Art therapy is a core group, meaning all residents participate. It is an extremely integral component of our expressive therapy program. Women and girls attend art sessions once or twice a week.
What Is Art Therapy?
The American Art Therapy Association describes art therapy as “a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being.” It is founded on the belief that self-expression has the power to help people communicate, overcome stress, and explore various aspects of their own personalities. Many cultures have used art for thousands of years as a way to express, communicate, and heal. Not unlike dance/movement therapy, this type of treatment can be traced back to the 1940s. The artist Adrian Hill discovered the benefits of drawing and painting while recovering from tuberculosis in a British sanatorium. He subsequently encouraged his fellow inpatients to embrace this therapeutic modality. This began his work in this arena, which was documented in 1945 in his book Art Versus Illness. Today, art therapy is widely practiced and highly respected by health care professionals. It is utilized in hospitals, forensic institutions, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, schools, and other clinical and community settings.
Art Therapy at Timberline Knolls
At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, we utilize two types of art therapy: the directed approach and the open studio process. Both offer different, yet equally valuable benefits to our residents. In the former, the art therapist encourages women and girls to complete a specific assignment. The activity is predicated on issues the participants are currently exploring, or possibly an area the therapist believes requires additional attention. The topic might be “Emotion: what do you reveal to others versus what do you keep hidden?” The residents may be instructed to create masks that display each type of emotion. The open studio process deals more in themes. A discussion may ensue surrounding the theme of shame. Participants are then encouraged to use any form of art they desire in order to display how shame manifests in their lives. Timberline Knolls employs Master’s level therapists with extensive art backgrounds. These clinicians use their knowledge of art to educate residents about various mediums and how to utilize them most effectively. The goal is not to make anyone a good artist; instead, they provide what is needed to help each resident achieve her desired end.
Why Use Art Therapy?
Art is the perfect medium for non-verbal expression. Simply, it is universal. What woman or girl doesn’t remember coloring with multi-hued crayons as a child? The inherent beauty of art therapy is that it requires no skill, talent, or training. In art, there is no good or bad, no right or wrong. It is quintessentially honest. At Timberline Knolls, we believe that tapping into the creative self is synonymous with tapping into the healthy self. The more the healthy, creative self is engaged, the more it is strengthened, like a muscle. For hurting or wounded residents, the tools used in art making often replace words. Paints, fabrics, lumps of clay, pencils and more have the ability to convey what sometimes cannot be spoken: the pain of parental betrayal; the shame of sexual violation; the humiliation of spousal abuse; the indignity of trading sex for drugs. These uncomfortable thoughts and emotions are ultimately transferred into art. Unlike spoken words, which possess no longevity, art is tangible. A painting, drawing or clay sculpture becomes a concrete representation of emotion. The sorrow, guilt, shame or pain a resident has felt for years, perhaps decades, is now literally on the table. This allows for a sense of freedom from that bondage and is immensely powerful. The creation of the artwork, the transfer of emotion, is only the beginning. Our therapists, the resident, even key members of our treatment team, may work together to decide the artwork’s future. Perhaps it is kept, given to a family member, buried or released in a symbolic letting go ceremony, which are routinely held on the campus of Timberline Knolls.
Types of Disorders Treated with Art Therapy
This expressive therapy is beneficial for everyone, regardless of disorder, addiction or degree of trauma experienced throughout a lifetime.
One art therapy activity that is particularly helpful for those with anorexia is body tracing. The resident lies down on a sheet of paper and the therapist outlines her body with a marker. The rendering is then displayed on a wall. Seeing the truth of what she genuinely looks like is tremendously helpful when a woman or girl struggles with body distortion. Our art therapists are also keenly aware of issues with perfectionism among anorexics. A girl may only create art using a pencil because she knows she is skilled with that medium. Our therapist may encourage her to risk being less than perfect by using another tool, one that is out of her immediate comfort zone.
Bingeing and purging is a common behavior among most bulimics. In the art studio, it is not unusual to observe a resident using excessive amounts of materials, actually mimicking the purge behavior. Our therapist may redirect her behavior to use or experience one tool or product at a time. This encourages greater impulse control while adhering to defined boundaries.
Trauma/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Art therapy is an extraordinary tool for a woman or girl who has experienced trauma or struggles with PTSD. Often, it is the first step in the healing process. Perhaps she places a single word on a piece of paper, and for a time, that is sufficient. She may progress to drawing a picture. Session after session, through the collaboration of the resident and the therapist, the art will tell the story.
Frequently, the directive to a resident with depression, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is: What does this disorder look like? After the depiction is created, the therapist may strive to help the resident understand that she and her disorder are not interchangeable. She is not exclusively defined by the mood disorder.
This is similar to mood disorders in that our therapist may ask for a visual representation of the addiction. Although a young woman may sketch out the actual drug or related paraphernalia, she is more likely to display a scene of utter chaos or draw a picture of herself in chains. The eventual goal is for her to realize her identity is utterly separate from the substance.
What are the benefits of art therapy?
The benefits of art therapy for a woman or girl in treatment at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center are enormous. The simple act of sitting quietly in the art studio, surrounded by a host of colorful textures and materials is visually rewarding. Then, the act of manually working with these items is often highly stress-reducing and relaxing. For a solid block of time, a resident does not need to think or talk – she only creates. Additionally, there is a strong correlation between the work done in the art studio and the strides made with a resident’s primary therapist. Once a woman or girl discovers the vast benefits of this therapy, she takes this knowledge with her when returning home. Knowing the value of sketching out thoughts or feelings or creating a symbolic clay figure can serve her well throughout her life.
Q. Do I have to have talent or training? A. No art training or talent is required. Q. Will my work be judged or graded? A. No, the art work is never graded or judged.