Last year I completed my Masters in Therapeutic Arts Practice. I undertook a year long placement in community arts and health, gathering experiences in a variety of contexts.
I taught a group of artists how to eco-print and together we created many works and shared them in an exhibition. I co-facilitated a retreat day exploring the Hero's Journey. I provided administrative support in creating a conference. I facilitated an arts inquiry process, leading to a community arts project. I companioned individual clients as they explored their inner life and creative process.
During the placement, I came to clearly see my core values as a practitioner of creative arts therapies:
In the creative process, often we cannot know how something will be born, what shape it will take, or what we will experience in the making. This 'beginning in the unknown' offers such rich possibility. We can set an intention, and move from there, bearing witness to what emerges. We trust and allow the process to unfold in its own way, sometimes surprised by what is revealed.
Throughout the placement, we engaged with the arts to inquire into particular themes. The process and emerging forms offered new knowings. As a researcher, this is deeply nourishing. I now carry this value into sessions with individual clients. Bringing an attitude of openness and curiosity, we can explore our lived experience and find resonant meanings and new perspectives. How we respond to art materials or art works might show us long-held pattern, or a new way of being in our lives.
I have worked with different materials and modalities throughout my life, finding myself drawn to particular tools at different times. Some art therapists have researched the particular qualities of different modalities, describing what each can offer in the therapeutic space. Working multi-modally allows this to occur organically. We are simply drawn to work with string and paint, or clay, or to move spontaneously while sounding. Sometimes it feels challenging to work with a modality and we discover parts of ourselves that have been hidden. Sometimes a modality can be the perfect thing to express a feeling that we've been unable to verbalise.
At the core of therapeutic engagement is relationship. In arts therapies, we are present to the relationship we have with materials, the artworks, the process of creating, and our therapeutic companion. As a therapeutic arts practitioner it is my aim to be present with you, attending to your process and to my own inner responses, offering reflections and asking questions when that is in support to you. It is in therapeutic relationship that we learn to navigate dissonance, to experience rupture and repair, and to develop self-compassion.
The placement helped to clarify these values. They are not all the values that inform my work, but some of the most important. What values do you carry in your life and work?
Yesterday, I went to see an arts therapist. I'd noticed I was feeling a little stuck in a few areas and wanted a space in which to explore that stuckness. I could have made art alone, but felt that there would be new possibility and richness in the therapeutic relationship. I also could have seen a counselor, but know the value of the arts in the therapeutic space.
I've seen a number of therapists and practitioners over the years. Since my first counseling course at the age of 21, I've valued the therapeutic space and what it offers. I've seen (and learned a lot from!) a range of different practitioners - counselors, somatic therapists, somatic experiencing practitioners, process oriented psychologists, and arts therapists to name a few.
In the session yesterday, I opened with a verbal overview of what was happening for me. Then, when I felt the impulse, I moved into making art. I chose a piece of cardboard and began with charcoal, creating some distinct forms, and filling them with water colour paints. As the visual forms emerged, I continued to reflect on the scenario of stuckness, tuning into a particular felt sense that was present; a heavy sense of responsibility. I continued to work on the image, and through the questions and noticing of my companion, came to see new possibilities.
The image, or the art artwork, in arts therapies offers so much. Beyond what the mind knows consciously, and beyond the verbal, the art works offer different ways of knowing. As I create, I pay attention to the process and to what stands out for me, finding new metaphors and resonant meanings.
I left the session feeling brighter in the possibilities, and the heaviness I'd been experiencing had lifted. I was able to consider clear actions that would help me to move through the stuckness, and to realise that it is perfectly fine to dip my toes, or perhaps a little more of my foot, into the waters.
I am grateful to my companion for the session, for her reflections and questions, and the way she stayed with me through my process. I am also grateful to the image that emerged, for what it offered in the process of creation and its final form.
For me, the value of arts therapies is the emergent knowing, beyond mind, revealed both in the artwork and the context of relationship.
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.