes to discuss the artwork being created. We discuss the process of the art making, how it started and how it progressed throughout the session,” she explained.

Moreover, in the case of patients in end of life care, short-term therapy sessions can be organised with special arrangements adapted to the patient’s needs. For example, technology such as Ipads can be used instead of pens and pencils, allowing the patient to put less effort into creating an artwork. Digital media, according to Barjakly, can also be used in the cases of infection control with patients who have low immune systems.

“There are great art applications that can be used in technology to create art and the effects are very similar to the effects of creating real art,” she said. “You can use different textures and brushstrokes and can choose from a variety of colours.”

With the rise of awareness and informative talks, Barjakly hopes that mental, medical and health organizations in Jordan will start to acknowledge the outcomes of art therapy and begin to incorporate it into their programmes for individuals in need of psychosocial care. “Art therapy is for everyone,” she encouraged. “I would highly recommend it to anyone who finds it difficult to understand and express his or her thoughts and feelings.”

This piece was published in InteriorPH magazine. 

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