Sun | Oct 21, 2018

Art therapy and mental illness

Published:Monday | November 20, 2017 | 12:00 AMRocheda Bartley

Has anyone told you there is no way you can survive on Earth without art? Through art, we can express ourselves, bring forth change and inspire others. Art is powerful, and even more so when it is used to heal. Art therapy, and no, not art class, is a fairly new profession in Jamaica and a significant tool in combating mental illness. Leslie- Ann Belnavis, the only known certified art therapist in Jamaica, spoke with Flair about the benefits of art therapy.

"Art therapy is a mental-health profession that combines art and psychology. It must be conducted by trained professionals at the masters level. It uses visual art as a form to express, cope with and manage emotions," Belnavis explained.

Art therapy is a unique form of healing. Belnavis says the key element that sets art therapy apart from all other forms of therapy is the use of visual arts. This includes drawing, painting, sculptures, and photography. This means you are not required to talk about the problems, instead you express it through "visual communication".

It does not matter if you are gifted with an admirable artistic ability or if you can only doodle on a piece of paper, the aim is to soothe your emotions, and more important, to release tension and pain.

"Art therapy treatment plans and goal directives (activities)are designed for each person. Also, the materials all have different natures and qualities that express different emotions," she explained.




"Art therapy helps you to address things that are going on in your life and even things you did not know were going on. Also, the art forms become a reflective tool," Belnavis said.

This dynamic healing strategy can also help you to identify the trigger factors of all sorts that can cause a distortion in your mental health.

"There are strengths in art therapy to help process traumatic experiences, and the benefit of the psychological aspect would be to focus on identifying stress triggers and identifying ways to cope," she told Flair.

From here, you will be guided to identify relaxation techniques that can be done, using art materials to help you cope in times of distress. Using water paint or paint in general, tactile materials such as clay and clay dough, and an art therapy journal reviewed by the trainer are paramount to your healing process.

At some point in your life you will, and must, have suffered from low self-esteem. It is common, especially among persons with disabilities. Art therapy is a great remedy for boosting self-esteem. In doing so, art therapy helps one to have a greater appreciation of life. On the psychological aspect of art therapy discussions are held to during therapeutic process. In her experience as an art therapist, Belnavis tells how she has witnessed art therapy boost her clients' self-esteem by building their confidence.

"You cannot measure self-esteem, but you can observe a change in confidence in their body language and speech," she said.