Stuck. That’s my favorite word to use when describing depression. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re inherently faulty in some way, but I really believe this just isn’t true. Sure, depression can result from a chemical imbalance sometimes, but it can also be situational and even learned. If you haven’t been given the tools for change, is it your fault you haven’t used them? Regardless of the source, there are always ways to work with depression, and art therapy is my favorite approach. Let me share some reasons why.
For one, art therapy is a doing therapy. You engage with the materials…paints, pastels, collage, etc and immediately the depression cloud starts to shift. I’m not saying it goes away that quickly, but there is a physiological change, however nuanced. Challenging yourself with different art materials creates a pathway to problem solving and doing things differently. It takes nails out of the door that’s been sealed shut for so long. It changes “I can’t” to “maybe I can.” Of course self-judgment thoughts can get in the way which is why working with an art therapist is different than creating art on your own. We only need to look to someone like Vincent Van Gogh to see that art making in and of itself may not be enough to get you to a place of wellness. Working with an art therapist is about connection. It’s about allowing yourself to be seen and understood. It’s about opening up to other possibilities that you haven’t thought of on your own. It’s about finding ways to connect with inner resources you didn’t know you had. Art therapy offers this experience in so many subtle and even playful ways that I find talk therapy may not be able to get to alone.
Art therapy is not only transformative, but it also allows you to create space for what is. Maybe it’s important to see and recognize the struggle that’s there and art making can allow you to do that too. Sometimes we need to experience our emotions and give ourselves a chance to just be with the sadness, pain, regret, guilt, loss, etc and fully sit with them until they’re ready to be put away, even temporarily. There’s nothing more powerful than being able to create an image that truly reflects the way you feel. Creating images about your experience in the world allows you to study them and gain a better understanding of the stories we’ve created; to find the truths in them as well as the myths and imagine a better outcome. Art therapy is vibrant and energetic; it’s insightful and cathartic. It allows you to see the joy and happiness that you might find hard to believe are there. Art therapy finds and builds upon your inherent strengths and provides you with new tools to create the life you wish to live and love as you move forward. So yes, art therapy is a great way to improve your mood. But there’s also so much more. Maybe it can even give you a sense of accomplishment.
Copyright 2017 © Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.
Rachel Braun, ATR-BC Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA
Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.