Art Therapy: combining professional psychotherapy with the creative process.

I can help you deal with the following issues:

ADHD in adults, adolescents and children |  Grief and loss |  Mood disorders |  Anger-management
Body-image |  Anxiety |  Stress-management |  Self-esteem problems |  Personal growth

Client painting of an ADHD mind

ADHD in adults, adolescents and children

A structured therapeutic art activity, such as the creation of a life-story collage, requires the use of executive functions such as the use of active memory, problem solving skills, impulse control, attention and focus, mental and visual organization, planning and sorting, and reflective “cause-and-effect” thinking. It also gives the older child/adolescent or adult with ADHD a chance to review and validate early signs of the disorder, and tell his/her personal story.

Action-oriented art activities, such as painting to music or working with clay, can help with behavioural self-regulation (impulse control and/or physical arousal), as well as release of excess energy.

Creating artwork art naturally evokes emotional expression and awareness of affect. Emotions are made visual and can be examined repeatedly with greater ease, and thus understood in more depth. This is helpful for processing strong feelings, and is beneficial for those who learn better with visual cues.

Art therapy fosters the development of positive self-esteem: there is no right or wrong. The completion of a piece of artwork promotes a sense of competence and self-pride. In addition, communicating through art is often easier than with words. Using art as a “visual voice” enables one to be understood by others, which can improve feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. Learning about personal emotions and behaviours, by examining the process and the content of the artwork, allows a positive sense of self to emerge, which builds self-confidence.

Specific activities used in art therapy assist in accessing memories and processing unresolved emotions. Creating pictures in reaction to various aromas, for example, can easily and readily access associated emotional memories. This can be very helpful for adults with ADHD,who often have a history of emotionally-charged memories associated with ADHD-related behaviours, that reach all the way back to early childhood.

Art therapy can also promote an increase in personal insight and self-awareness for people with ADHD. Creating images from different visual perspectives, for example, can facilitate new understanding and learning. Creating a self-symbol out of coloured clay or paint, for example, can accentuate positive personality traits, and promote a sense of self-esteem.

Andrea's painting of a lone tree in a swamp

Grief and bereavement

Art-making can help to process the complex set of intense emotions that we experience when grieving a loss. Stages associated with the grieving process may include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Working through painful feelings, by pouring them into artwork in a safe environment, can be soothing, and may elevate mood. The artwork can serve as a visual language, facilitating the expression of feelings that are too intense to put into words.

Andrea's painting of herself at 18

Mood disorders

Mood disorders can be overwhelming and debilitating. Art therapy can help in several ways:

  • Creating artwork allows feelings to be externalized, providing some relief from the heavy emotional burden.
  • Studies have shown that art-making can elevate mood and increase a sense of well-being by stimulating the release of a brain chemical called dopamine, associated with the brain's pleasure center.
  • Allowing one's feelings to pour onto a paper or canvas, or into a sculpture, gives them expression in a natural manner, without the need for words.
Andrea's painting of an angry eye

Anger-management

Anger is often an explosive emotion, which can be channeled through the creative process and contained in an external object (the piece of art). Clay, for example, can be used to release some of these feelings by throwing, pressing, and poking. Tearing up paper for collage work can also release tension. Creating active clay volcanoes (using baking soda and vinegar) can help children to understand the explosive nature of anger. Images and symbols in drawings or paintings can convey intense feelings metaphorically, without the need for words. Other art activities can be meditative and soothing, such as creating and colouring mandalas, or painting to music.

Examining the finished artwork with the therapist helps the client to gain insight into the root causes of his/her anger, and creates an entrance point for a looking at appropriate and effective methods of behaviour management.

Andrea's painting of an insulated body

Body-image

People who struggle with body image issues and/or eating disorders often find it extremely difficult to express and identify their emotions. Deep emotions such as anger, powerlessness, fear, anxiety, and depression are masked by obsessive control of food, exercise, and weight. Art therapy provides a “visual voice” through the process of art-making, which is often less threatening than traditional talk-therapy. Hidden and powerful feelings can come to the surface, through metaphoric images within the artwork, while still remaining under the individual's control. Engaging with the art materials can help to increase self-awareness and self-esteem, improve emotion regulation, and a create sense of empowerment.

Andrea's painting of shards (anxiety)

Anxiety

Art therapy can help to reduce anxiety, and the associated tension. Activities such as painting to music, creating mandalas, working with scents, and sculpting with clay, can be calming and can promote the cathartic release of pent-up tension. In addition, creating images through drawing, painting and/or collage can help individuals to tap into underlying feelings, thoughts, and ideas, all of which contribute to heightened levels of anxiety, in a way in which words alone cannot achieve. Once the art is completed, the images, often loaded with metaphoric symbols, can be examined and discussed with the therapist, providing opportunities for increased insight and self-awareness.

Andrea's painting of a bloodshot eyeball (stress)

Stress-management

Art therapy can help to relieve stress by facilitating the release of emotional and physical energy through movement, and by externalizing intense feelings and containing them within the finished piece of artwork. Activities such as painting to music or working with clay foster a cathartic release of energy.

Andrea's painting of low self-esteem

Low Self-esteem

Art therapy can help you to process emotions, and can have a chain-reaction effect on improving self-esteem. For example, examining a finished piece of artwork with the therapist, promotes self-awareness, and can empower you to see things from new perspectives. Understanding emotions and behaviours, and letting go of those that have been holding you back, allows a positive sense of self to emerge and builds self-confidence. Self-confidence provides the strength and motivation to make positive changes in our lives.

Andrea's painting of a lotus blossom (growth)

Personal growth

Art therapy facilitates personal insight, by tapping into deep psychological information that may be hidden from the conscious mind. The creation of art actively engages the right side of the brain, which deals with the sense of intuition, emotional expression, creativity, imagination, and spirituality. The unconscious can become conscious through the use of symbols and metaphors. As you discuss your artwork with the therapist,you learn more information about yourself, which, in turn, fosters personal growth.