The Romantic movement of the 19th century introduced the idea that mental illness allows an individual access to possible artistic genius. Art therapy uses art in combination with talk therapy to help people who have mental illness. Whether a therapist uses a simple drawing project or a complex craft, art is a means of healing.
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Painting and Drawing
Traditional painting and drawing is a simple means of connecting with a mentally ill patient. Since 1801 and the publication of Philippe Pinel's "Medical Treatise on Mental Disorder or Mania," the connection between great artistic vision and insanity has fascinated psychologists. With the advent of the art therapy profession, a psychiatrist introduces art to a mentally ill patient to support the process of healing, not in hopes of unlocking genius. An art therapist asks the patient to draw or paint an image. This image could be a key to a patient's mental state or help the patient concentrate. This is important because the concentration required for an art project gives a patient the mental focus to communicate other thoughts and ideas.
The therapist uses common art supplies, such as a pencil, charcoal and paints. Non-toxic, washable paints are best for patients prone to violence and for children. A patient can use brushes or his hands to create images on paper. An adult patient can also keep a sketchbook on hand to capture images throughout the day.
Crafts with Reused Materials
A craft project harnesses creativity and provides an activity for a group of patients. Old magazines and newspapers can become striking bouquets built by a group of patients. Two pages of a magazine, printed with colourful ads, make up the petals of a flower. The pages are folded horizontally in small sections; this is called accordion folding. They are then folded in half and glued to each other along the final fold. The end product is a circle shape resembling a flower. A small, flat circle is cut out of a another magazine page and glued into the centre of the accordion circle to complete the effect. A bunch of these flowers are glued to a length of paper or assembled into a bouquet.
The newspaper can be gathered by cutting out a section and holding the centre of the paper in your fist while the top sprouts from the top of your hand. The portion of paper in your hand is secured with a piece of string or tape. Newspaper flowers are particularly good for bouquets, because the bouquet arrangement hides any unattractive secured ends.
Any type of clean garbage, or garbage that doesn't contain food or rotting products, can be used to as a craft. For example, collages using reused material, such as images from magazines, are a simple craft that allows the patient to express her individual interpretation of the world.
Crafts for Children
Finger painting gives a child the ability to use his body and imagination. It doesn't require any supplies beyond a large sheet of paper and some paint -- but it's messy, so a dust sheet and apron are a good idea. A therapist can use the activity to instruct the child in motor control as well as creative expression. This is a good combination when working with a mentally ill child whose illness has an effect on motor skills.
Children who are old enough to know how to write benefit from the study of poetry and storytelling. Creating a fictional character that overcomes trials using problem-solving skills helps a child unravel her own hardship.
The performing arts, particularly theatre, is an outlet for self-expression that helps people with mild and severe mental illness. The theatre uses the concentrated efforts of body, intellect and emotion to tell a story. Often these stories are exaggerated forms of reality. Both the act of performing and the creation of the story require a patient's complete attention while providing an avenue for emotional release. The therapist asks a patient to step into the shoes of a character and solve a problem; this gives him the tools to face his own issues.
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