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Using Art As A Creative Therapy

Catriona Galbraith (Certificate in Mindbody Healing)

 

I am fortunate in knowing someone who runs courses and workshops in the Artist’s Way as well as offering art as a way of personal development. As an artist, I love colours and textures and have long recognised that, even when painting landscapes, my choice of colours reflects my inner landscape as much as the outer environment. So when I broke my right wrist recently and found that a summer of painting had to be put on hold, I could feel the frustration affecting my whole body. So this assignment gave me the opportunity to explore this situation through art. When I had my session with Anna, although I no longer had a plaster cast on my wrist, it was still very stiff and painful.

One of the frustrations of being an artist is that I often have some idea in mind as to the end result, although I always allow a degree of flexibility to make full use of happy accidents when colours merge in unexpected and wonderful ways. So when Anna suggested that I start the session by using my non-dominant hand, it felt awkward and strange. To start with I had that urge to try and make it look right, which of course did not work. So I decided to use pastels, a medium I seldom use. Immediately the pressure of getting it right disappeared; I could start to play with the pastels, merging colours and feeling excited by the shapes and colours that were appearing in front of my eyes. It still felt strange using my left hand but that now seemed of secondary importance. The marks and smudges were developing into a language of their own. And in some strange way, I felt freed from any artistic expectations. It was the process that mattered.

Anna then asked me to get in touch with some of the feelings I had experienced during the time my wrist had been in plaster. Did these have a colour, shape or voice?

She left me to decide whether I use my right or left hand to do this exercise. I was immediately aware of the weeks of frustration which had led me to feel irritable and out of control of my life. There were so many things I had planned to do, none of which had been possible. The resulting picture was full of red (frustration) and black. The shapes were not harmonious, but hard edged and with sharp angles. Anna suggested that I do several pictures to enable me to experiment and explore my feelings in a non-judgemental way. Being encouraged to scribble, explore abstract shapes, lines and patterns without worrying about having to produce an “end product” was wonderful. It also enabled me to engage fully with the feelings in a far more reflective way. The images truly represented my inner world through this outward expression.

It was interesting to lay the pictures out in the order I had produced them and note the subtle changes of feeling tone from the first to the last. As I worked I could feel the frustration losing its hold on me as I started to enjoy expressing my feelings on paper. Towards the end of the session, I started to use my right and left hand together, so that they seemed to perform a dance in colour across the paper. The shapes and lines became more harmonious and flowed as one colour merged with the next. And I noticed that my right wrist and hand were moving much more freely than before the session. (See attached image)

I had been interested to read in Your Body Speaks Your Mind by Deb Shapiro notes that a broken wrist “indicates a deep level of conflict over what you are doing or what is being done to you”. Anna suggested that we look at that by letting the hands speak to one another as I did a picture using both my hands. The outcome was that my right hand voiced the frustration it felt at not being allowed to do more artwork, that it sometimes felt trapped doing activities that did not always allow it to speak its truth. The left hand felt sometimes invisible, of little value but said it had enjoyed dancing with the right hand on the paper.

On reviewing the session I realised I had gained valuable insights both into the learnings for me personally and the power of art as a healing resource. On a personal level I learned that:

  • I have been putting myself under a lot of pressure over the past six months, working on projects that have not been totally fulfilling and which do not allow me to be true to myself
  • This busyness has not left me time to do my art, which I now see is crucial both as a spiritual and well-ness resource
  • I do at times ignore the messages my body is lovingly sending me
  • I realise I concentrated on what I could not do because of my wrist rather than celebrate what I could still do. A powerful insight into how I need to celebrate the whole of life and integrate the isolated and forgotten parts of me into an authentic whole-ness
  • I noticed that as I worked and relaxed, my hand and wrist movement became more flexible and I was unaware of any discomfort

On art as a well-ness resource:

  • It enables an outward expression of a person’s inner world in a healthy and safe way
  • It is fun as it is both unpredictable and silences any inner critic that wants a perfect end product
  • It is non-judgemental
  • Art enables emotional expression in a unique way. Some emotions defy verbal expression whereas colours, shapes and lines can speak volumes
  • It encourages creative experimentation and exploration of emotions and events in life in a way that can open doors and bring about change

One of the pictures I did using both hands. This is when the hands seemed to start dancing over the paper; I was not “thinking” about what I was producing, but just watched as my hands produced the picture in pastels, a medium I usually find messy and uncontrollable!!.

Resources

  • Bernie Warren Using the Creative Arts in Therapy and Healthcare
  • Deb Shapiro Your Body Speaks Your Mind
  • Adriana Diaz Freeing the Creative Spirit
  • Lucia Capacchione The Picture of Health
  • Lucia Capacchione The Art of Emotional Healing
  • Lucia Capacchione The Creative Journal; The Art of Finding Yourself
  • Shaun McNiff Art as Medicine; Creating a Therapy of the Imagination
  • Julia Cameron The Artist’s Way

 

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