Cover Story

Art Therapy

By Jyotsna Sharma   4 May, 2017

7th April is celebrated as World Health Day every year to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization. The theme of the 2017 World Health Day campaign was depression. Art Therapy has been known to help people suffering from depression.

An artist friend of mine recently confided in me that it was art that gave her life direction. Before she started painting she didn’t know what to do with herself. A number of people have told me that art has changed their lives in a number of ways and been therapeutic for them.

In addition to the fact that art (painting and clay modelling) can be a major de- stressor in an individual’s life, it is also used by Psychoanalysts to diagnose mental health issues.

We have come a long way in India from never mentioning the word depression to actually treating it. Therapists have used art as a tool to complement their treatment; however, its use as a first line treatment is fairly recent. Fortis Healthcare instituted their art therapy program six years back, whereas, VIMHANS started art therapy three and a half years back.

Art therapists work with young people including children, adults and the elderly. Patients may have a wide range of diffculties including emotional or mental health issues, learning disabilities, and physical illnesses. I spoke with some renowned psychologists in Delhi to understand the merits of using art to help such people.

Dr. Prerna Kohli, a leading psychologist in India believes art plays an important role in mental health therapies. According to Dr. Kohli, creative expression is a frequently used therapy, which involves participating in a range of activities such as art, painting, clay modelling, music, creative movement, and drama.

Art can be used in psychoanalysis to prevent self-harm/cutting, which is predominately seen in teenage girls. Creative arts engage an individual’s mind, body, and senses, and are an effective way of curbing self-harm. Art is also used to indicate if a young child is being sexually or physically abused. If a child doesn’t draw hands on figures (or hides the hands in pockets or behind the figure) it is an indicator of the child hiding something or of being ashamed of something.

Frequently, clay modelling is recommended for those who are suffering from depression or anger issues. Pounding on clay is an outlet for aggression, and the process of building something provides a feeling of accomplishment.

Dr. Kohli has been practicing for the last 20 years. She was awarded the ‘100 Women Achievers Award’ by the President of India in 2016

Ms. Aditi Kaul, (Coordinator – Art’s Based Therapy Program Fortis / Counselling Psychologist) told me that at Fortis they take an integrated approach, which means they lend support to both in- patients as well as out-patients across specialties and have a team of over 50 mental health professionals with different specializations that work as one team. 

She recently treated a 7-year-old child who had been in a motorcycle accident. The radiator had fallen on him causing third degree burns on his back. The child was in severe mental trauma. He couldn’t fathom why he was going through such pain and why his parents were not being able to help make it disappear knowing he was suffering. He couldn’t move and had to lie on his stomach for a large part of his treatment. Art Therapy helped him externalize his fear, anger and helplessness, deal with the pain and come to terms with his injury and cope effectively with the trauma.

I visited VIMHANS and spoke with Ms. Sonia Bhandari (Consultant – Counselor, Art Therapist & Parenting Educator). She told me that art therapy is extremely helpful in treating a multitude of disorders because it is non-threatening and it is easier for people to express themselves through images and colour. Art therapy can be used as a healing tool as well as a tool to analyze and diagnose the disorder. She successfully treated a child who was sexually molested and had lost the will to live by channelising her creative skills

The department at VIMHANS has a large art studio and all the patients are given art material when they check in. They are encouraged to create art outside of their treatment as well, which the hospital proudly displays.

Dr. Monica Chib, a leading Psychiatrist at Apollo Hospitals told me that art therapy is an important tool in psychoanalysis. She stressed on the importance of the therapist being adequately trained so that the patient can be helped.

Even though we have made great strides in understanding and correcting mental health issues I feel art should be used to decrease stress in every individual’s life, especially given how stressful our lives have become.

We spend a large amount of our time in office and it is important for us to feel happy there. Issues such as long working hours are known to cause depression; the United Kingdom, France and even Japan have come to recognize this and are pushing for shorter working hours and favour the idea of disconnecting completely from work over the weekends so as to refresh oneself.

Indian organizations should pay attention to the fact that the mental health of their employees is paramount to their own health. They should definitely reform working hours and also institute programs such as art therapy to this end. Once a week, all employees should be encouraged to take part in activities that reduce stress.

Fortis Healthcare has developed a ‘sports and art therapy’ program for corporates including mentorship from Dr. Samir Parikh, which will be starting soon. Having done some art therapy work with corporates earlier, they already had an idea of what kind of a program would be suitable for the employees and the management.

I believe such a program would definitely help develop a positive frame of mind, release stress and increase productivity.