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Have you ever heard of art therapy? Do you know what it is? If the image for art therapy that comes to mind is a therapist analyzing an artwork a client created or working on coloring books to release stress, well keep reading. It’s really more than that. 

“Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Within this context, art is not used as diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing and distressing.”(by The British Association of Art Therapist)

So art therapy uses art as one of the languages to help clients express their feelings that sometimes are hard to verbalize. The artwork can have the power to work as a window to connect with our emotions. 

During My time as an exchange student, I studied art therapy in a course made up of lectures and experimental sessions. Not only was I able to learn about the theories and concepts, but I also had the chance to experience the therapy as a client and learn more about myself. I thought I would share what my experience was like. 

 

What did I do?

The session was carried out in a group of around 10 people. We were in an art studio, filled with all sorts of materials from clay to paints, finger paints, pens, crayons, brushes, yarn, glitter, paper, magazines, and more. As the session started, we would start working on our art using whatever materials we felt like. We were encouraged to play with the materials. Having a close look at the sensations the materials brought, and how they affected our feelings.

The important thing was to not worry about the end product. The session was not about making some masterpiece. It was more about making something that your heart tells you to. No one was there to judge the aesthetic of the artwork.

When the time was up, we went back into the group and shared the artwork and our experience. Others responded to them, and we once again looked back at our experience, the emotional process, and tried to think what the artwork and the process may have meant to us.  

 

How was the experience for me?

Looking back, I am grateful for that time that I had, especially because I was getting used to living in a new country, and although I did not think I was experiencing any stress or anxiety, I probably was feeling overwhelmed and tired to some extent. But having time to be lost in creating something, and processing my thoughts, emotions within the art therapy group helped me to maintain my mental health. 

It also made me think, Art making is so underestimated. it is such a good way to connect with ourselves. Art has been too much about aesthetics, and whether one is good or bad at it, but art is beyond that. 

Although art is still not a commonly used tool in therapy especially in Japan, I hope that more people would see the power of using art as a tool to benefit people’s mental health. 

If you want to know more about art therapy, I recommend checking out the British Association of Art Therapists website.

Ellie Eshima

ICU Japan '21

Ellie is currently a senior at International Christian University, majoring in Psychology.
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