Expressing feelings differently: art therapy for mental illnesses

20. June 2019

Complex feelings, rapidly changing moods, racing thoughts, memories. In phases of mental illness or stress, many things take place within us. Language is then often the means of choice to communicate and process what we have experienced. But our experiences can sometimes exceed our ability to express ourselves in language. We literally lack words. Art therapy guides creative means and ways to express ourselves and externalize feelings and thoughts.

The Art Within

Since the beginning, humanity has expressed itself through artistic creation. Think of cave paintings, decorations of tombs and ancient sculptures. Humans are capable of expressing their inner selves in a variety of ways. In art we find an outlet to let out energies, be they positive or negative. The artistic forms of expression are unlimited. Here are a few examples:

  • Painting
  • Drawing
  • Tinkering
  • Pottery
  • Sculpture
  • Poetry
  • Writing
  • Welding
  • Collages
  • Graffiti
  • Braiding
  • Carpentry
  • Sewing
  • Textile printing
  • Dancing
  • Theater

There is something creative in all of us. We all have something to share. This is how art is created. Each person has their own preferences in the process of creation.

Art Therapy

If we find ourselves in a psychological crisis, our world turns upside down. The inner balance has been lost and must be rediscovered step by step. The psychotherapy is an essential building block in this process. But not everything that moves us finds the space it needs there. Therefore, art therapy has emerged as a complementary form of therapy in the holistic treatment of mental illness. With the help of this, those affected can express themselves.

“The image is often ahead of ourselves. Often we do not know consciously what is happening when we create, however, the images show us the way, because in them is both problem and solution at the same time.”

A. Leubner, art therapist

When it is still so chaotic in ourselves, we are in dark times and are at a loss for advice and orientation, then artistic creation can become a guide for us

Who offers art therapy?

To become an art therapist must complete either an apprenticeship or a degree. In addition to their artistic skills, art therapists are also trained in conversation and are, depending on the workplace, familiar with the clinical pictures of patients. They work, for example, in psychosomatic medicine, psychiatric clinics, children’s hospitals and rehabilitation clinics. In addition, art therapists also work in outpatient settings. Art therapy takes place in an art room or studio where numerous materials are available.

For whom is art therapy suitable?

The use of art therapy is diverse. Thus, not only mentally ill people, but also patients suffering from physical illnesses benefit from art therapy offers. In many rehabilitation clinics, art therapy is offered to deal with feelings and thoughts that occur during an illness. Basically, art therapy is suitable for all disorders. Art therapy is often offered in a group setting in order to stimulate exchange between fellow patients at the same time.

What happens in an art therapy?

Before the first therapy session, there is usually a preliminary talk. In the conversation, therapist and patient get to know each other, the therapist learns initial details about the background of the disease and it is discussed what can happen in art therapy. The patient learns which materials are available to him. Often, a direct start is then made, as the art therapist can gather further diagnostic information in the process. The how and the what in the patient’s actions can often provide much more insight than just the words. This fits with the holistic approach in art therapy.

In the sessions themselves, the patient can then begin to flesh out their ideas in a group setting. Sometimes patients already bring ideas with them; if not, there is no need to worry. The therapist has a lot of experience in the field and will give suggestions, tips or even specific tasks. Here are a few ideas:

  • Visualize the biography
  • Picture important values
  • Imagine
  • Visualize questions: Where do I come from? Where do I want to go? What’s in between?
  • Getting the obsessive thoughts down on paper
  • Giving depression a color
  • Giving shape and form to terrifying images
  • Drawing the distressing feeling

At the end of the session, the work is then discussed. This can be done one-on-one or in a group setting. If the patient wishes, fellow patients can report how the work affects them and what impulses they feel. The art therapist also gives suggestions and asks more in-depth questions. It is important that nothing is interpreted into the picture, but that all participants search for the individual meaning in exchange with the patient.

Do I need to be particularly creative for art therapy?

The answer is quite clearly: no! Because creativity is not a prerequisite for creating in itself. The work also does not have to be objectively “beautiful”. It does not have to be perfect. It may simply be and speak for the patient. In art therapy, everything is allowed. It may also simply be fun and relaxing to experiment with colors, shapes and materials.

Art therapy also works a lot with symbolism. Inner images can thus receive form and color and be carried to the outside. The symbolic action with colors, shapes and materials can provide inspiration for actual action.

Aims of art therapy

The art therapist A. Leubner emphasizes in her work that she wants to enable patients to move from thinking to doing. In mental illness, the main part takes place in the head. One is often trapped in endless brooding and negative thoughts. One way out of this is to move into creative work and let it guide you. Intuitively and curiously, new doors can be opened in art therapy. This overview once again shows the possibilities that art therapy brings

  • New possibilities of expression
  • Reflection and self-knowledge
  • Moving from thought to action
  • Symbolic action
  • Relaxation and fun
  • Communicating (with self, fellow patients, and the therapist)
  • Gaining experience
  • Changing the direction of vision

Art therapy: why not?

Sometimes we are skeptical when we encounter art. We do not know what art wants to tell us. And even be artistically active? Since we often react with defensiveness. “That’s not for me” or “I can’t do that.” I would like to encourage you to get involved in the experiment of art therapy. Just try it out. See what comes out of it. Feel what moves inside of you. It can be so beneficial and inspiring to leave old paths and enter new ones.

Categories: Therapy

Friederike Reuver
Autor:in Friederike Reuver
"Die LIMES Schlosskliniken haben sich auf die Behandlung von psychischen und psychosomatischen Erkrankungen spezialisiert. Mit Hilfe des Blogs möchten wir als Klinikgruppe die verschiedenen psychischen Erkrankungen näher beleuchten und verschiedene Therapien sowie aktuelle Themen vorstellen."

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