Honesty in Art: Expressing Feelings in Collages, Paintings and Drawings

By Melissa Rocchi, MAAT, LCPC, ATR

Verbal interaction is critical in a therapeutic relationship. Questions must be asked and answered; experiences and events must be explained.

However, at Timberline Knolls, we often treat women and girls who have experienced situations that are so shockingly painful, so rife with heartbreak or terrifying emotions, that they simply cannot speak of them.

This is where art becomes one of our most important therapeutic tools. Art allows explanation to occur and emotion to be expressed without using words. A resident might have deep-seated feelings of rage, hurt, betrayal, or sorrow. She picks up clay or paints or colorful pencils. She then begins to transfer these thoughts and feelings from her heart to her hands and into the art. There is no skill or talent required. The process is safe and liberating; the end product, whether it is a clay figure or an oil painting, is truthful, quintessentially honest. And unlike spoken words, which evaporate in a matter of seconds, art is tangible. Her creation becomes a concrete representation of emotion. Whatever she has felt for years, perhaps decades, is now literally on the table for all to see. The art then serves as a springboard for the therapist and resident to explore new conversational pathways.

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. This is yet another reason why art is so important. Long after a resident leaves our care, she can turn to art as a way to self-sooth, express emotion, or even help clarify to herself how she is feeling about an experience or event.