A brush with emotions

Easing expressingWhen there is a behavioural issue, traumatic memory or difficulty regulating emotions, art therapy can help. A trained art therapist might use colouring pages to calm a person in a specific session, but it is not a replacement for the psychological process of therapy.” Magdalene Jeyarathnam, who has been practising art therapy for 23 years, recalls asking one of her clients to answer the question ‘Where are you in your life?’ visually. Even activities like colouring, zentangling and doodling have a meditative effect, “but psychology works on much deeper emotional and relational levels. Alternatively, therapists (usually psychologists or psychotherapists by training) use mediums such as water colours, oil pastels, clay, collage, colour pencils, puppets, amongst others.

Sometimes words are not enough to convey how one feels. That’s where colours and symbols help. Magdalene Jeyarathnam, who has been practising art therapy for 23 years, recalls asking one of her clients to answer the question ‘Where are you in your life?’ visually. The person simply drew a tree that was chopped. “She didn’t utter a word, but the image was enough to show how she was feeling. It is easy to express the extent of a person’s emotions through art, which is one of the most non-judgemental and gentle ways of therapy,” says Chennai-based Jeyarathnam, director at East West Center for Counselling & Training, and director, Indian Institute of Psychodrama.

Easing expressing

When there is a behavioural issue, traumatic memory or difficulty regulating emotions, art therapy can help. Jeyarathnam’s clients range from three-year-olds to 80-year-olds. “For the very young, I use toy animals to tell stories, and in the process, get the story of their lives out of them. Kids don’t have it in their vocabulary to talk about abuse, so they tell me: ‘The mommy elephant keeps beating the baby elephant because it’s naughty’.” This is a typical projection technique, where one talks about one’s life using a different character. Alternatively, therapists (usually psychologists or psychotherapists by training) use mediums such as water colours, oil pastels, clay, collage, colour pencils, puppets, amongst others. “Everything from the colours they use, to the pressure of the brush on paper, tells a lot about their state of mind,” says art therapist Victoria Niveditha, art and creative movement psychotherapist, based in Chennai. She talks of a lady who began illustrating her life with bright colours that turned to blacks and greys to show the passage of time.

Exploring solutions

Even cases of abuse by teachers in school, sexual abuse at home, or fights with friends and the anxiety because a best friend is getting closer to another, come out in sessions, in an indirect way. The next step is to prompt them to take action, also through art. For example, in one of the family sessions, Jeyarathnam asked the mother, father and two kids, to draw the outline of their hands, and paste it on a separate chart. The kids refused to place their painted paper hands anywhere close to their dad’s. The issue then was obvious. “When it is a case of sexual abuse, we go through pictures, and I tell them the story of how a deer got rid of the lion, and in turn, have them take action in the situation,” says Jeyarathnam. She also had a session with the mother, bringing her attention to the situation.

Being self aware

Most times, people are unaware that their minds are hosts to a lot of stress, so you don’t have to wait for trauma to go for art therapy: “It functions in metaphor, which means over time, an entire language and understanding is developed for deep self-awareness,” adds Krupa Jhaveri, who has trained in trauma-informed art therapy, and is the founder of Sankalpa: Art Journeys, Puducherry. Even activities like colouring, zentangling and doodling have a meditative effect, “but psychology works on much deeper emotional and relational levels. A trained art therapist might use colouring pages to calm a person in a specific session, but it is not a replacement for the psychological process of therapy.” Stay updated with all the Chennai Latest News headlines here. For more exclusive & live news updates from all around India, stay connected with NYOOOZ.

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