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Art for therapy's sake! When talking doesn't help

When talking doesn't help those with emotional trauma, counselors are turning to art. When words cannot reach a patient's emotional space, it could be a very useful tool to heal mental scars.

brunch Updated: Jun 29, 2014 18:48 IST
Veenu Singh
Veenu Singh
Hindustan Times
emotional trauma,counselors,art

The classic image that comes to mind when you think of counselling is a psychiatrist sitting in a comfortable chair, notebook and pen in hand, and the patient lying on a sofa, talking non-stop about the early childhood experience.

This is because the best way to deal with a problem, or even know the problem, is to talk about it. That's the common narrative, and it's true to a great extent. But sometimes, a person suffers trauma so severe that he/she can't talk about it. Can't open up. Can't deal with the pain in any way but to hide it away or keep it locked. That's when the experts know words are useless. What this person needs is, to express himself some other way.

Which is why counsellors are now using art therapy to aid their non-talking patients to open up.


Art therapy includes doodling, drawing and painting, but it's also more than just these. It includes music, colours, dance and story-telling as well. "Art therapy, when combined with counselling, speech therapy and occupational therapy, is known to show superior results for people of all ages including children, individuals, couples, families, groups and communities," says Dr Samir Parikh, director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Hospitals. "Through the creative process involved in the artistic self-expression, people can resolve conflicts better, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and self-awareness."

Doodling helped an 18-year-old girl, who suffered from anxiety and was unable to connect with anyone including her counsellor, open up. "I gave her paper and crayons and once she started doodling, she started talking about her childhood and problems," says clinical psychologist Kamna Chibber. Story-telling also helped a nine-year-old boy diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder increase his power of concentration. And painting helped a 56-year-old cancer patient cope with her illness.


"Art therapy brings benefits to children and people suffering from sexual abuse, terminal diseases and cases of marital discord when the couple simply cannot communicate with each other," explains Chibber.

So it's a useful mode of therapy - but not one that should be used on its own. "It's used as part of counselling, not a therapy by itself," says art therapist Kanika Mehrotra. "Counselling must continue. But art therapy is used when words cannot reach a patient's emotional space."

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From HT Brunch, June 29

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First Published: Jun 27, 2014 13:01 IST