Someone asked me about my experiences of using art for healing. And here’s the answer. For now at least.
We use my art extensively in my therapy sessions. My therapist locked onto it early on as a tool because whenever we hit on a new issue I tend to revert to being non-verbal.
My therapist is excellent at working with me in this state, which he explains happens because we are dealing with trauma that happened when I was so young I didn’t have the language to understand it, so I can’t generally use language initially to explain it.
But of course it’s always more helpful if I can find a way to explain the problem to him rather than us playing a long drawn out guessing game. So once he realises that I’m in this state and that he’s not going to be able to pull me out of it because it’s something I literally can’t say in words, he generally asks me to try and draw it.
This happens partly because I was already in the habit of drawing my feelings to try and avoid acting on them before coming into therapy, but at that point it was purely for myself and I wasn’t really sharing my work with anyone. But I would occasionally, out of sheer frustration, show him a drawing and say “THIS, THIS is what I’m feeling”.
This process has now become a pattern, which I would say has deeply enhanced my therapeutic process and progress, but which has also massively improved the depth and quality of my artwork as I am ever challenged to draw more and more complicated concepts.
For me, sharing my art via my website, FB and Instagram has also been hugely important in my healing because I have gone from being a person who was so ashamed of my mental health struggles that even my closest friends only knew the absolute surface level stuff, to a person comfortable with sharing everything and anything with anyone who is interested for the purposes of demystification and destigmatisation.
Getting from there to here has been a journey, one in which I made a pledge to myself to stop hiding from those close to me, and ended up sharing with the whole world.
The communicative ability of art cannot be underestimated in the fight to end mental health stigma. I can express multifaceted concepts for which I have no words and let those close to me know how I am feeling without having to say it out loud (verbal communication of my emotions has always been hard for me). And it has helped me battle and overcome the shame I have always felt about struggling with my mental health and about taking time out of my life to heal. It has helped me learn to be mindful of my own emotions (I never used to know what I was feeling) and to learn l, through peoples responses to my work, a new language of words to express my feelings as well. And the reduction in the shame I used to feel around my struggles is probably the thing I value most about my journey to express myself through making and sharing my art.
I think for an artist, art and drawing can be integral to healing in the same way any artist will tell you art is integral to their life, their existence and their understanding of and interaction with the world. I also don’t think you have to be an artist for art to be helpful both as a tool for self expression and as a communicative device as well as for healing.
I am still on my journey to recovery and dealing with one of the biggest bumps in the road so far, but I fully intend to involve myself in designing and running workshops that help others (artists or otherwise) learn to use creativity for healing. And I’m lucky enough to have the support of my very excellent therapist and a local mental health charity in doing this so I hope within the next 12 months or so this will begin to become a reality. But for now, creating and sharing my own art work and being part of communities such as this is also great in keeping me motivated and feeling like my ideas to have a place in the world.
Copyright Katy Matilda Neo, May 2017.