‘If it works for me, I think it can work for others’

EDMONTON - Jamin Sprinkle twists a long thin piece of shiny copper wire over and over with his fingers, shaping it into a body for the face he’s making out of an LP record.

He’s taking a therapeutic workshop in how to draw with objects, in other words, how to express yourself artistically if you can’t, are afraid or don’t want to draw. It’s one of many workshops, panels and discussions that are part of the Canadian Art Therapy Association’s 33rd annual national conference in Edmonton this weekend. About one-third of the association's more than 300 members have gathered to discuss and share and learn from each other.

“I’ve used art (drawing, painting and photography) as therapy for myself, so I thought I could use it to help other people,� explains Sprinkle, a recent psychology grad currently working on a post-graduate art therapy degree from St. Stephen’s College on the University of Alberta campus.

“If it works for me, I think it can work for others.�

Art therapy uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being by examining feelings and behaviours and helping them gain insight into their problems.

Psychologists in the early 20th century were the first to realize that what a person draws can say more about them than what they say.

There is all kinds of research that backs up the value of this form of psychotherapy, says Ara Parker, associate chair of the art therapy program at St. Stephens, but it’s not very appreciated or recognized in Canada.

“The art therapy association is very concerned about having the profile as art therapy as a profession raised and understood to be one of the mental health and helping professions alongside occupational therapists and counsellors and psychologists and recreational therapists,� she said. “We want more people to understand how important the work is that’s going on and to support programs in the community. There is so much lobbying and advocacy we need to do.�

Art therapists work with a variety of people that have everything from mental health issues to co-addictions to FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders), brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, supporting their growth and development and developing the tools to be able to express themselves and tell their story, she explains.

“Sometime just having your story heard is the beginning of healing for so many people and not everybody can tell their story in words,� Parker notes. “A child who has been abused is not going to be able to sit with a counsellor for 30 minutes and talk about it, but they can develop an extraordinary relationship with a therapist doing art with them. They gain their trust and begin to develop self-esteem and self-confidence and begin to tell her story if they need to.�

Art therapy is much more valued in places like Israel, says professional art therapist Tzafi Weinberg of Winnipeg , who studied in Israel and teaches the non-drawing workshop developed by Israeli artist Hanoch Piven . It pointedly uses recycled material in a symbolic way to show people that you can take broken parts and you can give them new life, Weinberg said.

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