Beyond Words: Integrative Art Psychotherapy
When I think of therapy I imagine two mid-range IKEA chairs in a clean, comfortable room. The décor is subtle, the lighting subdued. Somewhere in the space there is a clock, and a box of tissues. Therapist and client sit facing each other, some kind of dialogue emerging. The therapist is present and attentive, following the words of their client, who offers up something from their day, week, month, life…
This is talking therapy, the kind most of us are familiar with, have read about in books, seen depicted in film and television, or experienced for ourselves. But what if our words fail us, or get in the way? What if not a single word comes that captures how we really feel or think? What if there are too many words? So many, in fact, that with each one we move further and further from the truth of how we really are?
Just as we may be struck dumb, rendered mute by feelings and thoughts – we can get caught up in cleverness, stuck in the stories we tell ourselves and others, often over and over again, with little variation. As a therapy client I have been both struck dumb and stuck clever often. When I decided to train as a therapist, I discovered that there were other ways to express myself, other ways to tell my story – ways and means that went beyond words. I discovered that by working with various art materials and methods I could give expression to my innermost feelings and thoughts, in ways that simply ‘talking about’ my issues didn’t touch on.
I felt the freedom and opportunity in creative and artistic expression for the kind of serious play that comes so naturally to children, but was often lost to me as an adult. Serious play that offered new and organically revealing ways of being with myself, with others, and the world I found myself in. This wasn’t art in any precious or pretentious sense – this was making a mess, experimenting – not caring what things looked like, but how they felt, and what they revealed to me.
In beginning to find creative, imaginative solutions to my issues, I began to live more creatively, in all areas of my life. Now that I work as an integrative arts psychotherapist, I listen, and I talk, but I am also passionate about offering others the space to express themselves creatively, the space to create the life they want. I believe that we are all artists, in our own way, given the opportunity.
I continue to be touched by how, like our dreams, creative expression gives us direct access to what is unconscious, hidden, under the surface of ourselves – the creative act itself, offering a safe and contained space in which to discover and recover our true selves.
Now when I think of therapy, I begin to imagine those two chairs, but I also picture paper, paints, clay – different colours and textures, different ways of making a mark. The therapist is present and attentive, but to what? Here it gets interesting. Is the client still, silent, talkative, making or moving in the space? The possibilities seem endless.
Of course words are essential, invaluable tools in our efforts to understand ourselves, and each other. I have enjoyed stringing words together to express myself here. Sometimes though, it is necessary to go beyond words, to enrich our language and understanding with the power of our imagination and our natural creative force.