Mental Health Month – The Power of Art

Over the course of three years with the Creative Arts Therapy Team, I’ve seen my members blossom into confident human beings. Art Therapy sessions have given them the ability to get in touch with their emotionality, their triggers, and their ability to cope with stressors.

A painting by a Thresholds clients depicting Bipolar Disorder. The top half of the painting is a unicorn and a rainbow. Below it are stormclouds and a heart in black-and-white.

With one client (“Alex”), I’ve used Art Therapy to help them identify the complicated emotions they may be struggling with, associating each one with specific colors and textures. Alex described their mental illness as challenging and uncertain. They were never sure when a flare-up or relapse might occur, or how the symptoms might manifest for them. Connecting their emotions with colors helps them connect with the emotion visually, physically, and psychologically.

I see Alex radiate a sense of relief when they’re able to identify what it is that is happening within their body and mind. They have been able to use the “emotion cards” we developed from this process to check in at the beginning of some sessions when they’re feeling stuck or unsure of what it is they’re feeling. Through our sessions, I’ve been able to witness Alex’s growth into an expressive human being, incredibly in tune with their emotions and unashamed by their humanness.

Through our work, Alex was able to build the confidence to participate, for the first time in their life, in an art show curated by the Creative Arts Therapy Team. We discussed the importance of creating art that tells a story, and how it felt to have your story and art viewed by the community. Alex chose to use their art to demonstrate how to reduce the stigma of mental illness – their art shows what Bipolar Disorder “looks like”, and how Art Therapy “turned the light on” for them.

Alex brought a family member to see their art on display, and was overwhelmed with happiness to see their art displayed and celebrated in a professional manner along with their fellow peers. They were doubly moved when someone actually purchased their art from the gallery!

Art Therapy has helped this member get back to their creative and meaningful hobbies outside of our sessions, as well. It’s encouraged them to teach others, which has aided in reducing their isolation. It’s also helped them share their story, take a different perspective on perceived hopelessness, and find different pathways to wellness and hope.

Alex often shared with me the way stigma against mental health affects their own community, and how exhausting that oppression can be. They feel exasperated trying to constantly relate and share the importance of taking care of the emotional self to others, and are frustrated at how often they go unheard. Yet, through their art, they are able to have their voice and story heard and witnessed for years to come.

Claire Slater is a Creative Arts Therapy Team Leader at Thresholds. All names besides Claire’s have been changed.

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