Almost everyone experiences a crisis at some point in life or knows someone who did. Crises are events like the loss of a loved one or job, a breakup, horrific trauma, injury, or drug abuse. They can leave people feeling helpless and hopeless.
People in crisis can be hospitalized, sometimes against their will, if they feel like hurting themselves or someone else. Hospitalization can be a scary time for someone who is overwhelmed and confined with strangers.
Mental health professionals comfort people in crisis with support, encouragement, medication, and counseling. A unique approach is art therapy. It can allow people to express themselves in addition to or without words and can help overcome the stigma of mental illness.
Product-based art therapy involves looking at finished art creations as a way to understand people in crisis. For example, an art therapist may ask a client a draw a picture of their family and ask the client to talk about the image. The colors, the way the paper was used and who is in the picture help the therapist understand the client.
Process-based art therapy uses the act of making art as a therapeutic tool to help people learn about themselves. For example, a person might become less sad or angry about the death of a spouse after making a book with memories of the deceased. Other people find that painting or drawing makes them less stressed. In this case, the art making is more important than the finished art.
Art therapy is also very helpful in groups. People may feel shy about opening up with strangers in a hospital but are more comfortable expressing themselves through art. The artistic activities can even lead to therapeutic discussions because people do not feel compelled to talk only about their crisis or mental illness. This can help an isolated person to feel a sense of belonging and encourage people to work together to become active agents in their own healing.
For more information on art therapy, please visit: americanarttherapyassociation.org
Mallori Willis-Rauch is an Art Therapy graduate student at Florida State University working on a Master’s degree. She interned providing art therapy at Florida State Hospital, Apalachee Center and six other community agencies. She and colleague Francis Morris are currently writing an article on the use of art therapy for social empowerment in a psychiatric inpatient setting. Additionally, she and colleague Samantha Maederer are planning a public installation of client art from an inpatient setting focusing on social empowerment and mental health awareness.
by Mallori Willis-Rauch
Art Therapy Intern of Apalachee Center