Eva Carlston Academy
Posted on:

Intention in Art Therapy Helps Mental Health

What do you think of when you hear the term Art Therapy? Is it angrily splashing paint on a canvas to let out aggression? Or perhaps it is drawing while listening to soothing music and blissfully calming your nerves? Or maybe it is intuitively scribbling a scene from a traumatic incident from your past? All of these answers are correct and can be communicated effectively regardless of the skill or talent of the  creator through intentional therapeutic art-making practice.

Art therapy facilitates expression from a “bottom-up” process that differs from verbal therapies. It is not uncommon for traumatic events, hurtful situations, and uncomfortable feelings that have been buried deep in the subconscious to surface through art creation, and often writing or drawing them on paper can help to make them more conscious to the creator. That is why at Eva Carlston, we take so much care and intention to provide a safe and creative environment to approach this therapeutically.

Boundaries and Processing

In our art therapy groups, we establish clear boundaries and expectations in the art-making, as well as the processing (sharing) of the pieces. We value confidentiality, but also encourage group members to establish trust and respect for each other, in order to share challenging emotions and experiences. 

We have a rule of “no disclaimers” before sharing artwork, as it is quite common for a student to explain away or put down their projects before anyone else can have their authentic impression or opinion of the piece. This also promotes the idea that it is less important what the art looks like, and it is more important what the intention is. What is the artist trying to communicate and process?

It can be incredibly empowering to be able to disclose struggles through visual images rather than finding the vocabulary necessary to elicit the same emotional response or understanding.  It is also up to each individual to decide how much they divulge.. 

Having this understanding of the choice they have can be empowering in a world where they often feel they have no control. Often, the newer the student, the more closed off they are. Once they become confident in their understanding of themselves, the more comfortable and less fearful they are in sharing more about themselves.

Why Art Therapy Is Effective 

Art therapy is not just a feel good activity, but it can be. It can also be an incredibly challenging, thought-provoking, and emotionally activating experience, and has the capacity to intensify an experience. The objective of using visual arts in art therapy is not necessarily to create something that would be showcased in a gallery, but rather to tap into different parts of the brain and body using color, symbolism, images, imagination, metaphor, and problem solving, and gain new perspectives on our automatic thoughts, memories, and perceptions. It can also help with looking at traumatic experiences from a different angle. 

Sometimes, seeing things from a different perspective can help to heal and move forward in a different way, when approached with intention.We provide many different project approaches including:

  • Mindful coloring exercises
  • DBT House
  • Family tree and personality traits
  • Past, present, and future layering projects
  • Body image and self-worth
  • Life soundtracks and album covers
  • Many selves project

Creating A Peaceful Setting With Music 

Music is clinically proven to have healing physiological effects, such as elevating or decreasing heart rate, matching or providing a contrast to emotions, relieving stress, aiding with memory retention, and improving focus. Ambient music and sounds played at moderate levels can also encourage creativity while creating art or working on a project. 

Rarely do we play music that has words, or pop music that our teenagers listen to frequently. Why is this? We are not just trying to get them to become great classical music appreciators, as some of our teens might think! We use more instrumental music to help ground, relax, and keep our clients focused on the present moment. 

We also utilize sound as a healthy distraction from the constant barrage of thoughts and criticisms that can often increase in teenage brains when working in silence. Providing an environment with soft music can also help the client to feel more relaxed and safe to express themselves, even if they may claim that the “spa music” is boring!

Expressing Individuality Therapeutically 

Often  students ask if they can use swear words, or create images that would otherwise be inappropriate in an art class setting.  Typically, we ask them to be clear about the intention behind using these words or images. Are they trying to communicate something specific? Are they trying to elicit a response from others like shock or sympathy? 

These things in an art therapy environment are allowed and encouraged, as long as they are clear about their intention. They have to be willing to explain their reasons for using vulgar words or triggering images when they share their pieces in  a group setting, or in individual therapy.  When faced with the real responsibility of and meaningfully utilizing it in an intentional way, it can be validating to the feelings underneath.

We choose very specific materials for our various projects. For example, when working with inner child work, we may use crayons and more childlike supplies to help clients tap into their younger selves and experiences. When doing projects on body image we may use fashion magazines to directly utilize the messages our teenagers are receiving about beauty and worth through pop culture. Sometimes we give our students the opportunity to choose their medium to best express themselves and their intentions. 

During our art therapy sessions here at Eva Carlston, we strongly emphasize that talent is unimportant, and intention is everything. The  student  is encouraged to try relating their emotions and thoughts through experiential, tactile, and visual expression, not just through verbal communication. Art therapy is a great way for our students to release any pent up emotions and experience healing in a new way.

4 comments

  1. Cameron says:

    This is really helpful in understanding what our daughter is doing there. I never really knew much about art therapy and thought it was just coloring.

    1. Eva Carlston says:

      Thank you for reading. Art Therapy is an essential component of our treatment program and we love sharing our approach and the benefits to our students.

  2. Eileen says:

    My daughter is also at Eva and this was very helpful to have a better understanding of art therapy.

    1. Eva Carlston says:

      We are so happy that it helped! We hope that you have an opportunity at some point to also experience art therapy for yourself, it has wonderful benefits.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *