Anyone with a streak of creativity will vouch for the immensely engrossing nature and healing effects of painting, drawing, sculpting and other forms of artistic expression. Art therapy is utilized by trained professionals using ancient forms of self-expression as psychological tools to treat the troubled mind.
Art therapy is now a recognized form of psychiatric treatment used to resolve a range of psychological ailments and improve mental health. It is a relatively new approach to mental disorders, beginning in the 20th century. In the UK, the term was first coined by Adrian Hill, an artist who stumbled upon the therapeutic effect of art while he was recovering from tuberculosis.
The therapy is founded on the principle that helping a person express his innermost feelings through art leads to healing various disorders and promotes well-being. Expressing oneself through art allows a person to resolve emotional conflicts, lessen stress levels, heightens self-esteem, changes behaviour and increases self-awareness.
Art therapy finds application in a vast range of mental problems. Among children, it is used to treat those with learning disabilities or behavioural and social problems. Children who have undergone a traumatic experience often benefit by 'letting go' of their fear, pain and anguish through art.
Among adults, chronic stress is a common reason for seeking art therapy. Patients recovering from brain injuries and individuals suffering from depression, physical abuse and anxiety, whose verbal expression is hence impaired, are also ideal candidates for art therapy.
An art based therapy session can entail using diverse media from sketching, painting and collage-making to sculpture and pottery, coupled with counselling sessions and conventional psychotherapy.
A typical session differs from a regular art class as the attempt here is to give expression to images that occur within a person, rather than what he/she sees externally. Sometimes, art therapy sessions include learning artistic skills.
There are several 'tools' that art therapists use to evaluate a patient's emotional state and cognitive abilities. House-Tree-Person (HTP) is one such assessment where a patient draws images of a house, tree and person using only a lead pencil. Various questions are then put to him/her about the images: "What is the person in the picture doing?", "What is the weather like?" "Tell me about this tree." In the HTP assessment, the three images represent varied aspects of the patient and how she feels about herself. By looking at the drawing and answering such questions, the patient, along with the therapist is able to explore her inner thoughts and feelings objectively.
From helping cancer patients to cope with their disease to soothing stressed out executives, art therapy unlocks shutters in the mind and helps people heal themselves.