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  • Writer's pictureAmy Godfrey

Art As Therapy

As I write this, it is the last day of January 2024.

Typically the month most associated with feeling down and tired. How has yours been? Certainly it has felt especially long for me and those I've spoken to.

 

I'm of the opinion that humans are supposed to engage in Wintering.


If you've not heard of this, it is allowing yourself during the Winter months to live life - as much as you can - at a slower pace. To allow plenty of space for rest, quiet and reflection. Particularly in January. The Christmas season is so fast-paced and demanding of our time and energy that I think we benefit from slowing down in the following weeks. Sometimes if we don't allow time for significant rest our bodies will make us by giving us an illness of some kind. I don't know about you but most of my friends and family have been poorly this Winter.

We must listen to our bodies. They talk to us all the time.

 

Do you know who are usually brilliant at listening to their body?

Autistic people.

They are often hyper-aware of their bodily sensations and sensitive to their needs. I've written about stimming in many of my posts so do go check out those if you're unsure, but stimming is a very common way that Autistic people (and all of us to some degree) regulate our bodies to feel better.


Our Maximus - Eldest Sonshine.

He has always been so in-tune with his body and its needs.

If he needs to rest due to illness, injury or tiredness he will rest.

I've sometimes given him rest days home from school because he's said to me in the morning "no school Max, tired Max, bed Max." And I trust him that that is what he needs. Thankfully his amazing school is very understanding and trusts me and him as well and they support my choice to go with what Max tells me he needs. Making him go to school on days he doesn't feel able would be both unproductive and unkind. In recent years he's had very, very few days off school - he's had none so far since September - but Max knows that I trust him to know what he is capable of each day.

 

On those days he's not felt able to be at school very often he asks to paint.



Sonshine Art has always been a lot about emotional regulation - for all of us - and the majority of Max (Eldest Sonshine)'s paintings are examples of art therapy.


Painting is an active meditation.

Through the act of painting energy moves; it becomes unstuck and it's so fascinating and beautiful to watch how the tension that's built up in my son starts to soften and shift and melt away during the act of painting.

Sometimes it happens within a few minutes and sometimes it takes till the last few strokes of the painting, but every time he's begun stressed, tense, angry, in pain or lethargic, unmotivated or sad, this art therapy improves his mental and emotional state and consequently his body as well.


Painting is a sensory therapy.

The tactile sensory input of holding and spreading the brush/the scraper through the paint over canvas.

The auditory sensory input of the paint in the pots as he mixes them, the sound of the scraper, tearing the masking tape off at the end is one of his favourites.

And of course the visual input of watching all that wonderful creativity unfold and change and rebuild over and over through all his layers of expression.


Max is not really interested in his paintings once he's finished them. He poses proudly with his artwork for the photo I take of him, names it and then lets it go.

Painting really is about the process for him. He's not precious with any of it. I've written before about how for a long time when I watched him paint I would be sad when he'd paint over certain marks or shapes or blends of colour he'd created before on the canvas. I'd grieve for those parts I felt were so beautiful.

But Max recognises them for what they are; just a piece of his therapeutic puzzle.


The results of this wondrous activity are glorious and I share them because there are many people who want the paintings in their homes or offices to bring them joy each day. But even if the paintings by the end were not typical works of popular, 'sellable' art, I would absolutely still encourage and support my son to do it, because it is transformational for him.

I believe it has the potential to be so for everyone who goes into it with an open heart.


Many people have assumed (or asked me) if I am an art therapist.

I am not; I have no qualifications as an art therapist.

I have however read a lot about art therapy and it has definitely informed my parenting choices with our children - and indeed myself!

 

Pain is held in the body; physical of course, but also mental and emotional pain. If we have unresolved mental and emotional pain it is stored in our body and will eventually lead to physical manifestations of pain, illness or fatigue.

 

Pain is an energy that needs to move and creativity is a really powerful way to allow that to happen.

As you've read this far, chances are you're interested in art as therapy.

Am I right?

 

Have you ever given yourself the opportunity to be creative for your own sake? With no end purpose other than to maybe make yourself feel better?

 

Recently I've been reading about Guided Drawing as a tool for art therapy and it's really interesting. Essentially it's an opportunity to let some healing happen by moving stuck energy through moving marks across a page.


If you're physically able to, you use both hands at the same time in order to connect the two sides of the brain. Often music is played to stimulate memory and emotion and your eyes stay closed (unless that feels unsafe, in which case a soft gaze is good enough) as the exercise is not about creating beautiful marks, but about allowing the body to express through the mark making.


Sometimes the page is covered in swirls, waves and circles, sometimes hard, sharp lines, sometimes full of cathartic scribbling.

The results I've read about have been incredible.

Healing can really happen this way.

It has for me.





 

These pictures above are of a drawing therapy session I gifted myself. It's so simple - just put on some music you find soothing or stimulating (whichever you feel you need) pop a pen or pencil in each hand (if you're able) and draw with both hands at once guided by the sounds you hear. Keep your eyes closed if it's comfortable for you. It doesn't matter what it looks like, it's just about letting the marks flow from your hands. Begin with no expectations and stop when you feel you want to. It doesn't have to be a whole piece of music. It's doesn't need to be continuous line either, that's just my go-to as many of you will know. By the end of this half hour session (and since!) I was so relaxed and soothed. It didn't help me come to any eureka realisations, it just shifted some stuck energy for me and brought me back to balance.


I'm going to be offering some more suggestions for creativity as therapy for absolute beginners soon.

Watch this space.


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