Art therapy is a phenomenal way to help inpatients at psychiatric units to explore themselves and reveal deep issues that they are not quite capable of expressing verbally. Not only is art therapy an excellent way for patients to externalise their traumas, but it is also a valuable tool for psychotherapists who can use this art as a window into the patient's psyche.
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Drawing and Painting
Provide canvas or drawing paper for each participant, along with crayons, coloured pencils, paint, paintbrushes or whatever art supplies feel most appropriate to the group. Give the participants the option to draw or paint whatever they choose. If a participant has trouble starting, help him come up with a concept. If he seems receptive, ask him about the paintings afterward to get a sense of whether the rendering is a metaphor for an important experience he is having.
Bring in a wide array of magazines, photos, catalogues and old books and set them out on a large table. Provide each participant with either a poster board or a large piece of cardboard, along with glue sticks and child-safe scissors (especially if any participants suffer from suicidal ideation or self-injurious behaviour). Tell the participants to use whatever pictures they want to and give them an hour or two to work on their collages. If it seems appropriate, have the participants talk about the collage at the end, or suggest that it be brought in to the patient's individual therapy session.
Provide a face mirror for every participant to see herself, along with a large piece of paper, pencil, charcoal and coloured pencils. Instruct the participants to use the entire sheet of paper and encourage them to just "go with it" if they make a mistake. When the portrait is done, help the participants to draw the connection between what they see in the mirror, what they see in the portrait and who they experience themselves to be. This method may be particularly helpful for patients with anorexia.
The mask is a powerful metaphor that can help patients come to terms with what they choose to show on the outside and what they shore up on the inside. Creating a mask can help to externalise repressed aspects of the self or facilitate letting go of a demeanour that is no longer serving the individual. Provide paper mache, beads, feathers, shells, paint, wire and any other materials that seem appropriate to the group you will be working with. Ask each patient what the mask may symbolise and who it would be useful to.
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