Creative and expressive arts therapies have emerged from strength to strength throughout the mental health spectrum. This is a welcome emergence! Some may be familiar with the cathartic nature of transforming emotions through art – you would have to be reading from under a rock to not see how The BFA creative endeavour has facilitated my own evolution through suffering – but how does this actually happen? Creative arts therapies are dynamic, participatory approaches that have been around for more than 70 years (Malchiodi, C. 2014). I asked the most informed and committed art therapist I know, Amanda Scott from Amanda Scott Art Therapy, for an illustration of current trends in art therapy and how it inspired her career path.
As expected, the breadth of Amanda’s art therapy knowledge never misses a beat or a brushstroke. She works from a strengths-based, self-empowered model – the kind we applaud. Bringing Brene Brown, Danielle La Porte’s and Shaun McNiffe to the fore, Amanda takes every opportunity to ignite creativity where we need it most: in healing. Be it shamanic, hypnotic, epiphanic or raw, art and art therapy is fast becoming a leading way of the future of mental health care and we are blessed to have the Amanda Scott’s among us who insist in colour and splash, rhythm and song, that creativity be integrated in our wellbeing programs. So keep calm! Amanda’s next program starts end of September.
Amanda Scott, Art Therapist
BFA: What are the main principles of art therapy as a healing modality? How does it work?
The creative process, either in one-on-one sessions or in groups, uses modalities such as paint, pastel, collage, clay, sculpture, sound, movement, music, and drama to explore your experiences in the world and develop a deeper understanding of yourself.
The difference between art therapy and other talk therapies is that art therapy integrates the creative processes with reflection and dialogue, to connect with deeper states of being. We often spend a lot of our lives using language and our cognitive brain to understand and explain our experiences. Art therapy gives space for deeper wisdom to come through.
We than have access to that which you don’t yet think, what your body knows but you don’t yet consciously have an understanding of yet. Connecting these parts of yourself offers greater alignment to be more true to who you really are in the world.
Art therapy is used in so many different contexts, and is not always stand alone. For example, I work with adults, teens and children in my private practice, while also working as a community facilitator part time with children and young people who have been in out-of-home care, foster care, residential care or kinship care. While my role is not as an art therapist, I am able to use the power of the creative arts to assist in exploration, healing, connection, fun and empowerment from children and young people in group contexts. Art therapy can be easily combined in any work with people, from corporate team building, to community groups, to work in hospitals or recovery from trauma.
BFA: How can art therapy benefit someone who experiences depression?
AS: Creative expression has been found to be a powerful way to improve physical and emotional health, connection to self, others and with your own purpose and meaning. Art therapy assists with creative expression of self, connecting the internal experiences with the physical/external world. I believe creativity is the language of the soul.
Depression can be experienced when there is a lack of safe expression in the world, and our energy is not able to flow naturally, leaving us blocked or cut off from our own life force, wisdom and personal power. It can be a lonely and confusing place to be, with very little energy or motivation or hope for change.
Art therapy can help with offering a space and new forms in which to let go, and express what is happening internally, while being held and witnessed in a safe way. For example if you can make an image that expresses an emotion, it then exists outside of you, you can see it, feel it, touch it. It goes from being scary, unknown, overwhelming, to somehow being more tangible. It also helps to move from feeling trapped or hopeless to a space of accessing new possibilities, hope and clarity. Also giving form to shame, fear and other painful experiences allows these experiences to be held by the art and by the process. Often people say that they feel lighter after expressing through the creative process, letting go of things that have been stuck. I have even taken people through rituals for moving through experiences, by using narrative therapy to write their story and using physical symbols to represent their experience and how they have moved through it.
When using the creative process, you can begin to make sense of your experiences. With that awareness, you can make choices connected with your own wisdom and truth. In the creative process, you can enter a ‘flow state’ which allows for a break from repetitive thinking or patterns, offering relaxation, mindfulness, and focus. When in this state, the body, mind, spirit and emotions are able to integrate and heal without conscious effort, just by trusting the process and surrendering. Finding your voice through creativity is a gentle, dynamic, curious and patient approach to healing.
BFA: What compelled you to become an art therapist?
AS: I have always found quiet comfort when creating, entering a world of imagination and possibility. Sometimes my words do not capture the depth and vibrancy of how I am feeling, and I have often found that the creative arts allow for my true voice to emerge. I have always been drawn to people and understanding myself and others through connection and creativity. When I was 18 I started working as a youth facilitator at the Reach Foundation and learnt how to take people through creative group processes to access deeper parts of themselves, develop a sense of identity and be in a supportive environment where they were encouraged and accepted.
This was the starting point for my art therapy journey, but I hadn’t heard of the profession yet. When I discovered art therapy, and used the processes to make sense of and heal through my own experience of depression. I found a magic in that world that I hadn’t yet found elsewhere. I used to be so disconnected from my own voice, that I never felt that I knew what I really thought about anything, constantly searching for answers outside of myself. Through the creative process, I found a wisdom and inner knowing that I hadn’t accessed yet.
I am so passionate about the creative process as a tool to heal and grow and offering spaces for others to discover this magic within themselves is such an important part of my life. I love to bring people together and offer a new way to develop deep connections with themselves and others. I am a much stronger person through deep diving into my inner world and coming out with amazing gifts of gold. It can be a scary step to take the leap, and it is so very rewarding.
BFA: What common themes do you see people dealing with through art therapy?
AS: The most common experience to begin with is self judgement, especially in relation to the creative process. “I can’t draw” is often a barrier for even trying it out. I even have a whole activity that gives voice to all the judgements, barriers and thoughts that prevents us from exploring our creativity. All is welcome, even the judgements, because they are a part of us too. Art therapy is about the process, not the outcome, not making beautiful art, but about discovery. Once we are able to work with this judgement, find courage and safety, and be curious, other themes emerge. I have worked with themes of grief and loss, recovery from illness, anxiety & depression, body image, self esteem, relationship breakups, feeling lost and looking for meaning and purpose, dreaming and visioning, and even for those who are travelling okay and just want to connect more deeply with themselves and their purpose.
The possibilities for exploration through creative arts therapy is endless, and although often people come with specific themes, we explore in an open way, following what holds energy, with the aim to integrate all parts of ourselves and increase resilience and feelings of empowerment.
BFA: What do you draw from to design your programs, workshops and individual sessions? For example, spirituality, shamanism, creative arts, a particular philosophy….
AS: I draw inspiration from so many places, people, books, dreams insights, my own art, and my clients. The creative arts and creative processes are the main guiding force for me.
I also work from a strengths-based, empowerment model. I believe that we are not broken or in need of fixing, rather we are constantly given opportunities to deepen our connection open up to new parts of ourselves and discover new ways to grow.
I also draw from the MIECAT form of inquiry in which the companion (therapist) and inquirer (client) are co-inquiring together, with curiosity, presence and openness to the emergent process. The therapist does not hold all the answers, the relationship is alive and is a powerful part of the healing process.
- Brene Brown’s research on the power of vulnerability is a great inspiration to me.
- Danielle La Porte’s work around following what you desire each day as an alternative to goal setting inspires me.
- Positive psychology and ‘5 ways of wellbeing’ has a strong influence on my facilitation.
- Creative Journaling and the Vision Board process are incredible tools for transformation.
- Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey.
- Body Focussing, mindfulness and meditation are powerful tools for re-connecting the body wisdom and the felt sense.
“When we are truly present to another and open to whatever needs to be expressed, this pervasive sense of safety and even sacredness can emerge. Creative powers are exercised when people feel safe.”
– Shaun McNiff, ‘Art Heals’