Two recent events prompted me to write down some thoughts on the growing field of Art Therapy. First was UB’s Andrea Watkins’ informative article on the adult coloring craze, its benefits and its limitations. The second being the death of one of Chicago’s own Art Therapy pioneer, Harriet Wadeson. Ms. Wadeson was the founder of two Art Therapy programs here in Chicago, one at the University of Illinois Chicago Campus and the other at Northwestern University in Evanston. The loss of Ms. Wadeson (as well as other early practitioners in the field) makes it all the more important for practitioners such as myself, who are trained in the use of art for therapeutic growth, to continue to spread the word about the work to which these caring and insightful individuals dedicated their lives.
The power inherent in creation is a powerful force within all of us. That drive to create life is a part of the same continuum we feel to create something that defines who we are as individuals. Art can be an individual’s pathway to learn and experience oneself on a new and deeper level.
While most of my clients do not come to me for art therapy, it is always available if and when the need arises. Clients use the creative process to explore their feelings, build self-esteem, reconcile emotional conflicts, manage behavior, develop social skills and improve reality orientation. Art Therapy is a key component in the treatment of many of our military personnel as they transition back into peacetime existence. Their wounds and their experiences can make it almost impossible to adjust to a less threatening world. Art Therapy is one avenue that makes that a possibility.
Andrea Watkins’ article on coloring clearly communicated the fact that losing one’s self in the calming influence of a meditative activity can be stress reducing. Thus I believe that true art therapy – facilitated by a registered Art Therapist – is capable of reaching far deeper into the emotional brain than undirected coloring can. No one has to be a museum quality artist to benefit from art’s therapeutic properties; one doesn’t even need to be able to draw.
Yes, it can sound like magic to an adult, that art making could possibly help heal years of suffering or strife. But for some who have spent years in talk therapy, maybe it’s time to give something people have been doing for thousands of years a try. Maybe it’s time to open up to art.