By LARISSA NORTHOF
Visual art is a calming activity and research shows that it can help process difficult emotion. Recently it has been used as a form of recreational therapy.
Susan Carr and Susan Hancock co-wrote a study entitled Healing the Inner Child Through Portrait Therapy: Illness, Identity and Childhood Trauma. This study is dedicated to helping adults process trauma from their childhood through art.
Hancock was also a participant in the research project and made art as a form of therapy. She was able to make a metaphor in the form of a painting relating to her childhood trauma. Her painting was of a family day at the beach. It symbolised saying goodbye to the sea and letting go of the bitterness she felt that day.
Another portrait called Pandora’s Box, showed her emotion through her choice of colours. The colour she chose, represented her anger and sadness. The box she was holding represented keeping hope inside. Painting as a form of therapy creates a narrative of the story. Claiming the story as her own helped to process the emotion.
Yessenia Delgado, a student studying this form of therapy, has participated in the activity as well. With the help of a therapist she went through the journey and described it as, “a very emotional process.”
Typically, this form of art therapy is done in the form of painting. Colours have different meanings to the person and patients typically enjoy painting the most. It can also have positive effects when used in sculpting, Lego blocks or photography. The goal is to help get to the point of their story. “Art is a form of coping,” says Yessenia. She says this form of therapy is very effective and is only growing in popularity.
The whole process happens in three phases. The first phase is laying out all the colours and picking from the selection. It also includes coming up with a general idea to represent the feeling to put on the canvas.
Phase two is working with a therapist and painting your planned project. The final phase is analyzing the painting and working through the message. This can be a slower process and can take about a week to get a clear message out of the artwork clearly.