Art, the medical world is finding can be useful in rehabilitation
Drawing and painting provide useful outlets for the sick and the disabled to express themselves and find a measure of self-esteem, say proponents of Concordia's art therapy program.
BY SHEILA ROSENBERG
ALTHOUGH FREUD made the world aware that the unconscious mind speaks in images, he never asked his patients to draw. Art therapists say our deepest thoughts and feelings can sometimes be better expressed through the use of imagery than through words. Art therapy, a highly respected form of psychotherapeutic treatment, replaces the analyst's couch with paper, paint or clay.
Last October Concordia became the first Canadian university to offer graduate training in this field. The diploma of art therapy course, which combines theoretical and practical training, now has six fulltime and four part-time students. Professor Michael Edwards, who heads the program, explains that art therapy helps individuals relieve emotional stress through artistic expression. "It uses art as a form of communication, particularly when there's a verbal barrier of some kind. If there's a stressful feeling, it can come out through the art."
Treatment can take several forms. "It's not a blanket procedure," Edwards, a former chairman of the British Association of Art Therapists, says. "It's something that has to be sensitively linked to the needs of the patient, whatever they may be." The therapists may comment on the patient's drawings, or ask the patient to provide his own interpretation. Sometimes the patient draws what he pleases; in other cases he is directed by the therapist.
Patients are encouraged to become involved in their own healing process. "Art therapy is not there to make a lot of diagnostic pronouncements not shared with the patient," Edwards says. "In general, it's a technique of helping patients help themselves."
It can be applied to children and adults alike, with problems that range from emotional and physical handicaps to chronic and debilitating medical afflictions. Concordia students are interning at the Children's, Shriners' and Queen Elizabeth hospitals, and the Allan Memorial Institute.
At the Shriners' they work under the direction of Frances Kucharsky, the hospital's Supervisor of Education. She provides them with synopses of the patients' personalities and medical histories, and then she gradually introduces the students into the classroom until the children become accustomed to their presence. Most of the patients are at the Shriners' for orthopedic surgery.
Kucharsky explains that hospitalization can be a stressful experience for a youngster: "The child is suffering from the separation of his family. His privacy is being invaded; his stability is taken away from him." Many .patients, she adds, have congenital spinal diseases that have hospitalized them for most of their lives. The Concordia students give individual and group sessions in art therapy. Kucharsky sees advantages to both. While individual sessions provide more intense interaction, group sessions give an unconfident child the security of anonymity.
Although she does not base her judgments entirely on the drawings, Kucharsky finds they can reveal clues about a child's emotional state. One twelve-year old patient who never expressed her feelings always drew pictures with happy themes. But when asked to draw something she hated, she drew a person on an operating table, against a black background.
Kucharsky thinks that art therapy can help patients release emotions that sometimes inhibit their behavior d intellectual ability. She gives the example of a seven year-old patient who, in addition to being blind in one eye, was born with open lesions in her spine which left her paralyzed in her lower limbs. "She was very withdrawn, whiny and negative," Kucharsky says. "She didn't want to do her schoolwork. She detested music or any activity that forced her to express herself." When she first began a group session in art therapy she would leave her paper blank or crumple it up. By her third session, however, she began to draw. As she gained greater self-confidence she went on to individual sessions.
"By the time Susie went home (two months later) she was asking for affection and expressing herself. She was capable of accepting the validity of what she produced. She was completing things and showing pride in what she was doing." Kucharsky doesn't only attribute the young patient's transformation to art therapy, however. Before Susie received treatment Kucharsky was helping her change her poor self-image by showering her with praise and attention. The self-confidence she started to acquire, Kucharsky says, was later reinforced by the Concordia students.
Dr. Pierre Gregoire, a clinical psychologist at the Allan Memorial Institute, agrees that art therapy "is not magic. It's one of several different approaches to help an individual solve his problems." But unlike other therapies, it provides the patient with a form of non-verbal communication. "It allows individuals to think within the media of imagery.... It tries to give them the chance to describe their feelings and problems in a different language.
Gregoire teaches in the art therapy program and supervises Concordia interns at the Allan, where approximately fifteen patients with neurological and emotional disorders are being treated by both staff and students.
As a practicing art therapist, he thinks his role is to provide patients with the tools for their recovery. "We all have the creative potential for thinking of problems and their solutions. I'm trying to say to the patient: 'I see you as someone with the potential for creativity. Together, we're going to try to channel it and let it emerge/
CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE