Healing through creativity

Patients find healing through art. 

By NDIS registered art therapist Simona Weinstein. Art has been reproduced with permission. 

The young girl was a Year 10 student, relishing her social status in high school, but getting average marks, and only sometimes enjoying her teenage years. One afternoon, on school camp, she was rock climbing with her classmates. She needed to find the crevice in the rock above her to take the next step. Paralysed with fear, no amount of coaxing or gentle words could propel her forward. 

The teachers and students spent forever encouraging her to climb up. Finally whilst trying to convince her to take the next move, one teacher learned that her fear of heights was actually part of a general daily anxiety. She did manage to cross the rock crevice, but the emotions that were uncovered in that moment opened up a whole new chapter of self-discovery. 

When the girl returned to school the following week, she was offered art therapy with me. During the first session, the Year 10 girl sat opposite me in silence, half sliding off the chair with legs outstretched and arms obstinately crossed in front of her. She found it incredibly difficult to talk about her life, and I gifted her the quiet space. In the second session, I invited her to forage through a box of trinkets in the art cupboard and select any items that she felt comfortable working with. 

The art offered a different language, so she decided to engage creatively. She found an old unused key, a mini cardboard container with lid, some plaster gauze, glue and a paint brush. Her caged silence was softened with a touch of curiosity. For that whole session, she sat quietly playing with the key, twisting and fiddling with it, putting it in the container and taking it out repeatedly. I wanted to give her a space where she felt safe to stay silent, safe to explore and safe to experiment. I never judged her quietness or her actions. In the following 2 sessions, the teenager placed the key inside the little container, put the lid on top, wrapped the gauze around it many times, and then sealed her project by brushing layers of glue around it. Each layer of gauze was glued, dried and then covered over with more gauze. The “key” to her anxiety was safe and secure inside her trinket box, and no amount of words were going to access that clue. 

For the next 2 months, I stored the box and key for her. I was holding her secret, and she felt safe. This creative process extended further and each of her art works were further expressions of the same theme: hiding, secrecy and being disguised. I offered her plaster moulds of masks and fabric. She decorated the masks with black fish-net and other veils that concealed their true identity. This concealment was a clue to old buried memories; memories that were concealed because they were too painful to recall verbally. They were also a clue to part of her that she was too ashamed to expose to the world. 

The therapeutic art-making allowed her to gently access those parts and recall those memories. She creatively expressed shame, anger and sadness that she had bottled up years ago. Through the art she understood the origin of those feelings. Her busy social life kept her distracted from her pain and concealed her inward fears. The sculptures of the masked girls expressed her state of hiding and the constant fear of her real self being “discovered”. This Year 10 camper wasn’t aware that struggling to climb the rock was linked to an old trauma, though it did come to light when the unconscious sought expression through her sculptures. 

After 2 months of art therapy I was sitting opposite a young girl who had transformed from an anxious teenager with a superficial social life, to someone who was aware of her authentic self and the events that were informing her fears and behaviour. That awareness helped her overcome her anxiety and she found long-lasting inner peace and healing. 

 It was via a 5 minute drawing, that a 10 year old girl showed her mum how different she felt after 15 sessions, compared to how she felt prior to the start of art therapy. She said “I can’t explain it, but it just feels different in every way”. After she drew the picture in Figure 1, she was able to find the language, and said “it feels better with friends. At school I can concentrate better. I am not nervous anymore about seeing my other parent. I don’t worry about things. I can breathe better”. 

Figure 1

BEFORE ART THERAPY – A large looming moon, lots of sketchy stars, a busy mountain that hides half the flower.

DURING ART THERAPY – The black line she had to pass through to reach the other side of healing. The black line represents the challenging emotions she released during her sessions.

AFTER ART THERAPY – A smaller and bolder moon with less stars overhead, that are drawn more solidly, a mountain with clear straight lines, covered in grass that is growing and fostering the growth of 4 separate flowers.

Art therapy helped her make sense of the chaos in her life, find calming peace, and smile.

For more information about how art therapy can help you succeed, or to book a session, contact simona@indigoarttherapy.com.au or call 0420 672 753. www.indigoarttherapy.com.au

Ideas expressed in this article are for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.