Healing through arts

Offering therapy through art, instead of talking to counsellors can help people articulate their problems and feelings better, say art therapists Augustine Thilak and Victoria. Janani Sampath finds out

Published: 28th March 2013 08:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th March 2013 08:20 AM   |  A+A-


Amarnath (name changed) didn’t quite know the importance of a relaxed approach towards life. Slipping into bouts of depression and constant anxiety, he could never understand how to gain control over his volatile emotions.

After a series of classes in calligraphy with art therapists Augustine Thilak and Victoria, followed by sessions of art therapy, he is slowly steering towards a more balanced life today. Undergoing art therapy, he says, has brought a change in both his approach and attitude towards life and people. “I came to them to learn calligraphy, as I had a keen interest in the subject. However, they also suggested that I undergo art therapy and I decided to follow their advice,” he says.

Art therapy deals with healing, using various types of creative arts. The process involves creativity, self-awareness, personal growth and a reconciliation of emotional conflicts.

The duo have been involved with the form of healing for more than a decade now and have worked with children from juvenile homes, residents of old age homes, mentally-challenged people, autistic adults and in programmes with people who have been grappling with behavioural and emotional issues.

“It is an intricate process and varies with every person,” they explain. “The concept of art therapy is that people can open up better through the arts. They can articulate their problems, fears and feelings better than trying to explain it sitting face to face with their counsellor.”

Narrating a few instances from their work so far, the art therapists say that the main idea behind healing is that they have to make the person accept themselves and then try to make a difference.

“We worked with a senior citizen who had had a paralytic attack and couldn’t use one of his arms. But towards the end, we observed that the person made an attempt to use the arm by painting with it. In another case, we had met this 12 year-old-girl, an inmate of a juvenile home. She had killed the person who had murdered her father after a land dispute.  Working with her was a delicate task as she was too young. We had to approach her with great care,” they add.

Shedding light on the topic, they have a few more disturbing anecdotes, includeing the case of a woman who was still coming to terms with the abuse she suffered as a child. “She was an adopted child and the abuse had wounded her so badly that she had relationship problems with her child, who was again adopted. After the therapy, the woman wanted to burn the piece of work and we allowed her to do so. It is another form of healing, for this particular person,” they explain.

 The therapists also add that the time and length of a procedure varies. “There are days when we just cannot proceed with the procedure for a person. The therapy cannot be forced; the person has to be mentally prepared for it. It is also sad that people look at therapy as something that is only for those with mental illnesses. That is not true,” they say.

Talking about the benefits of the sessions, Amarnath who has been undergoing art therapy for close to a year now says, “I don’t think anybody can expect instant results. We have to go with the progress of the sessions.”

But going by the results, Amarnath decided to introduce his daughter Ranjani (name changed) to the procedure. Today, both father and daughter have seen a noticeable change. Ranjani’s mother explains, “My daughter was very shy and reserved. After enrolling her in art therapy, my husband and I have seen a marked improvement in her attitude. Today, she is clearer in what she wants and vocal about her thoughts and ideas. She voluntarily makes decisions and has become an extrovert.”

Victoria and Augustine point out that art therapy takes inspiration from the age-old Indian crafts. “In olden days, people were busy engaging in arts and crafts as part of their day-to-day lives.  But, now with all that being replaced by our quick routines, we have to resort to the same traditions as form of treatment or healing,” they say.

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