‘Art therapy is a human service profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. Art therapy practice is grounded in the knowledge of human development, psychological theories, and counseling techniques,’ according to the AATA (American Art Therapy Association ).
How this translates for Pomegranate art therapist Darci Cooper is, “We aren’t all ‘verbal’ and the visual realm gives us a tool to unlock feelings. In the case of trauma, patients are able to unlock some of their experience and process that to help them then heal. There is research that stressful experience is stored in the right brain. We make art and talk; get the left brain to process it; in this sense it’s a healing journey,‘ Cooper says. She adds, ‘I stress that I’m not the ‘arts and crafts person’ and ‘not an art teacher’ when we begin a group or individual session. Drawing or painting here is not about skill or technique; but meaning. Therapy and counseling goes into it. We process what’s created; there is additional depth to be explored.’
AATA explains that ‘Art therapy is an effective treatment for persons experiencing developmental, medical, educational, and social or psychological impairment. A goal in art therapy is to improve or restore the client’s functioning and his/her sense of personal well being. Art therapy is practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational, and forensic settings with diverse client populations in individual, couples, family, and group therapy formats.’
For example, Cooper smiles and says she has been called the ‘undercover therapist’ because, “Creating and doing art is light hearted and playful, yet it explores the depths of the self to grow, change and heal. Patients are engaged in the process; it is less of an agenda and more of a flow.’
Cooper shares an example, ‘An adolescent might uncover something deeper and harder to express through the medium of color-creating masks, paintings, collages. With art it’s less intimidating. What’s important is that teens can explore and reveal the meaning on their own terms. What’s most important is what they see in it. But I’m also able to complete different drawing assessments to help with increased awareness for the treatment team. For instance a kinetic family drawing can show a lot in terms of understanding family dynamics or underlying issues by looking at placement, proportion, boundaries and such. What is revealed might be an important catalyst in family sessions to help them to return back home.’
Not merely a ‘pretty pictures’ business that anyone can jump into, AATA explains that ‘A master’s degree is required for entry level practice in art therapy. Minimum educational and professional standards for the profession are established by the American Art Therapy Association, Inc. (AATA) a membership and advocacy organization.’ The American Art Therapy association website explains further that, ‘Art therapists are professionals trained in both art and therapy. They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art.’
Another use of art at Pomegranate, is in the ‘decompression room’ or ‘space room’ which features a panorama of the cosmos. ‘This mural allows an individual overwhelmed with a personal problem to see themselves and the problem in proportion to the immensity of time and space. It’s a positive way of getting lost,’ says Cooper. The newest addition is a second decompression room which showcases a ‘coastal enchanted forest’ setting. The calming blue, greens and view of the ocean from the protected space of the lagoon is timeless. The forest vista includes a waterfall. It is both serene and invites introspection. Sitting in these spaces is like a mental and spiritual vacation that offers the opportunity to process emotion and memories with a therapist in a safe environment.
The AATA explains that, ‘Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.’ Art therapy is just one of many excellent tools to healing, hope and resilience at Pomegranate.
[Photo credit: Darci, registered art therapist, Pomegranate Health Systems 2011]