It’s one of our key beliefs here at Rabble & Twine that art and art-making are good for
workin’ your shit out the soul. Obviously, we know this from personal experience, but HEY why not ask an expert? Lucky for me, I just so happen to have one in my family! My super smart, gorgeous, creative, funny sister Sarah is a therapist with specific training in using art as part of the therapeutic process.
Without further ado – let’s dive in!
AnnaCan you give us a basic art therapy rundown? Why is it such a good conduit for self expression? The ACTION of making? Tapping into INTUITION? Sense of PLAY? How does this art therapy magic work?
SarahThe thing I love best about making art part of a therapeutic process (or really any process of self discovery) is how it gets you out of your own way. If someone asks me “how are you today?” My mouth starts to say “I’m fine. How are you?” Or “You know, tired.” Or “Great” when I’m not really any of those things. I’m saying what I’m ‘supposed’ to say. If you ask me to draw a line for how I am, or make a musical sound, or a gesture, I can’t tell you the polite thing. I can’t tell myself the polite thing! We get immediately to something else which might be unexpected in a useful way. Making stuff is just awesome and a really cool part of being human. We are damn good at it. We’ve always been makers.
My training was at Lesley University in their Intermodal program, which means I got training in multiple art mediums and how to use them in session with clients. Asking someone to use an art modality that’s new to them can generate that sense of surprise. There are certifications for Art Therapists, Dance Movement Therapists, Music Therapists, Drama Therapists etc. It can be a little confusing to figure out what someone’s official training and background is. If you are looking for a provider, try to get a little info about their training and what modalities they prefer. Getting training yourself in using creative arts in therapeutic practice was a total blast! Highly recommend.
AnnaHow has being knowledgeable about art therapy influenced your own personal artistic practice (if it has)? What about how you view art out in the world?
SarahI’m definitely more process oriented after my intermodal art therapy training rather than product oriented. I’m more likely to think about linking multiple art modalities together. I make an art piece that might inspire a poem and then the poem inspires another art piece. Round and round we go.
Something that’s a common belief about art based therapies is that the professional will interpret your art. “I see a lot of black here, you must be in a dark place.” This is NOT the case. The artist is the only one to define the meaning of their stuff. What I see when I look at someone else’s art is more revealing about me and my experience, much like in a museum. It’s a collaborative process of what the artist is hoping to provoke and then what the viewer brings to the viewing. In a therapeutic setting I try very hard to hold back from my own interpretations and let the creator make the definitions.
AnnaFavorite technique to use? Why?
SarahWell because there is not infinite time in which to make stuff and gaze out our windows being at peace with the world I recommend quick poems or journal entries in emails. They’re archived forever (Thanks Google!) and you can elaborate/expand on them at your leisure. I’ll often ask people to try a free write or a simple drawing prompt. My favorite medium personally is encaustic (Bees wax. So awesome.) But it’s messy and time consuming so I don’t get to it as often as I want. If I had my way and a studio, I would love to use this technique with clients.
Some examples of encaustic technique
Anna How is art therapy useful when personal judgements of “not being good” get in the way? When a person is caught up in the “I can’t draw/I’m not creative/I can’t [insert artistic activity here]” is it still worth it? Are there any sneaking therapist ways of letting those judgments go?
Sarah Ha! The ongoing wrestling match with the inner critic I feel is a big part of life, not just of making stuff. I think coming at things with a sense of curiosity and an ‘oh what the hell’ attitude can be helpful. Setting up scenarios where you take the concept of making something ‘good’ out of the equation. Use your non dominant hand to draw, write with your computer monitor turned off, go really fast. Set an expectation of having a fun experiment with the process rather than focusing on the product and how making a ‘good’ product means you are worthwhile after all and all those people from Junior High were wrong about you – can make a difference. I think all art making and creative action is good for us as a species. Make a board game! Bake a pie! Redecorate your bedroom!
AnnaWhat is the difference between art therapy and just making art? Is there any overlap? Is it the intention that you bring? How does the field of expressive art therapy speak to its own work? Feedback? Criticism?
SarahArt making is a lot about intention and about the container. Certainly there are artists who’s work comes from a place of deep personal exploration and confrontation with their experiences and growth. There are also many artists who would find that yucky or uncomfortable. Art therapists may be a self selecting group of people who make art about their journey or see value in doing that sort of thing.
I think criticism/feedback about a piece that is intended to be aesthetically interesting would need to be different from one generated with the intention of exploration of the self. If I am approaching a friend’s work as a fellow artist I’m definitely more candid, more open about my personal perspective, than if I am using my creative art therapist lens where my perspective as a viewer/listener is less about me. Interesting question!
AnnaAre there ways to apply these concepts on a larger scale? What do you think the benefits of art viewed/experienced this way are for the greater community?
SarahI think that sometimes we tend to congregate with other people who agree with us or whose experience is familiar and comfortable to us on some level. This can create a sensation that ‘oh all people think such and such, much as I do.’ I think experiencing someone else’s unique point of view in an unexpected way can be a nice reminder that our communities hold vast multitudes of experiences and views. We can also make art together about the issues that are important to us as a community which can be very powerful. One of the things I like best about being a therapist, whether I use creative modalities with my clients or not, is the window into how fascinating, strong, and beautiful humans can be.
Well you strong, beautiful humans there you have it! Still curious about this topic? Got a question about art as a therapeutic practice? Ask! We’ll send them along to Sarah and compile the answers into a follow up post!