What is the Art Therapy Group?
Some individuals share with us that the way in which they express their feelings and thoughts is through drawing, painting, or creating art pieces that illustrate what they cannot verbalize. Oftentimes, the use of art as an expressive medium can communicate experiences long hidden and emotions deeply buried. During our mental health program, we find that people who feel that they cannot find voice to their pain will use art as a way of relating their traumatic events that we have seen throughout history and across cultures.
One might think of the art therapy group as one where members support and validate one another as they develop their art projects and discuss their creations and the feelings with one another and with the art therapist. The art therapist will often provide empathic, psychologically informed comments to the group member that illuminate themes and content to help provide words to the art created. The art therapist may also encourage the individual to bring their artwork into their individual psychotherapy appointment to help the client continue with the insights gained in the art therapy group. The art therapist will also take the feelings and thoughts shared by the client into the treatment team meeting, held weekly, to help the clinical team work with the client to make the most progress possible in treatment.
Bridges to Recovery offers individuals with an added component of the art therapy group whereas the art therapist, who has over twenty years experience leading art therapy groups, will provide interpretations of the art within the context of the struggles discussed by the client. This opportunity, done in a compassionate and caring manner, allows the client to discuss their art within the context of their psychological experiences thus deepening their personal explorations and increasing the benefit gained from their treatment program. For example, a client who drew a beautiful beach scene at sunset depicting a happy family missing one integral member. The art therapist could then discuss with the client their drawing and how the missing member of the group may relate to issues shared by the client focusing on feelings of abandonment and rejection. This use of art in the psychotherapy process is often rich and valuable to clients as they may not have been aware of certain components of nonverbal experiences that only can be expressed through alternative mediums such as art.
Why is Art therapy so effective?
Bridges to Recovery believe that art therapy is an integral aspect of the treatment program to the extent that it was included as one of the first essential groups when we started our residential treatment program ten years ago.
We found that when clients found many ways of expressing and exploring their issues (i.e. verbal and nonverbal) they could approach problems and underlying issues more successfully. The art created in the group is an excellent example of how clients who find themselves unable to discuss painful experiences flourish in an environment free from judgment and filled with empathy and compassion. For example, a client who experienced a significant trauma found themselves becoming irritable and aggressive when speaking about the horrible events of their past. However, when drawing these events and exploring the issues through the sharing of her color choices and image depiction, she found herself freely expressing and exploring her pain in a very meaningful manner.
We find that the encouragement to create whatever comes to mind is the most valuable to the art therapy experience. Too often, clients are told how to feel or when to express issues that can often feel controlling and artificial. The encouragement to draw whatever comes to mind is often discussed as a liberating statement from the therapist where there is only acceptance of what is created and processing of the art is according to the comfort level and emotional strength of the individual.
The framework of the art therapy group is often determined by the general consensus of the group regarding the type of medium(s) to be used during the time allotted and in our specific creative spaces dedicated to making the most of the beautiful environment of the Bridges facilities. For example, the group may wish to use watercolor paint and collage with the instructions to use the materials provided to express a feeling or thought that they have been holding during their treatment.
In our groups, however, we believe that if an individual experiences a strong desire to use a material that is not consistent with the group consensus, we will make sure to make that available to ensure that they have what they need to express themselves. In fact, some individuals will find the art therapy so helpful that they will create art pieces during program off-times, which is encouraged by our program.
What happens if someone is reluctant to engage in the group?
Some individuals will discuss that they “are not good at art” and have no interest in participating. Our experience has been that if someone is at least open to picking up a brush or pencil and creating what they feel inside, they gain a tremendous amount of benefit. For example, I recall a client who declared, upon admission, that he would “never do that art stuff”. Upon exploration in his individual therapy and in the art therapy group, he was slowly able to explore his resistances and was able to come to the realization that as a child, he was prevented from “doing anything that was not sporty”. This emphasis upon sports, along with other traumatic experiences that were somewhat in his awareness, prevented him from fully exploring his other interests and led him to eventually turn from his external world and withdraw into a significant depression. Our art therapist gently explored with him his reluctance and preconceived notions and he gradually found a powerful creative internal voice that helped him move past his obstacles and move much closer to his life goals.
What should the Art Therapy group accomplish?
Art therapy should provide an individual with a different way in which to explore their issues and encourage them to explore nonverbal means of expressing their thoughts and feelings. We find this group to be a very useful adjunct to the individual therapy as the expression of underlying issues is often seen in the art created.
Our small milieu of six individuals in each residential program allows for each person to have the time and opportunity to process their creations with enough time to feel heard and understood. Many individuals report feelings of increased self-worth and the ability to identify underlying traumas in their lives that they wish to change and feel empowered to begin to work upon when they leave the residential program with the new skill of nonverbal expression of the trauma(s).
In addition, we find that individuals in our residential treatment program report and an increase in their ability to verbalize feelings and traumas that created difficulty for them reaching their goals and a strong desire to return to their outside providers with an increase in their emotional vocabulary, mental strength, desire and move toward a more fulfilling life.
Bridges to Recovery utilizes clinicians who are highly experienced art therapists who demonstrate a strong motivation to help clients reach their full potential and reach their goals and dreams.