Art: An expressive therapy
Find out how Tamar (a work of the Freeset Trust) is using art therapy with the Freeset women.
Tamar has been conducting art therapy sessions with Freeset women for some time now. The women love to fully participate with these sessions and they feel that many of their negative attitudes towards life are beginning to change.
We spoke to Arpita Burman, social worker at Tamar, to find out more about this expressive therapy.
What is art therapy? What does it aim to do?
A picture says a thousand words and this is at the heart of art therapy. Through artistic expression, art therapy encourages people to express and understand emotions. It is an outlet for suppressed thoughts and feelings that would otherwise remain hidden behind the mental barrier of past trauma.
It aims to transform pain with beauty.
How do you think this will help women working at Freeset?
A basic need for all people is to be loved and to be able to love others. The Freeset women come from backgrounds where they are made to feel unloved and outcast, their self-esteem can be very low. They are often anxious and unsure of themselves, they question if they are lovable.
We want to change that feeling and this is where art therapy comes in. Through art work, women can make sense of and find their way out of chaos, frightful memories, and the raw emotion of their abuse to discover a sense of grounding, strength, safety, understanding, and hope. A lot of them finding it difficult to read and write so color and canvas make it easier for them to communicate their feelings.
Can you clarify with an example of how an art therapy session might work?
In one of my early sessions with the women at Freeset, I asked them to draw a river. A river is a metaphor of life and as humans we have cut new channels, meandered from straight paths, migrated, and developed, carrying many things in the flow that have deposited elsewhere. I explained them this as a concept and handed them blank canvas and colors.
How did they paint their rivers?
From splits in the river to lots of rocks in the water flow, we had all sorts of variety. It was a revelation of their hidden thoughts. Some added ducks by the side of the river, while some painted purple house on the river shore.
The women were excited as well as amused to see their drawings and the drawings of their friends. This session became more interactive once I started to help decode their pictures. For example the one picture with splits was a clear sign of separation or taking a new path. This unlocks memories of childhood and simpler times. Over sessions the women slowly open up about their feelings and allow the healing to begin.
What are the goals of this kind of therapy?
Art therapy is part of a comprehensive program and can produce immeasurable long-term benefits. But you can see the beginning of changes after only a few sessions. There was initial resistance with a few of the women but they have now become quite vocal and there has been a definite change in body language and engagement. It is exciting to see the transformation.