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Let Creativity Heal the Wounded Soul

Let Creativity Heal the Wounded Soul

Reena Clare   Art Psychotherapist, The Mind Faculty

Vanitha Chandrasegaram   Dramatherapist, The Mind Faculty

Mental healing through art

At the topmost storey of The Mind Faculty is a cozy, inviting art studio. Paintings and sketches grace the walls, and the table that dominates the studio bears a number of paintbrushes of all types, small pots of paint and a stack of canvas pads. It is a room that warmly welcomes the visitor – come, sit down and pour your heart and soul onto the paper, it seems to say.

This studio is art psychotherapist Reena Clare’s centre for healing. For Reena’s clients, the studio is their sanctuary from the problems plaguing their conscience – a safe space to confront their inner demons and, with Reena’s gentle guidance, find the mental fortitude to heal and move on from these issues.

Art therapy, like its name would imply, is a form of mental health therapy which involves the use of art media such as drawing, painting, photography, sculpting and more. The creation process, as well as the resulting artwork, serves as an outlet for the client to explore his or her feelings, reduce the sense of fear or anxiety and reconcile any emotional conflicts that are festering inside. Subsequently, the client can develop a better sense of self-awareness, and from that point, there may be an increase in self-awareness and a strengthening of the will to resolve or heal from the issues that are plaguing him or her.

Reena explains, “We have all kinds of art materials, and the client can choose what he or she would like to use. However, sometimes, depending on the direction of the sessions, the art therapist may offer a certain medium, such as paint or clay. For example, I may feel that the client needs to make a mess, in order to express his or her emotions better, and offer an appropriate medium that allows the client to do this. I may also move the furniture around if the client needs more space to move or even just to throw things around.”

The client may be moved to tear up the resulting artwork. That is perfectly fine, according to Reena, as such an act is a way for the client to confront and release his or her emotions.

Drama to heal the mind & soul

Just one floor below Reena’s art studio, in a comfortable alcove, is Vanitha Chandrasegaram’s sanctuary for her clients. Here, one can find a big bag of props: stuffed toys, hand puppets, action figures, colourful cards, fabrics of various colours and textures, hats, costumes, and more. These props are Vanitha’s tools of the trade, which her clients use as outlets to project their emotions and thoughts during trying times. They do this by creating a preferred alternative to their situation using their imagination.

Just as Reena specializes in art therapy, Vanitha’s area of speciality is dramatherapy. The structure and process of dramatherapy allow her clients to feel safe and comfortable enough to express themselves in creative and dramatic ways, even if they may have never done that before. Her clients are encouraged to use any of the colourful and interesting props to express themselves. Or, if the client does not know how to start, Vanitha will simply encourage him or her to tell a story. In addition to the use of props, the client can choose to act, sing, dance or perform any other dramatic activity that can help best express the client’s thoughts and feelings.

Therefore, while art therapy focuses on the expression of emotions and thoughts through art, dramatherapy does the same via physical and emotive actions.

However, it has much in common with art therapy in many ways. They both seek to heal and/or motivate the client, and those who benefit for these therapies are often one and the same. Therefore, when it comes to deciding which form of therapy is the most ‘right’ for a person, it all boils down to which form he or she is most comfortable with. 

So, who benefits?

Simply put – anyone and everyone. “In conventional counselling,” says Vanitha, “the client will spill his or her thoughts using words to the counsellor. However, not everyone find it easy to express themselves; even the best-spoken person may find it difficult to voice out the problems that are heavy on the mind.”

Reena adds that art therapy and dramatherapy provide an outlet for those who have a hard time putting their thoughts into words. An additional benefit is that the client’s actions during therapy sessions may often reveal issues and problems that the client is not fully aware of. The trained counsellor can then gently guide the direction of future sessions to help the client confront these hidden issues.

Thus, art therapy and dramatherapy are two forms of therapy that are especially effective for children and teenagers.

While both forms of therapy are still relatively new in Malaysia, they are used by established medical practices in many countries to help people of all ages who are experiencing, have experienced or are living with:

  • Impairments due to issues related to physical development (eg, born mute or deaf) as well as medical conditions (eg, autism).
  • Trauma and/or abuse.
  • Chronic or terminal health conditions such as cancer. 
  • Depression, dementia, and other forms of mental health conditions.

Both forms of therapy also help those seeking to resolve conflicts, improve their interpersonal skills, manage their addiction or other forms of destructive behaviour, and reduce their stress levels.

The magic of scars

Given how art therapy and dramatherapy have certain overlaps in term of purpose and benefits, it makes perfect sense for Reena and Vanitha to collaborate in an endeavour to reach out to teens. The endeavour, called The Magic of Scars, is a series of workshops-cum-therapy session held at The Mind Faculty.

“Most of the sessions will comprise both art therapy and dramatherapy, although a few of them may comprise one more than the other,” Reena says. “Participants are welcome to take part in these activities, and there will be no push to do well in any of these activities.”

“It is more important for the participants to come away learning a little bit more about themselves and their ability to tap into their inner strength and wisdom,” adds Vanitha. “And we hope this will help them become stronger and more confident.”

There are some advantages to a group session compared to one-on-one, although one-on-one naturally has its advantages too. When it comes to a group session, the counsellors can create a vibrant, fun environment that will help hesitant, shy participants open up and express themselves. Being in a group also allows these participants to realize that they are not alone in having a certain issue, and they can motivate and support one another. “The knowledge that they are not alone can be very empowering, as if there is a great weight lifted off their shoulders. This knowledge helps reduce or eliminate any sense of doubt, fear or shame that they may be harbouring,” explains Reena. “This will greatly facilitate the process of healing and moving on.”

Not to mention, art and drama are fun for many teens, and the sessions thus can be a great way for them to let their hair down, as opposed to a more formal therapy session.

But do the teens taking part in The Magic of Scars need to know how to draw or act? “No,” says Vanitha with a smile. “We will not judge anyone on their creative abilities. Everyone is encouraged to participate in all the activities of the sessions, but if there is any activity that they would choose not to participate in, we won’t force them.”

The Magic of Scars will be facilitated by both Reena and Vanitha, and there will only be a limited number of seats for each session to allow for better heart-to-heart interactions among all participants.

The Magic of Scars would be good for:

  • Teens who have suffered a traumatic incident in the past, such as being bullied, abused, etc.
  • Those who have recently experienced an upheaval that they have problems reconciling themselves to, such as the divorce of parents or bereavement in the family.
  • Teens with behavioural issues that leave their parents at wit’s end, such as quick and hot temper, the inability to socialize well with others, etc.

“Basically, if parents notice that their teens are behaving differently, and they are unable to resolve the matter, it may be worth a shot signing them up for The Magic of Scars,” says Vanitha gently.

“If we discover any issue faced by the participant that needs to be discussed with the parents, we will then contact them,” Reena adds, “to determine the next best course of action for all parties involved.”

If you are interested to know more about future The Magic of Scars sessions or even art therapy and dramatherapy in general, please call The Mind Faculty at 03-6203 0359.

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