Individuals coping with mental health symptoms often struggle with staying in the present moment. Those coping with depression may become stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts or cognitive distortions [false beliefs colored by depressive symptoms]. Whereas anxiety-related disorders can cause a focus on potential danger in the future. For people healing from trauma, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and body memories can make it especially hard to be fully engaged in what is occurring in the present moment.
Mindfulness, a practice that helps people focus on the here and now, or present moment, is a common therapeutic intervention to relieve symptoms in those suffering from a variety of mental health disorders. By bringing attention back to the present moment, mental health symptoms can be reduced and made easier for the individual to manage. Mindfulness is also a core component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)*, one of the therapeutic principles that informs treatment at Timberline Knolls.
”Mindfulness” is often thought of by the public as mediation, chanting or even silence. For some, mindfulness may be a new skill they are not familiar with. It can feel strange, difficult to engage in, and sometimes even intimidating. Fear, or lack of knowledge can prevent people from using mindfulness as the powerful coping skill it can be.
Art Therapy, facilitated by a Master’s level clinician, can provide a more accessible and less intimidating way to approach mindfulness. Often, familiar and seemingly simple artistic exercises can be a more approachable way for residents to increase their connection to the present moment, and diffuse rumination on the past or future.
When residents participate in Art Therapy sessions at Timberline Knolls, a therapeutic environment is created by an experienced and specialty trained Art Therapist, in which the clients can feel safe while engaging in treatment.
Resident-centered sessions are conducted using a wide variety of art materials. They may choose familiar ones such as paint, marker or collage, or something new to them. Supported by an experienced Art Therapist, clients learn to become increasingly present in the moment through their art making and creativity.
While making art, residents often remark that they are less aware or even unbothered by nagging thoughts about their problems, anxiety or despair. Through this experiential therapy, residents learn to use their creativity to practice mindfulness beyond the therapy session. Often, through free art making, they are able to explore and express thoughts and emotions that are not accessible to them through verbal means. Sensory stimulation from various art making also provides valuable grounding skills that help clients tolerate emotional and somatic distress.
A very common question asked is whether participating in Art Therapy requires any art skills or previous experience. It doesn’t. Simply experimenting with art materials provides an opportunity to learn, and express one’s self. The chance to investigate color, shape, texture and line offers a non-verbal venue for self-exploration and expression.
*Dialectical Behavior Therapy was originated by Dr. Marsha Linehan.