Art therapy

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“I have used art to slow my mind. When I am away from it, I hear the chatter – and when I return my mind slows down. I feel more relaxed and have a better sense of well-being”.

For Heather Alexis, the artistic process is much more than the sum total of the finished canvas. It is a way of connecting with the creative self.

“For sure, I feel art is about more than just “talent”. The more a person participates in art the more curious they become and begin to dive deeper into self-discovery.”

While hosting ‘Paint Night’ – artistic workshops, for beginners, providing step-by-step instructions to create a painting – Alexis observes participants are curious about trying to paint. The event gives them an opportunity to feel confident creating art without judgement, in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

“I think doing art in a group promotes conversations. People are always surprised how different other people’s paintings are – which promotes conversations about diversity and different ways of seeing.”

She says this positive interaction lifts the mood, reduces stress and is a beneficial social connection.

As a form of group therapy, Alexis also facilitates art sessions at a 28-day rehab program wherein clients use their projects as an outlet to express their feelings and as a method of investigating thought processes.

“Clients often describe the sessions as relaxing and notice how focusing on their projects frees their minds of mental chatter. It helps them focus on the present moment.”

Art Therapy is used by psychologists, counselors, therapist, life coaches and teachers. It is widely accepted as an adjunct therapy to incite personal transformation, reduce stress, and invite peacefulness. It can also help with meditation, right brain-left brain hemispheric connection, dream analysis, connection to the sub-conscious mind, help process and manage emotions, and to find clarity and meaning.

Studies show imagery can assist in problem solving, releasing powerful or distressing emotions and help us recover from traumatic experiences and loss. It also has the potential to alleviate pain and other physical symptoms.

This is based on the concept that colour, images, shape – and the manner in which we express them – can help us gain a better understanding of ourselves.

Visual arts – drawing, sculpting, painting are ancient forms of communication. Throughout history they have been used to restore physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing.

A study, illustrating the healing effects of mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT) in correlation with the treatment of cancer patients, demonstrated improvements in quality of life, reduction in stress-related symptoms and enhanced coping response.

The study included exercises in artistic expression from individual patients and from those in group art sessions. From a psychosocial standpoint, both approaches showed improvements in the targeted oncology groups. As an added bonus, patients who also suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, interpersonal sensitivity, depression, anxiety, hostility, phobia, paranoia, and psychoticism showed marked improvements in those areas, as well.

The exercises included asking participants to draw a complete picture of themselves, before and after surgery – exploring the mind and body relationship. Then, in conjunction with visualization techniques, meditation and yoga, they were asked to draw their body as ‘healthy’.

Participants’ stress levels and coping mechanisms were assessed, showing a significant decrease in symptoms of distress and physical pain, as well as significant improvements in mental health, general health, and vitality. Social functioning also was significantly elevated.

Art has been referred to as ‘the externalized map of our interior self’. As a therapy, it is a personal, engaging and limitless approach to improving quality of life. A simple mission to foster authenticity and encourage self-expression, in a variety of forms.

Alexis says it is undoubtably therapeutic.

“For me, painting is relaxing and meditative, I get into my zone and hours can pass by. It’s also about the process –  I love colour so going to the art store and buying beautiful colours brings me joy”.