Art as Therapy

Last night, I was painting plates.

Art wasn’t this therapeutic when I was painting feelings.

I think I might have been missing the point – or just getting too hung up on it. When you’re trying to draw the perfect tragedy, it doesn’t really work; and, if you’re doing something because it’s ‘part of the programme’, it can feel a little bit like you’re back at school –

Painting plates, however, is a whole different ball game to psychiatric ward Blue Peter or the hardcore art therapy that, along with the plastic chairs and patronisation, was hard to take seriously. It is, instead, about having fun and being creative and doing something different – which is a therapy in itself.

Whilst a sceptical me might have written off art therapy, art as therapy is great; and, with reflection, I’ve been using it all the way along…

I am not a natural artist: my people do not look like people and my trees don’t always look like trees. The great thing about art as therapy is that you don’t have to score an A in drawing ability to benefit from the activity.

Nothing soothes an addled head like putting paintbrush to paper, and paint by numbers was my salvation in acute psychiatric wards. Twice. Colouring within the lines is strangely absorbing and there’s something immensely calming in watching white become colour; and paper, become art.

Completion always comes with a twinge of pride, whether the product is a masterpiece – or an example of colouring within the lines; and, creation is a great tonic for drooping spirits or heads that are usually hell bent on destruction –

Once I’d got used to having a paintbrush or a pritt-stick in my hand, the creative energy really kicked in.

and scrapbooking and painted picture frames were a logical next step, unleasing a little of the imagination that had been locked away for a while. Not only did I save (eventually) a fortune in Birthday cards and gifts; but, I got immersed in thinking about designs, and imagining how things would look, and taking pride in what I was doing.

This is quite a breakthrough when you’re coming from a place in which it’s hard to see the value – or point – or anything.

It’s also a bit of a breakthrough if you’re not very good at trying new things or experimentation, which is art as therapy benefit number 3.

After dabbling in art with a purpose (aka card production), it was a lot easier to make the transition to just enjoying the experience, and art proved a great way of experimenting – with minimal risk. Techniques – in the loosest use of the term – like finger painting or throwing around pots of glitter were a direct contrast to the control and rules and routines that dominated my real world; and, what works in one context gives you the confidence to be a little daring in others.

Once I’d got through the initial ill-founded anxiety (art takes time away from what my eating disorder would prefer me to be doing), and overcome the instinctive ‘but what’s the point?’ resistance, abandoning myself to an experience helped me to learn how to let go a little. Plus, messing about with a pot of paint, reminded me of what it was like to have fun.

It’s easy to forget how to do this when you’re trapped in an eating disorder which operates in greys and blacks – rather than bursts of pink.

So, whilst I might not have uncovered the secrets of my illness, I did re-discover the capacity for enjoyment; and, although art therapy felt far too much of an effort, art as therapy is definitely worth exploring –

Because, it’s amazing how much calmer you can feel with a paintbrush in your hand – and what you can create when you start to let go.

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