Drawing on art for therapy Irish Times Article Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ed Kuczaj, head of art therapy and adult education at the CIT Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/ProVision

MICHELLE McDONAGH

Art therapists use creativity to help people express suppressed feelings

ART THERAPY is related to and draws from psychology, psychotherapy and counselling, but with art as the main form of therapeutic intervention. With an estimated 200 art therapists now working in Ireland, it’s a growing field, but the profession is still struggling to gain official recognition in this country.

Chairwoman of the Irish Association of Creative Art Therapists (IACAT), Suzie Cahn explains that art therapy is used to help people express their feelings where there is intense emotion, for example in rape victims, the dying or the bereaved. It also has a reparative, rehabilitative function in the area of disability.

Art therapy is also being used in education, particularly in children with behavioural problems and early school leavers. Half of the country’s art therapists are now working in the area of education, while the rest are working in health.

Cahn says: “Clients say art therapy works when words are not enough. If a person is dealing with a trauma, terminal illness or death, words are sometimes not enough to express how they feel, so they keep their feelings in.

“Art therapists are trained to create a safe space where creativity can be used in a healing way by tapping into the right brain capacity of the human. A lot of education and the Western model of living uses the left brain, but when somebody comes across a trauma in their lives, they may be stuck.

“In some instances, verbal therapy, which is left brain, may not access enough personal resources for them to get unstuck – but going into their creative resources and untapped potential can help them get unstuck.”

Cahn points out that art therapists have to train in the principles of psychotherapy, so they have a good understanding of mental illness diagnoses and the importance of the choice of materials they use; for example it would be inappropriate to use garish bright colours with a client in the manic phase of bipolar disorder.

She explains that the process in art therapy is much more the focus of the therapy, rather than the product. The art produced during an art therapy session does not have any aesthetic value, it’s the creative process that’s important.

Although art therapy began in the US in the 1930s and the UK in the 1950s, art therapy education only started in Ireland in the 1990s when the Crawford College of Art and Design introduced it in Cork. Cahn was the keynote speaker at Crawford’s annual summer school in art therapy, which took place over the weekend.

Art therapists in Ireland are currently working in a variety of areas including mental health, sexual abuse, hospice, disability and education, and the profession is growing all the time.

Our Lady’s Hospice at Harold’s Cross was one of the first in the State to provide an art therapy service, and there are also services at St John Of God’s in Dublin, Millford Hospice in Limerick and other facilities and centres around the country.

Cahn tells HealthPlus: “We have been practising as art therapists in Ireland, but our pay scales and conditions are all different – it’s a total mish-mash. Service provision is haphazard and isolated.

“We have been pushing to be recognised as a health profession for the past 15 years and have been in negotiations for two years with the HSE preparing our business case. Our application is now with the Department of Health – we hope to get official recognition later this year.”

Head of art therapy and adult education at the CIT Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork, Ed Kuczaj explains that the college pioneered art therapy training in Ireland through its summer school, which started 18 years ago.

The Art Therapy Foundation Certificate was followed in 1998 by a postgraduate diploma in art therapy and in 2006, this was replaced by the first taught MA in art therapy in this country. Prior to 1998, students who wanted to train in art therapy had to go to the UK, Europe or the US.

“Two-thirds of our graduates are working as art therapists, from full time to sessional work. Sometimes people choose to balance art therapy and their work as artists. A lot of students get work from their clinical placements. Most people who do the course have a background in art, whether it’s fine art, sculpture, painting or graphic design. Others come from backgrounds in psychotherapy, counselling, teaching, nursing and social work,” says Kuczaj.

• For further information on art therapy, or to find a therapist in your area, see www.iacat.ie  e-mail: info@iacat.ie or tel: 087-992 1746. The Association also encompasses the creative therapies of drama, music and dance.

© 2008 The Irish Times

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

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