What exactly is Arts Therapy?

… and how do its benefits differ from the feel-good and personal growth that happens when attending arts classes? Coryse Borg speaks to five local arts therapists, currently serving as council of the Creative Arts Therapies Society Malta (CATS), to clear out the confusion that many have as regards when one would benefit from a specifically therapeutic process.
Lou Ghirlando graduated as a drama therapist from the University of Roehampton in 2012. Before that she was working as a social theatre practitioner and graduated with a theatre studies degree, as well as a Master’s Degree in Critical and Cultural Theory. She is also founding artistic director of Opening Doors – an arts organisation that provides opportunities for adults with diverse intellectual needs.

 In my sessions, I draw on different aspects of drama – stories, images, rhythm, movement work, enactments. The end here is not performance however, and unless there is a specific therapeutic need that could be addressed through performing in front of an audience, then the therapy takes place in a non-judgmental and confidential space between the therapist and client (or clients if it is a group session).

Drama therapy can be beneficial in different ways to people who may be coming for different reasons. Primarily, it is about growing in awareness and allowing for psychological and emotional support and change. This in turn can have an effect on social and physical dimensions of a person. It is a therapeutic process that uses creative and dramatic techniques to enhance well-being, to support people to develop their personal potential and for emotional and psychological healing. It supports people to connect more fully with themselves and others.

Since drama therapy is not reliant on the verbal medium, it therefore may offer “a form of psychological therapy” to children, adolescents and adults with intellectual disabilities who may not have access to verbal media and to children and adolescents experiencing selective mutism. It also works at what we call “aesthetic distance”, through metaphors that can feel safer to some people than talking directly about a difficulty, and that can also reveal aspects of ourselves that we might not know consciously.

Sarah Doublesin has been a dance and movement therapist for the past seven years, first in London and now in Malta. She holds a Master’s degree in Dance and Movement Therapy from the University of London and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Malta. She is currently reading for a Master’s in Psychotherapy.

Dance therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses various creative elements including movements and elements from dance, art, music, drama and the body to support us in therapy. Dance and movement therapy can be beneficial for everybody, however, we specialise in meeting the needs of people with mental health difficulties, the elderly, those with disabilities or emotional and behavioural issues as well as children, pre-schoolers and infants.

I believe that everyday movement, dance, art and the body gives us information about what is happening in our lives.

It is different to a dance lesson in that the relationship between the client and the therapist is of central importance and the aim is not to learn a particular style of dance or steps but to express thoughts and emotions through movement and connect with yourself and others. Most of our dance is improvised and the majority of my clients have never taken a dance class.

Apart from having all the benefits of physical activity, dance therapy may be used to facilitate self-development, work through and express difficult emotions, develop genuine communication and interact with others on a deeper level. With younger populations it can help to develop self-esteem and autonomy, improve attention and concentration, facilitate coordination and gross motor skills, increase empathy and most importantly augment our capacity to work cooperatively and in synchrony with others and to communicate with others.
Joseph Tanti came across psychology in 2003 and pursued his B.Psy Hons until 2007. In 2007 he read for a PGCE in personal and social development (PSD) and in 2008 he started working as a senior lecturer in psychology at MCAST. In 2012 he enrolled in an MA in Drama therapy in Roehampton and he graduated as a drama therapist in 2015.

I feel that drama therapy can offer a “safe place and space” for anyone who would like to look into themselves and their lives and what they may be going through without any forceful approach.
In Malta, so far, we address arts therapies as four: Art Therapy/Art Psychotherapy; Drama therapy, Music Therapy and Dance Movement Psychotherapy. As drama therapists we use anything that comes handy (from objects, to clothing, stories, cushions and so on) and use them to help the client dramatise a moment they choose to work with.

In an arts lesson, the aim is to learn something from the arts technique, such as voice projection and acting techniques in drama classes, whereas in drama therapy the drama therapist’s aim is to offer a therapeutic process. The client gets to decide whether to accept or deny it, giving them that element of choice throughout the whole process. The main difference is in the intention before, during and after the session.

Noelle Camilleri is a registered Art Psychotherapist. After graduating from the University of Malta, she went on to work with people with learning and physical difficulties. She subsequently studied for an MA in Art Therapy in the UK. Since her return to Malta she has been working within the National Mental Health Services and also offers psychological support and psychotherapy in a psychiatric inpatient setting and community mental health centres.

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. It provides a safe space where people are encouraged to express their emotions freely through painting, drawing or modeling. The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help people to resolve issues, as well as develop and manage their behaviour and feelings, reduce stress and improve self-esteem and awareness.

In therapy, my desire is to provide supportive opportunities for personal growth, increased well-being and healing through the use of the creative process.

Within this context, art is not used as a diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing and distressing. It is suitable for people of all ages and you do not need to be good at art-making to be able to engage in art therapy. One of the main differences between art therapy and other forms of psychotherapy is that it does not necessitate the use of words or language and can benefit people who struggle to express feelings using words.

Both children and adults can engage in art therapy. It can be especially beneficial for people who struggle to express their feelings using words and would like to explore their emotions creatively.

Dorothy Singh is a trainee drama therapist who graduated from the University of Malta with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies, followed by a PGCE. She is an educator and also led a community theatre group which focused on social problems.

Through my experience with my students I became a witness of the power of drama for growth, self-help and transformation. Drama is not only fun, but a means of expression, where you can voice your concerns, even under the guise of pretence, and you will be seen! Acting helps you “to act”; to take action.

Drama therapy uses the tools of drama for therapeutic aims. We use our body, voice, our selves, costumes, play, props, stories, ritual, games, the space, instruments, poetry and scripts, music, clay and sand. We use imagination and metaphor to describe what often we find hard to verbalise.

The main objective of drama therapy is self-discovery and healing. It is for anyone who wants to learn more about themselves or needing help with an overwhelming life situation. It is particularly useful to people with dementia or autism as it uses a variety of techniques not always necessitating speech. Children and young people too love the imaginative play, games and physical aspect it involves.

For more information on the Arts Therapies send an email on: info@catsmalta.org

Article by Coryse Borg as appeared on the Malta Independent on Sunday, 20th August, 2017.

Image shows a drama development workshop for educators, facilitated by Lou Ghirlando and organised by Joanna and Julian Sant Fournier for the Relationships are Forever Foundation and their Friendship Cards programme.

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