Are you feeling depressed, anxious, and angry or have some other feeling that is consuming your happiness for life? If you answered, “yes” then art therapy could be just what you need to work through those feelings and resolve burdening issues. To help understand the benefits of art therapy and what a typical art therapy session would be like, I have interviewed art therapist Pamela Hayes LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a registered and board certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC). That means that I attended a 2-year graduate program accredited by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). I graduated from Notre Dame de Numar, in Belmont, California in 1992. Following graduation I completed my post-graduate work while supervised by an Art Therapist, and then I sat for the board exam. I am also licensed as a Marriage Family Therapist (MFT) in California, licensed as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), and I am a provider for continuing education units (CEU) throughout the United States.”
“I have been an Art Therapist for 18 years, and currently I have a private practice where I see children, adolescents, adults, couples and families. My clients have issues ranging from depression and anxiety to addictions and abuse.”
How is art therapy different from just counseling?
“Traditional counseling uses verbal conversation and non-verbal body language as its main means of communication. Art Therapy provides a third and forth method of communication: the art-making process and the art product that is created.”
“By making and interpreting their own art, individuals can reach beyond censored and unconscious feelings to a deeper understanding of personal motivations in everyday life. Art therapy is a unique and effective approach for offering our clients another means of communication. When words cannot express the secret turmoil, the art produced by the individual is a raw and honest look into our inner most fears, obsessions, motivations and personalities. Every creative endeavor produces a type of self-portrait that can be interpreted and used to aid in further insight and personal growth.”
What are the therapeutic benefits of art therapy?
“I have been in the field of Art Therapy for almost 20 years ‘” the ways in which Art Therapy has been therapeutically beneficial is almost infinite. I have seen art reduce anxiety. I have seen art decrease depression. Art Therapy has provided some of my clients with clarity and the strength to change their lives. In other instances, Art Therapy has moved people through the grief process. I have even seen art diagnose my clients with medical problems.”
“I believe there are two main ways in which art can be applied in a therapeutic setting:
First: The process of being engaged with the art materials can be calming, focusing and invigorating. Making art, despite if it is painting, sculpting with clay or drawing with crayons, provides a physical way to express our emotions and stay focused in the present moment. Most people do not make art on a daily basis, so the course of doing something different from our daily routine is exciting and rejuvenating. Working with art materials can help us recognize and enhance our coping skills. For example: My client has never painted before, and they are getting very frustrated with the paints ‘” colors getting muddied when mixed together and an inability to control the paint. My client has an opportunity to experience frustration, anger or resignation in a safe place without judgment or consequence. Then I can teach them new skills with the paints ‘” how to mix colors to get the results they want or how to use the correct tools to move the paint to create a more pleasing result. That enhances self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment.”
“Second: Once the art is created, it becomes a self portrait that can be used for further personal insight. I use the art to ask multiple questions that may not feel safe to answer directly. I find that my clients can tell me that the tree they drew feels lonely, but they may not tell me that they, themselves, feel lonely.”
What types of issues can art therapy help a client with?
“I have used Art Therapy in many different settings and with many different populations.
I have worked in psychiatric hospitals with suicidal adolescents and destructive and self-injurious children. I have worked in residential and foster care with children, adolescents and families with issues related to abuse and neglect (including sexual abuse and physical abuse). I have worked in the public school system with at-risk children and learning disabled children. I have worked in the prison with inmates who have suffered numerous losses. I have worked in an Alzheimer’s day clinic with elderly. I have worked at a Methadone clinic with heroin addicts. I have used Art Therapy with myself when I have felt overwhelmed, scared, angry, confused, lost and sick.”
“Art Therapy can help with issues of depression, anxiety, anger, relationships and illness. I have personally seen Art Therapy make a positive influence with people with autism, hyper-activity, as well as chronic pain and cancer/disease.”
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who is considering art therapy to help him or her heal and recover?
“Many people do not understand what Art Therapy is exactly. I would like to describe a typical session to you.”
“A 50 years old female, we will call her Lisa, comes to me seeking treatment for chronic pain, depression and a lack of direction in her life. She states that she is feeling tired and sad. She recently moved back to California from Hawaii ‘” she prefers to be in Hawaii.”
“She enters my office and sits on the typical therapist-couch. She tells about her week: the positives and the negatives. Then I asked her to move from the couch to the table where I present her with a piece of paper and crayons.”
“I direct her to choose one color and make a scribble. I also choose a color and draw a scribble on my own piece of paper. Then we switch scribbles, and make each-other’s scribble into whatever we see in the scribble. This is a technique that I call “Scribble Drawings”. This is like a Rorschach Test. We do this three times. Here is what Lisa drew:
1.”Mother and Child” ‘” She was surprised that she drew something so maternal, because she does not feel very maternal towards her granddaughter, and she feels guilty about that.
2. “Tornado” ‘” Lisa states that tornadoes whip everything up and causes chaos and destruction.
3. “Toilet” ‘” She laughed that she drew something that was “full of shit”.
After looking at all three drawings Lisa concluded, “When I became a parent/ grandparent everything got whipped up into a frenzy and my life turned to shit. That is how I am feeling again ‘” being a grandmother brings up all my insecurities of how my parenting failed.””
“These are things that are not usually shared in a very first session, but because the art tapped into Lisa’s subconscious she was able to put these feelings into perspective and gain some insight into her depression and maybe even her chronic pain.”
Thank you Pamela for doing the interview on the therapeutic benefits of art therapy. For more information on Pamela Hayes or her work you can check out her website on www.hayesarttherapy.com.
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