An HIV +ve innocently tells her therapist that she doesn’t like to go to school as her teacher does not punish her, during a psychodrama therapy (sociometry exercise-rating something between 0-10), a form of expressive therapy. The therapist rated ‘I don’t like going to school’ as zero. When her therapist asked her the reason, the girl had voiced her concern about not being punished like others for not doing her homework just because she was HIV +ve.
Expressive art therapy involves healing people through various art forms like dance, music, drama, painting, sculpture and storytelling.
It is beneficial for children suffering from memory problem, learning disabilities and behavioural problems like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or exam phobias. It helps people suffering from depression, or those who have had unhappy experiences like child abuse, apart from Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The therapy also helps in articulation and communication problems among people, and those undergoing inner conflict.
Women’s Christian College (WCC) is the only institution in India to conduct a one-year diploma in expressive therapy. The course is in collaboration with East West Centre for Counselling. According to Veena Easwaradoss, HOD, Psychology Department, WCC, “Expressive therapies have been practised for a while now, but due to course limitations, it is not taught in colleges. Another reason is the lack of trained teachers in this field. Most of them are trained from abroad and practise it there.”
Magdalene Jeyarathnam, director of East West Centre for Counselling and Indian Institute of Psychodrama, and the founding member of World Storytelling Institute, says that she ropes in Herb Propper, who is the main trainer for psychodrama, for the course. Propper, who has over three decades of experience with Psychodrama, has written numerous books on the same.
Magdalene shares her experiences from psychodrama therapy. One of her clients was having problems with her husband, but was not able to speak to him about divorce. Magdalene made her sit, facing an empty chair, with props that represented her husband and told her to say things she had not yet said to him. She blasted out and said things which she would have never said to him directly. After she finished, she felt lighter and decided that she would get divorced. However, she also accepted that after the session, she could speak to her husband in a better manner.
Another case was that of a mother who had come for her daughter’s counselling, but decided to talk to Magdalene before the session. The person was made to sit on a chair and was asked to say things to her mother which she couldn’t otherwise. She was then asked to do the same, imagining her daughter in place of the mother.
During the session, she realised how she had been treating her daughter and after the therapy, her relationship with her daughter improved. While doing a storytelling session with a transgender woman, who seemed prosperous but was alone, she got to know why she did not like her life, in spite of having everything. That woman chose a Panchatantra tale about four cows, which were separated by a clever fox that later killed them. She said, “I am unhappy because when you are in a group, you are protected but when you are alone, you are unsafe.”
Similarly, an art therapy session for children, who were anxious about the board exams, made her realise how tensed these children were when they painted their fears on paper (black colour all over) and threw the papers outside when they were told to place their fears. One
One of the trainees, Sarmishtha Mani, who did the course in 2011 (first batch, now they are about to start their third batch), spoke about a session she had with a nine-year-old boy who was reluctant to share his problems.
Mani, who is a counsellor now and is interning with a therapist, told him the story of a girl who got an egg, from which she would get anything she wished. She told the kid to draw what he wanted if he gets an egg like that. She said, “I saw football jerseys and footballs coming out of the eggs which made me realise his passion and inability to follow it due to financial problems.”
Another trainee, Mahima Poddar conducted music conversations for both introverts and hyperactive kids.
It was identified that all these children had problems related to parental conflict. The kids were asked to talk by playing musical instruments. One of the kids who bullied others, started beating the drum to which another kid responded gently. This made the other kid gradually become calmer. Other children who watched were also told to interpret what they are saying through body language. Gradually they started understanding each other through music.
She shared a similar experience with art therapy, where a hyperactive boy tried to paint on the space provided for others and distort their creations. When the kid saw the others painting again on the space he had destroyed, it made him realise his mistake.