Monday, June 20, 2011

HelloI My name is Sam. I'm an art therapist, artist, and I blog at Young People in Love. Whenever I mention my work as an art therapist, I always get a few comments asking what art therapy actually is and how it works. That, my friends, is a good question. No one having any idea what you do is all part of the art therapist territory. This also means that I get lots and lots of chances to introduce people, like you!, to the wonderful world of my work.

Me & art therapy

I earned my Master's degree in Art Therapy Counseling a few years ago and recently earned my ATR (Art Therapist Registered) credential. Basically, the ATR means I'm a legit art therapist now :)

I work in a psychiatric hospital as an art therapist. Most people assume that art therapy is only used with kids. Not so. Art therapy can be used with any age and I get the opportunity to do just that in my work at the hospital. I run art therapy groups with children, teenagers, adults, and families. I work with people who are severely and chronically mentally ill and/or who are dealing with substance abuse issues. I love my job. 

What an art therapy group could look like:

My groups can be very different. It all depends on the population I'm working with and their needs in the moment. I think breaking it down by age is the easiest way to see the range and variety of what art therapy can be like. 

Children's group: 
I'll bring in a great big piece of butcher paper, some markers, colored pencils, and oil pastels and have the kids work to create an island together. 
This directive usually brings up a lot of themes that we talk about at the end of group. For example, issues like positive friendshipping, boundaries, communication, and problem-solving show themselves pretty quickly when you're having hospitalized children work together on one artwork.

Adolescent group:
One directive that I do a lot with the teenagers is "inside/outside." Basically, I'll go into the group, we'll do the intros/check-in and then I'll say something like, "Today's theme is inside/outside. Interpret it however you'd like and then make a drawing about it." Once the artwork is done, we sit together in a circle with everyone's drawing on the floor in front of them. Then we go around and each kid has a chance to explain their art, answer other's questions, and get feedback from their peers
Issues that come up from this kind of directive is the idea of feeling one way on the inside but putting on "a mask" or showing a different emotion on the outside. When the kids do the art about this, it gives them a chance to visually explore their inside/outside selves and then safely reveal both sides to the whole group. 
Other directives I often do with adolescents include: 
draw something that's hard for you to talk about
draw how you are now and how you want to be
free drawing

Working with teenagers is my favorite. They really love being able to express themselves creatively and will quickly grasp onto the art process as a way to address relevant therapeutic issues. 
Family group: 
I also lead a multi-family adolescent group. So we have the kids with their family members (usually parents) all in one group. For this group, what I usually have the kids draw something they really want to say to their family and, similarly, have the family members each draw something they really want to say to their child. Again, once finished with the art, they get the chance to share the meanings behind their artworks with each other. 

Different themes emerge every time with this group in particular. Regardless of the issues that pop up, however, it's almost always very emotional with a lot of crying and hugs.

Adult group: 
Once a week I do a group with adults who are either severely depressed and/or are going through medically-assisted detox. I bring in paper, glue sticks, and magazines and have them make a collage about "hope." At the end, we share the finished collages and they talk about things that came up for them during the process. 
This is a great directive because it serves multiple purposes all at once. The process of making a collage can be not only fun and creative but also soothing and calming. It forces the person to focus all their attention to what they are doing in front of them. People often comment on how nice and relaxing it felt to do the collage. At the end, they also have a visual, tangible product of personal hope for them to hold onto and take with them. Win win.

More art therapy info:

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