Art provides a universal realm. Amongst the numerous benefits art offers stands the ability to heal, something art therapist Susan Goodman discusses during a recent interview with The Mobility Resource. Goodman works at the Long Island Head Injury Association and runs her own private practice. Over her career she has enjoyed counseling people with traumatic brain injuries, autism, developmental disabilities, recovering drug addicts and so forth.
What is Art Therapy?
Asked how she describes art therapy to those unfamiliar with the field Goodman said, “It’s using your creativity to really learn and gain a great deal about yourself, the positive aspects of yourself and the negative aspects of yourself. Really, learning how to fall in love with yourself I would say.”
She adds, “People think of therapy and they think of an undoing, but to me therapy is really about gaining rather than losing.” The art element can make individuals hesitant to try art therapy yet Goodman does her best to expose the fallacies behind such sentiments. “I try to make them understand you are not going to fail. I think people are afraid of failing because they think they have to be a good artist. I tell them it’s not about the actual product so much as is what the process is and what it means to you.”
Building a Healing Environment
Environment proves essential to enabling art therapy’s healing power. Goodman specifically names two critical factors, safety and trust. “I make it (my room) a very safe place. I build trust before. That’s the first thing you have to do in the therapeutic relationship is trust and safety, creating that kind of an environment.”
Trust and safety requires a judgment-free atmosphere. For instance Goodman says, “If you want to make a purple tree with pink radishes that says something about you. Then we look at that tree in hindsight and say ‘What is it about this tree? Or, what do you think the pink says about you? Or, why purple?’ You ask questions to the person that’s drawing it and there is no right or wrong.”
Judgment-free atmospheres embrace all emotions, positive and negative. “They need to feel whatever they need to be feeling in their heads. I don’t want to say ‘feel good’ because that’s another judgment word. Maybe they need to be feeling their anger and feel safe and supported in feeling their anger.”
Expression Through Art
Through art therapy a person can productively express emotions like anger and frustration. Citing an example Goodman says, “People who can’t maneuver scissors, we have them rip it (the materials). We have them rip at the artwork and that gives them a whole different feel. The process of just ripping it, you can rip out some of the frustration that you might feel. Or, hostility some of that.”
Learn more about art therapy by visiting the American Art Therapy Association website, www.arttherapy.org.
Accompanying images come from Head Injury Association’s 2013 Art Therapy Calendar, available online at http://www.lihia.org/estore.html.