Art Therapy for Depression and Mental Health
My mind was spinning after the WhatsApp call with one of my friends from Germany. Through tears in his eyes, he told me his dad was admitted to hospital because he hurt himself in the kitchen. The doctors think he’s getting too old to be alone at home by himself. After assessing him, they also found depressive symptoms and recommended that a psychiatric hospital would be better for him than a retirement home. In this case, he’s likely to receive antidepressants for the rest of his life and perhaps, if he is lucky, participate in some meaningful activities in a clinic that’s in the middle of large and noisy Munich.
Many service providers seem to be a lot like the proverbial three-monkey maxim, those who stop seeing what’s really going on, those who block their ears to the deeper truth and those who don’t dare to speak from the heart. (Yes, there are various meanings ascribed to the monkeys).
Questions arise when faced with challenges like this. Is he really depressed? What is depression? (Check your DSM V!)
My friend’s dad had to leave work at the age of 77 this year, a work that gave him a real sense of self and achievement. He has no wife, few friends as work took all his energy, and his son, the love of his life, just moved out at the start of the year. Basically, he’s all alone now, extremely lonely and feels lost. Wouldn’t we all be depressed in such a situation? How is an antidepressant that increases some neurotransmitters in the brain going to help with his loneliness and disconnection from meaningful work, caring friends and loving family?
I certainly believe that medication can play a role when it comes to emotional and mental health. However, we need something else much more, especially when it comes to depression and anxiety, such as…
- addressing damaged relationships,
- working through early childhood trauma,
- following our intrinsic values that make us soar,
- spending more time in the natural world which allows us to hear our thoughts, where we are not above or below but part of something,
- connecting with real people in real time, face to face,
- finding new friends that like us as much as we like them,
- spending more time with our love relationships and families where we feel loved and not judged, safe to be who we truly are,
- finding work that makes us feel a part of society where we can contribute in a meaningful way…
Art Therapy for Depression and Mental Health
How can art therapy play a role in working through depression and improving mental health?
In art therapy, we take time, so our clients can express their story through words and moreover, through images. The unconscious projects into the images where the pain lies but also where the inner resources are that can heal, transform and integrate. This is not a medical or mathematical process where there is a ‘yes’ this but ‘not’ that. It is a complex process that does not always show right and wrong but exists in the tension between both. This differentiates us human beings from computers, spreadsheets and institutions that only follow processes that have been “verified” by some obscure others.
It is important to own our social, cultural, biological, emotional, mental and spiritual health, take a stand on what we believe in, accept complexities of life without certainty and refuse to simply go along without questioning what is presented to us like the proverbial monkeys, with closed ears, eyes and mouth.
In art therapy, we want our clients to own their own health and growth journey, to take time and allow things to surface. To work through things that emerge patiently. In the process, the path of recovery becomes clearer and life becomes worth living again.
What about all those lonely people locked away through COVID-19 restrictions? Should they all be medicated with antidepressants? Is that what they really need?
Robert GrayDirector and Senior Lecturer at CECAT
Registered Art Therapist and Psychologist
MA A. Th., AThR; B. Soc. Sc. (Psych.) (Hons.), MAPS.; BA. Theol. (Hons), MA Theol.
A highly regarded art therapy lecturer from Germany, Robert Gray has become a much sought-after art therapy lecturer and practising art therapist in Australia. His unique approach spanning psychodynamic, humanistic, spiritual and cognitive behavioural frameworks has distinguished him as a thought leader who is frequently invited to present at conferences in Australia and abroad.
Trained overseas and multilingual, German-born Robert shares the benefits of his international affiliations and access to cutting-edge research published in various languages with his students and readers. Robert is a professional member of the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association (ANZATA) and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).