I have found that using the mandala, especially with those resistant to the art-making process, can be very soothing and healing. There are several ways to "warm up" to the creative expression, as a blank piece of paper can sometimes feel daunting and uncomfortable.
Some major art therapy myths to tackle for the resistant client include:
- I must be “good” at art in order to create art
- If my art is not “good”, then I will be judged and rejected
- Art is for children, not adults
- Art has no value for my mental and physical health
1. I find that so many adults have the initial reaction of hesitation when presented with the concept of art-making because they are consumed by the idea of meeting expectations of what art ‘should’ look like—approaching their art with a desire to create a visually appealing masterpiece. Their inclination is then to avoid this because there is too much pressure. It becomes too confrontational and easier to decline as they may lack technical skill in using various art materials and feel that their ability is lacking.
Therefore, I implement some initial structured activities that allow for concrete, clear ways to start the process while inviting playful/child-like expression, movement and experimentation with materials—which have proven to be a successful divergence from the dooming ‘end-result’ focus.
2. Whether in an individual or group structure, it is important that the environment feels comfortable, secure and welcoming for self-expression, regardless of content (verbal, physical, art, drama, play, etc.). I find that it is important to establish a foundation of trust and honesty along with clear expectations and rules so that individuals can feel comfortable engaging without concern of negative, disrespectful feedback or judgment.
I attempt to do so by collaboratively discussing these guidelines (if in an on-going group) initially while continuously reminding clients that art-making is less about the end product, but more about the process.
3. As adults, we tend to lose sight of the ‘in-the-moment’, uncensored, novel and curious approach that we had as children. The routines, pressures and stresses of every day life become all too consuming. What better way to access our inner child—the carefree, spontaneous and exciting realm of our own being—than to engage in creative expression. Art-making does not require the restriction of words, the pre-planned or the censoring.
Typically, the introductory activities I use will introduce something rudimentary to allow clients to return to this youthful stage. For instance, I may have them trace their hands, use crayons or incorporate animal-like movements in their drawing/painting technique. It may feel silly at first, but it ends up being a great ice-breaker while alleviating the pressure of creating acceptable, adult-like art.
4. As an art therapist, I have found the intrinsic value of art-making to be all-encompassing and extremely valuable. I sometimes will provide clients with informative resources, studies, articles or lists of benefits to demonstrate this. However, it is really up to the client what value they get from the experience.
With an open mind and an open heart, art-making can be a nourishing experience that brings about self-awareness, insight and change. It can also simply be relaxing, restorative and rejuvenating. Everyone has their own experience and I invite others to find words to describe their unique appreciation of art-making.
Overall, I have found that art gives you a chance to communicate in an understandable, creative way and to learn about others. It is less confrontational than verbal expression, where one must consciously consider their experience and find the words to express it. Art also allows you to focus on your sensory experience in the here-and-now. Art Therapy gives you the opportunity to experiment with various materials and try something new. It also provides individuals with the freedom to choose their own way of creating and experiencing.