Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Art - Recreation or Therapy?

Published:Sunday | August 7, 2016 | 12:00 AMJody-Anne Lawrence
Lesli-Ann Belnavis conducting an art therapy class.
One of Belnavis' clients participating in an art therapy session.

So often we hear that we need a bit of art therapy when we feel a bit stressed and need to unwind.

Lesli-Ann Belnavis, is a registered art therapist who believes that the term has been used very loosely when it comes to art therapy.

"Art Therapy is, in fact, a mental-health profession that marries both art and psychology, and uses visual art techniques (e.g., drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography) to help persons address, reflect on, and resolve situations that may be difficult. These difficult situations vary from being diagnosed with a developmental or physical disability like autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy or being blind. (It is also used in) coping with stress and/or anxiety related to school, work or other daily stressors) and even dealing with grief or loss or a traumatic experience, behavioural issues, dealing with a critical illnesses psychological issues or developmental conditions like Alzheimer's disease," she explains.




There is a medicine behind the materials that the individual works with as it relates to their particular illness. "The nature of the art materials have therapeutic qualities in that they evoke different reactions and emotions in patients. An art therapist is required to be trained at the master's-degree level, and has the capacity to work with any age group and in different settings - schools, prisons, hospitals, community centres, private practise, and the list goes on," Belnavis adds.

She recognises that with the craze for adult colouring book and sip-and-paint, many people seem to loosely tie them with art therapy. However, one must be cautious with this definition. Belnavis does believe that they have their place, and does serve their purpose, but they are not the same thing. She notes that the sip-and-paint activities, for example, allows participants to make a painting where they provide an example that they replicate and sip on a glass of wine as a bonus. This is, in essence, an informal art class where participants are shown a technique and in turn create it on their own like students.

The adult colouring books allow adults to colour within books that have pages with pre-made images that they are encouraged to complete in their own time as a form of release from focusing on daily life stressors. While both these activities are important and incorporate aspects of art and creativity, they are temporary fixes and don't involve the clinical and psychological components involved in the art therapy process. Thus, it cannot replace clinical help if the individual requires it.

The role of an art therapist involves gaining biological, developmental, psychological, social, and environmental history about their client and assessing their response to the art process and art materials. Belnavis notes that not everyone may find this to be a useful form of therapy based on the issues and concerns they want to work on within themselves. Once assessed, the art therapist establishes treatment goals and plan and design art-therapy activities that would help in identifying the issues facing the client. Typically, once treatment goals have been met, then preparation is done with the client for the therapy to end.

Lesli-Ann Belnavis, MS, ATR is a registered art therapist with the American Art Therapy Association (AATA).