by Sayuli Bhide
For a person going through an illness or recovering from trauma, the process of healing can be long and tedious. However, is hospitalization the only way to combat illness? Art therapists may argue otherwise.
Art therapy, a branch of occupational therapy that has existed since the mid-1900s, is now becoming a more popularly employed supplemental treatment for patients. Art therapy has been used to help those suffering from mental illnesses as well as from cancer, HIV, or even high levels of stress. It is often used in tandem with other methods such as psychotherapy.
After observing the natural inclination of some psychologicallydisturbed patients to turn to drawings and other creations of art in order to relieve their tension, art therapy began to be incorporated into more treatment programs. Several forms of art therapy are used, encouraging the patients to focus on mental pictures of their experiences and imaginations. The process of venting those experiences through artistic representations is meant to relax the mind and promote general well-being.
The American Art Therapy Association now includes over 5,000 members worldwide who are involved in helping people improve their physical and emotional and health through forms of art, such as drawing, painting, and sculpting.
Although USC does not offer a degree in Art Therapy, students interested in becoming art therapists can obtain a master of arts in occupational therapy.
“Art therapy is one of the treatment methods that occupational therapists practice,” said Kimberly Kelton, Marketing Manager at USC’s Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. “It is often incorporated into treatment plans for patients – not on its own but in addition to other modes of therapy. It’s a really neat form of therapy that can impact people.”
Alternatively, there are a variety of opportunities for USC students, including undergraduates, to get involved in art therapy. One such opportunity is A Window Between Worlds, an organization that specifically performs art therapy. This semester, Shefali Deshpande, a sophomore undergraduate at USC, worked with the organization. Centered in Venice, A Window Between Worlds runs several programs that promote values such as women’s rights and empowerment.
“A lot of times when you think of singing and dancing, you think of it as a form of expression and as an outlet, but a lot of people don’t know that art can be a really good way to help get your emotions out” says Deshpande. “This year their theme was ‘Lending a Helping Hand’ and they traveled across the country bringing art therapy to people who had been abused. People got to paint their hands and stand up against domestic abuse and rape. It’s just a really effective way to let your emotions out and express yourself.”
Another program, Community Outreach through the Development of Arts (CODA) is run by the Joint Educational Project at USC. CODA offers students the opportunity to volunteer at the Good Shephard Shelter, where they work with women and children who have experienced abuse and trauma. Some volunteers work with children on art projects in order to help them heal.
As an increasing number of people get involved, art therapy continues to help people going through unfortunate circumstances get to a healthier state.