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Expressive Art therapies

Well, hello again after more than a year's absence. :D

Life’s been going on with full power. Quick update - I went back to Sofia, opened my studio here, and continued studying psychology (this time - in English).

But the most important thing that happened last year is that I met with art therapies.

What are art therapies you might wonder?

Well, as there is art in it, it would be hard to compress all of its nature into one sentence. And for that reason, I will start with what art therapies are NOT:

First of all, art therapies are NOT all those coloring books for adults and children that promote a form of self-care and mindfulness. While they can certainly be helpful for relaxation, they are far away from being classified as art therapy. Art therapy is not a relaxation method as many people think. Art therapy is not “Oh, I’ll go there, draw a bit and I'll feel relaxed and everything will be magically fixed.” Well, guess what - it is not like that. Art therapies, just like any other form of therapy, are actual therapy with all its hard work and digging into what we’ve been repressing and hiding for years!

Secondly, art therapies at their core are a humanistic method which means that any person is unique and each’s perception and experience are different. Why am I saying this? Because we all know how many books with explanations for symbols and color theory and psychology there are. (And we all know how some people love to analyze people and situations all the time.)

The concerns for these two things are: Symbols - there are cross-cultural differences combined with the individual’s perception; Colors - color theory differs even between color theory for fashion design, graphic design, and it is a whole another story for interior design (e.g. Imagine a beautiful girl with red dress vs Imagine you, being in a full red room).

Quick example - at one of the sessions (it is group therapy) I and two other girls, all had birds in our pictures. But their meaning was different for us. Let’s say for example (I can’t give too many details for others because of confidentiality) that the first one meant her personal peace and equilibrium, the second one meant release from something that’s been holding her and freedom, and the third one, me - well, there is a big story behind it, but shortly - for me, it means the personal development, the strive toward goals and that everything is still okay (there will be more details in future posts ;).

Do you see how you can’t rely on the supposed meaning of symbols?

Another easier example - in another session we were listening to six different music tracks. One of them was supposed to be happy music and another one was hard rock. Can you guess how the different people felt about the different songs? Even if you might think that a happy song should sound happy to everyone - that’s not true. And if you are definitely not a fan of hard rock and metal, you might think that this should sound awful and bother most people. Well, guess what - happy music might sound sad and stressful to some people and metal music might sound happy and energizing to others.

To sum up - you can’t tell what’s going on in another person’s mind!

(You might have heard of projective tests. They are not an art therapy assessment. They are a psychological evaluation employing art! In them, the therapist looks for personality traits, whereas in art therapy - we seek for triggered emotions in experiences and their roots. This is an important distinction that has to be made!)

So now, when I’ve given you what is not art therapy, I’ll try to explain what it is:

Art therapy is uncensored and harmonic relief. It is acquisition of power and bravery. Art therapy, just like art, involves absolute freedom. In art therapy we silence the thoughts and emphasize on emotions. Art therapy is a creative process with applied psychological theory.

Art therapy is a blended field of therapeutic practice that combines art and psychology, utilizing the creative process, artistic techniques, and external artwork to support individuals to develop self-awareness, explore emotions, and address unresolved conflict or trauma.

To participate in art therapy, you do not need any prior experience with art or a ‘natural’ artistic ability. The process itself is one of exploration with no ‘wrongs’ and no ‘rights.’ The practice allows each individual to use creative activities in ways that support them best without judgment.

This is an explanation of one process (not the full therapy, but an exercise) in the most simple way:

Rational → Irrational → Rational

The first rational part stands for life itself, the way we behave, feel, and respond to different situations. In the irrational part comes art - the medium we use in art therapy. It is the kind of unconscious or intuitive expression, either using art, music, dance, drama, or writing. It is there, where we silence the thoughts so as to let the feelings and emotions speak and express themselves. Then the last with the last rational part comes the personal interpretation. Here we start analyzing why we felt this way, where it might have come from, and what is this telling us.

Most people struggle with the phase rational to irrational as they are worried that they can’t draw. But once again - there is no judgment here, there are no wrong things! With time this process becomes more fluid and less disturbing for those who struggle at first and might be frightened.

For every one that stayed up until here, first, thank you, and second - that's not even a small part of the information about art therapy. It is a field as vast as art itself. It is also a long journey, just like any other therapy. And it is strongly individual as life itself.

I am currently going to such therapy as it is the first part on the way to being an art therapist by myself one day. What I will do is I'll make my kind of "The red book" (Carl Jung). I am journaling all of the sessions and all realizations I go through. Now, I will share them with you here.

I hope that this was an interesting article for you. Furthermore - hopefully, my personal journey finds you deep and shooting that you're not alone; that my reveal will give you power and strength in your own way; and that no matter where you might consider befriending art because

"Art speaks where words are unable to explain."
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