Last week was ‘Mental Health Week’ in Australia and it got me thinking… if we now have a week dedicated to it… I think its time we all admit – everyone needs help from time to time, there is no such thing as normal, everybody could be classified as dysfunctional in some way and… lets get real – it’s a tough, crazy, ever-demanding world out there and we are only human!!

Watch your inner reaction as you read the list of therapies I have been to over the years (in no particular order): psychology, counseling, art therapy, reiki, bowen therapy, kinesiology, chiropractic, osteopathy, embodiment coaching, naturopathy, shamanic therapy, womb massage therapy, numerous varying and sometimes wild workshops… and probably much more!!

How was your reaction to all of the therapy I’ve been to… all of the ‘out-sourcing’ for my problems that I’ve done?? Did you notice your thoughts? Did you praise me for looking after myself, for prioritizing myself, for making my inner journey the number one thing in my life? Or did you notice the habituated response most of us have? (truth be, I even have that response myself when I see my list!)

Selfish, self-centred, self-obsessed, perhaps I need to ‘get a life’. Maybe I’m handing it all over for someone else to ‘fix’ because I can’t do it myself – I’m not good enough, clever enough, resilient enough, I’m not enough enough. Sadly, most of us have been raised in our culture, to believe these things about others who seek help… or really, about ourselves if we seek help. Add to that, the stigma that people who need therapy are ‘failing’, ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘not normal’… or perhaps ‘intense’, ‘over-sensitive’, ‘pre-occupied’ and ‘need help’.

We all have our own struggle. Our experiences and how we experience them are uniquely our own. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and there is nothing wrong with reaching out to another equally ‘experiencing’ human. A human who is trained to listen objectively and to notice the finer nuances in our stories that we ourselves miss when we are in the middle of our own mess.

Putting ourselves as number one and prioritizing our self-care before anybody else results in our cup being full. Or a little more full than what it was. Which means we are better equipped to deal with life, to handle the craziness of the world out there… and overall to know ourselves better. When we know and have an intimate relationship with ourselves – we feel more content and more settled. Symptoms of anxiety and depression dissipate. We become more present. Our relationships improve. Our work-family balance becomes more… balanced. We look less to the outside world for gratification or a ‘pick me up’. We become accustomed to finding what we need within.

I’m in my sixth year as an art therapist and over the years I’ve tried using different terms so that my audience is not put off by the words ‘art’ or ‘therapy’. I’ve tried calling it expressive art, creative expression, intuitive art, art journaling… but its all the same thing. We can call it anything, the fact is, when you attend an individual session with that ‘other, equally experiencing human’ (that human is what we know as a ‘therapist’), magical things happen.

I believe one of the reasons I’ve had to so carefully choose my words, is because ‘we’ as a society, don’t like to admit we go to, or even need, therapy! Remember (in our society), if you go to therapy, you are somehow ‘failing at life’… while our best friend, our neighbor or our sibling has been sneaking off to have therapy. God help us if we are at a party and we should happen to mention we are a therapist… suddenly we find ourselves standing alone.

Most of my friends know that I have always been on a mission for self-discovery. But even with all of my training, in the early days, I would keep quiet if I, myself, had been to therapy!! Imagine a world where we are all doing more of this self-care thing and we are unafraid to tell others about it. It can only lead to a more settled and contented world. And… if you choose art therapy – a more colourful and creative world (probably with a fair bit of glitter sprinkled about)!

So, why ‘art therapy’? … Well, its all in the label:

Perhaps I should call it – “feel good exploring where you’re at in life, using art materials, playing about with no expectation, whilst chatting with another human who is really understanding and helps guide you to your own answer”.

Or I could call it – “taking time out from your crazy life to play around with art materials, finally getting out of your head and actually feeling sensations in your body which you haven’t felt for a long time, all while feeling really understood by another human”.

Or – “gently exploring a problem, using art materials… but you barely have to talk about the problem if you don’t feel like it, you don’t have to make any amazing art piece either and it all feels really safe and supportive”.

In an art therapy session, you are not expected to produce some amazing artwork that is gallery worthy. In fact you may not even produce what our society would even call ‘art’. It may be a collection of marks or scribbles. It may be a very childish image that you initially feel embarrassed by because you judge that it looks like something a preschooler would produce!

However the image you create is actually a pathway for your subconscious to communicate through. Much like dreams, your subconscious speaks to you in its unique language – your unique language. It is the therapist’s role to guide you to discover what the language is, what the message is and what the wisdom is that is contained within your body. The therapist helps guide you into contact with your body and the sensations that are there. When we work with the subconscious and our body, we discover the magic. This is where the most profound healing can occur.

Art therapy is no ‘talk’ therapy. Nor is it preparing you for a degree in fine arts. Its an opportunity to connect deeply with your body and your subconscious material, to start a conversation with your wise inner self, to work through the challenges of this life and to hang out with another awesome human, sharing in your experiences and playing around with art materials.

Can you prioritise YOU today, this week, this month? Be gentle with yourself and consider what lies beneath your resistance. Ask yourself: is this selfish and self-centred? Or is this filling my cup? Ultimately we all deserve to get around in this world with a full cup. So go on, give art therapy a try! I guarantee it will surprise you (and you will come home with glitter on your face!!)

Caz Artsea is a practicing Art Therapist, located on the Surf Coast in Australia. She offers individual in-person & online sessions and workshops. See www.cazartsea.com for information & contact details. Mention this article for a discount on your first session!

For those of you who feel like reading on… here’s some extra info for you!

If you have participated in any of my workshops, you will have noticed we firstly meditate. This is because meditation brings you into your body and out of your head. It is well known in the scientific world that our bodies store memories (see authors such as Gabor Mate, Peter Levine and Bessel Van Der Kolk for modern information about this). We must firstly make contact with our bodies to reach the magic. The magic is what us art therapists call the “felt sense”… it is the current of sensations that are always running through your bodies… most of us don’t notice them as we have been conditioned to exist only in our heads.

In individual art therapy session we explore your ‘felt sense’ through the marks that you make on the paper. This means that the session is uniquely tailored to you… we explore what you have discovered in your body through the imagery that you produce on the paper. Together we find meaning and context to what has arisen. There is always a gentle, wise and profound message, gifted to you, from your body and through your art. In the words of a renowned art therapy author, Laury Rappoport: Your felt sense provides a “mindful access to the inner resources of the body… [while the art] carries the [body’s] rich source of imagery & wisdom”.

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