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Art Therapy

A few years ago, I was asked by a colleague anaesthesiologist what art therapy is and whether I am taking clients to museums as part of my practice. I wasn't surprised by his question since I had accidentally experienced the healing properties of creating art. To ground myself during a challenging life event, I instinctively reached for art materials and paper to express what was indescribable and unspeakable at the time. After my cathartic journey of self-expression and self-exploration through colours, forms, shapes, materials and textures, I felt an inner calling to learn more about this fascinating psychotherapy modality - art therapy. Four years later, in 2021, I completed a Diploma course in Integrative Counselling and Art Therapy, and today I help people as an art therapist.

Alfred Bozic
Art speaks where words are unable to explain.

What is art therapy?

Although the formal art therapy practice is over 60 years old, many misconceptions exist. Before we try to understand what art therapy is, let's look at what it is not.

Myth #1 - Art therapy is an art class.

Truth: Although art therapy uses art materials as a primary means of communication, exploration and expression of thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviour, the focus is not on mastering or perfecting artistic skills or techniques. What's important in art therapy is the journey, not the final product.

Myth #2 - Art therapy is for kids and people who can't express themselves verbally.

Truth: Art therapy can be helpful for children and people who can't express themselves verbally, but it's not limited to these categories. Art therapy can meet people of all ages, at whatever level they are. It can be effective for many mental health conditions and for people who want to deepen their connection to themselves and seek personal growth. Art therapy can help with:

  • developing self-awareness and gaining personal insight,

  • improving the sense of self and self-identity,

  • encouraging self-expression,

  • improving confidence and self-esteem,

  • resolving inner conflicts,

  • assisting with gaining control over difficult emotions and life situations,

  • supporting emotional regulation,

  • promoting resiliency and enhancing coping skills.

Myth #3 - I am not creative.

Truth: We are born creative. Have you ever observed toddlers having food? You might have noticed they naturally and instinctively explore food with their hands first, then create an "image" on a surface and sometimes even "paint" themselves before they taste the food eventually. Children love to explore, experiment and create. They are connected with their inner flow. If you feel you're not creative, you might be experiencing a creative block.

Myth #4 - I can't draw, I won't be any good in art therapy.

Truth: You don't have to be good at drawing or painting. A qualified art therapist has the knowledge and skills to guide you to connect with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions and express them through the creative process. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to create, and it doesn't have to be pretty. As I mentioned before, art therapy is not about the final product but the process.

Myth #5 - Anyone can call themselves an Art Therapist.

Truth: Art Therapists have advanced training in counselling and art psychotherapy and hold a BA(Hons), MA or MSc degree. If you are considering engaging in art therapy, check your art therapist's qualifications and ensure they are members of a national accreditation body.

Myth #6 - An art therapist will analyse my work.

Truth: The art you create in an art therapy session won't be analysed or interpreted. You'll be guided instead to explore your images and find out what resonates with you so that you can reach your understanding, gain personal insight, and find the meaning of a life experience you are or have been going through. All you need is the willingness to experiment and explore.

Alfred Bozic (photo credit: Martin Brajnovic)
You are born creative

I want to invite you to pause for a moment and observe what happens within you as you think about the sky. It is unlikely that you saw the word 'sky' projected on the screen of your mind. You just saw an image of the sky instead, haven't you? The mind thinks in words - the mind thinks in images. What colour is the sky in your image? Are there any clouds there? If so, what colour or shape are they? What time of the day is in your image? Have you noticed any other detail? The image of the sky you have just seen in your mind is unique to you and in line with your life experience.

All you have ever experienced is stored in your mind as an image. The mind is like a bottomless pit filled with infinite layers of images. Each image represents a different memory. The top of the pit contains images that are very close to the conscious mind so they can be easily recalled and described with words. Deeper layers of the pit represent the unconscious mind and hold all those images beyond conscious reach. These deeper memories cannot be recalled intentionally, described or put into words.

Memories of past unpleasant, challenging, or traumatic experiences are buried within the deepest layers of the pit. They are scattered in the right brain hemisphere (non-verbal, creative, intuitive brain) where words have no access. You may think of these images as PowerPoint slides without a narrator who would put the slides together into a meaningful story.

The creative process during an art therapy session is a unique experience as the images that a client creates act as a bridge between the unconscious and conscious and easily connect forgotten past events (the bottom of the pit) with present states, behaviours, thoughts, feelings and emotions in a gentle, safe, non-threatening way. Have you ever experienced how sometimes a taste, smell, or sound can unexpectedly bring a long-forgotten memory back? An image created in art therapy works in a similar way.

If you'd like to learn more about art therapy or book a session, feel free to contact me.

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