What is art psychotherapy and how might it benefit employee health and wellbeing? Helen Seton introduces the practice and suggests how organisations might incorporate it into the working week.
Many of the challenges we face in life have their origins in emotional events that occurred deep in our past. We can perhaps remember what happened during these events but often cannot feel the emotions related to them because they are stored in our subconscious mind, from where they exert great influence on our everyday lives.
Art psychotherapy allows a profound and powerful communication to take place between our unconscious and our conscious mind, allowing us to access the emotions behind the unhelpful beliefs, thought patterns, emotional states and behaviours that are bothering us, in order to help resolve them.
Through art psychotherapy I work with clients to identify and process obstacles to happiness on both a conscious and subconscious level, whilst creating and promoting new neuropathways which directly lead to long-term emotional and psychological wellbeing, rewarding relationships and the ability to achieve and enjoy healthy life goals.
Mental health and trauma
The practice can also bring great benefits to the workplace. Using the creative process of making art can help employees deal with stressful work situations and interpersonal conflicts, but can also promote self-care. It can allow staff to access key emotions that are behind unhelpful beliefs, thought patterns and behaviours that can stop them from functioning productively.
Art therapy improves a person’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. In the corporate world it can be used to treat:
- Burnout and overwhelm
- Depression and anxiety
- Bereavement and loss
- Substance use and eating disorders
It can also enhance the quality of the workplace for individuals and teams by motivating and inspiring. Group sessions will assist individuals in better understanding and valuing their colleagues.
Often art psychotherapy is seen as an individual process, but it can be employed on a team basis. Activities employers might explore include:
- A general mental health exercise for teams
- Mindfulness-based art psychotherapy
- A focus of the day
- Mindfulness ‘mandala’. This involves creating a repeated pattern that promotes relaxation, connection to the breath and focus. As you focus on colouring or creating a repeated pattern, you relax, your mind grows quiet, and there is an inner stillness that grows. The very nature of drawing a mandala is therapeutic and symbolic
- Daily reflections or weekly debriefing through art. This could allow the team to express themselves in an image. They could leave the workplace having visually offloaded, allowing for separation between work and home life
- Linking breathing with art making. This helps with regulating the autonomic nervous system, which is beneficial for everyone, but especially for people with high anxiety and depression.
How art therapy can benefit teams
The benefits of art therapy include building connections and partnerships, boosting morale, helping identify individual and team strengths and encouraging greater personal investment in employees’ jobs. It can help the team be more centred, relaxed and present in the moment.
Team leaders can organise team-building days based around art therapy, allowing a structured group to share feelings about work and how it is impacting the individual/team mental health. This can be done, for example, by creating a group image to build connection and could be structured around team values or future vision. Future vision is a good angle, as it creates positive energy and connection around where the team is moving towards.
Some organisations may wish to schedule a morning mindfulness group for 10-15 minutes to help keep staff grounded for a day’s work, or to help them transition from parenting or caring responsibilities to being a professional.
Art psychotherapy does not require any artistic skills – the creative process itself releases subconscious emotional memory. Practical knowledge, speaking and understanding are functions of the left side of our brain, which is considered the ‘conscious’ side. Emotional and visual memory together with creativity are functions of the right side of the brain, which is considered the ‘subconscious’ side.
Art psychotherapy can hold enormous benefit for employee and team wellbeing, helping to address past trauma and improve connection between colleagues.