When conventional treatments and medications leave gaps in the road to mental and emotional health, the use of art in all its forms can step in and change the picture. Heightening the senses, encouraging free expression and offering hours of fulfillment, art therapy is making inroads into the way medical professionals help their patients. Who better to bring us up to date than Psychotherapist and Expressive Arts Therapist Suzan Radwan?
CWM: What forms does expressive arts therapy embrace?
SR: We have visual arts, music therapy, drama therapy, storytelling, creative writing and dance and movement therapy. There are other forms, but these are really the main categories for expressive therapies. With visual art therapy we have painting, drawing, clay work and sculpture, collages and anything involving crafts like knitting. The application of art therapy began a long time ago; the psychoanalytical school first pioneered image analysis and to this day there are universities and institutes, mainly in Europe, that follow this approach.
Cognitive –Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has used various art forms in its techniques and treatments, including those for recovering addicts, but today’s trend is towards the humanistic school, as taught by the Prairie Institute of Expressive Arts Therapy in Canada, where the artistic process and the client’s own reflections on it are the main focus.
- They create a space for the client or patient to move in comfortably, without having to talk about things they do not want to discuss or are not ready to face. It is less confrontational or invasive. Talk therapy can sometimes regenerate the trauma, so it can be negative and draining.
- Compared to other forms of clinical psychotherapy, talk therapy, coaching and counseling, art therapy is much more organic, spontaneous and natural.
- Art therapy sessions are more cathartic and energizing, they play a lot more on the imagination, creating what is known in art therapy as an ‘alternative world’ experience
- There is a reduced likelihood of a person creating diversions as in talk therapy, as art therapy gets to the point. Even though the focus is on the process, often we see a person’s artistic skills develop during therapy sessions.
Who can most benefit from art therapy?
Everyone, but especially children, as they are less developed in their range of expression, particularly verbal skills. Art therapy gives them a chance to show and express more, if they have an attention deficit disorder or behavioral issues. Some levels of autism respond well, but not all, as in some cases there can be an aversion to using tools.
With adults art therapy is great way of exploring yourself and finding potential. Even in the corporate world it plays a role in team building, wellness and psychology. That is why it is so often incorporated into retreats and team building programs. There are many music, dance and art centers now springing up across Cairo where both children and adults can enjoy expressing themselves. Art can be valuable in helping anyone track their personal self-discovery journey, as it stimulates the imagination and offers valuable insights.
Are there specific situations where art therapy is known to help?
It has also proven to be invaluable in couples and family therapy, as well as special focus groups like recovering addicts. We have seen good results with people with personality disorders, mood disorders, mild or chronic depression, anxiety disorders, phobias and bipolar conditions. Caution must be used in cases of neurotic disorders and schizophrenia, or histrionic cases, as the borders between imagination and reality become hard to separate. Then you have patients with disabilities, even visual impairment. Art therapy is widely used as well with geriatric patients.
It has shown to be a great source of psychological support for those suffering from debilitating or terminal illnesses like diabetes, cancer or HIV. And of course, it is being used extensively around the world in corrective facilities and mental health institutions. Then, you have people who take sessions purely for their own catharsis, as a type of mental check-up.
What results have been observed in the various forms of art therapy?
Music therapy has been one of the easiest forms to track results in, there is a lot of evidence based material to support this. Results even go so far as to indicate improvement in the immunity system through expressive arts therapy. Data shows that therapists using expressive arts come to a quicker and often more satisfactory resolution with their patients than those depending exclusively on talk therapy. In the case of recovering addicts, it has been helpful in prognosis, as well as anticipating any relapses.
How is art therapy currently being integrated into the medical/well-being system in Egypt?
Currently, I am working with children in the Children’s Cancer Hospital. The hospital has been compiling cases for the last five years, in the hopes of doing a study and publishing a paper with their findings and now a whole department has been set up for this. Art therapy is part of the treatment program in many local hospitals, mental health clinics and half-way houses. The first Art Therapy post graduate diploma was made available through the College of Art Education in Zamalek. There is professional training going on in the various clinics, including a Canadian Art Therapy supported program being held at Aboul Azaim Hospital. Looking forward, there are hopes that an Egyptian Association of Art Therapists can be formed, as every culture has its local sensitivities. This way, more training programs can be implemented to broaden the reach of art therapy and its benefits to the community.
Suzan Radwan is an Expressive Art Therapist and Art Psychoanalyst who currently works as an Expressive Arts Therapist and Program Coordinator with the Children’s Cancer Hospital, in addition to running a private art studio in Maadi.
Tel: 0100 660 4271
Email: [email protected]