Undergoing traditional psychotherapy treatment can be an intimidating and embarrassing experience for many mental health patients living in the Gulf. This process is made even more difficult due to the stigma that some attach to the very idea of mental illness. But with the growing interest in art therapy, there is now an alternative that allows patients to undergo therapy in a more relaxed and comfortable setting.
In 2013 the first ever art therapy center in Bahrain was established by therapist Dalal Al-Sindi. Her journey as a certified Art Therapist initially took her to the stroke unit of the King Fahad Medical City in Riyadh, KSA. During this time she worked with youth suffering from a variety of psychological and emotional difficulties due to spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. After two years in the unit, she decided to move back to her home country of Bahrain where she continued her work as an Art Therapist until the official establishment of the Art Therapy Center Bahrain.
Alwia Al-Hassan: How did your journey into art therapy begin?
Dalal Al-Sindi: Upon receiving my bachelor’s degree in fine arts, I came across art therapy when searching for professions that are connected to psychology and art. I was very interested in art therapy and so decided to apply for a Master’s degree in art psychotherapy in 2006. While I was getting my qualification in art therapy, I trained in the UK as an art therapist for two years with adults with autism and clients in the mental health group. After graduating and getting my qualification as an art psychotherapist in 2008, I continued working as an art therapist in KSA.
AAH: Can you tell us what is art therapy?
DAS: Art therapy combines both psychotherapy and art. In art therapy, the client is given the active role of the artistic creator and is able to express him/herself through the art-making process in a safe environment. Through the study of the clients’ artwork and behavior, the art therapist can gain more access into the clients’ unconscious feelings. When unconscious feelings of the subconscious mind are identified through the visual analysis of the client’s artwork, they are automatically brought up to the conscious level as they are no longer “buried” unconsciously. The therapy then starts when these symbols are accepted and discussed between the client and art therapist.
AAH: How do you deal with patients who stress that they don’t know how to draw?
DAS: Art therapy is all about the process. It doesn’t matter if the client has no background in art. It doesn’t matter at all. If they are willing to draw or involve themselves in any type of art, then art therapy is for them. It has nothing to do with how good the art piece is. Even simple drawings, activities or scribbles say a lot about their thinking process.
AAH: What are the benefits of art therapy?
DAS: The benefits of art therapy for individuals with physical and mental disabilities differ according to the goals set for each client. These include: self- confidence, processing, and accepting all aspects of oneself (good and bad), self-awareness and exploration, self-appreciation and acceptance, strengthening creativity which increases insight into the self, and developing problem solving skills. Art therapy also helps foster integration, concentration, visual memory, fine-motor skills, and coherence by encouraging the client to communicate visually and verbally.
AAH: How is art used during the sessions?
DAS: It differs all the time and depends on the client. For example, if a client has acute OCD, they always go for a pencil and detailed drawings. My job is to make them more relaxed and lessen their compulsiveness. So what I do is gradually lessen the detail in the work by changing the materials I give them. For examples we start with a thicker pencil that won’t allow for a lot of detail, then we go for a brush, then a medium brush, then painting and then clay.
AAH: What is it about art that makes it so therapeutic?
DAS: Creative expression is an instinctual language, and our memory and perceptions of the world are formed visually. The way we turn these images into symbols, can tell us a lot about our thought process and behavior and reflects how we feel without using words. It is an emotional and thoughtful language that can be shared even with an illiterate person. Art is a form of self- awareness that leads to healing, since it expresses symbols and images that are believed to be repressed or stored in our unconsciousness.
AAH: Are many people interested in art therapy?
DAS: Yes. People are increasingly becoming more interested and aware of it. I think this is because it reduces the stigma attached to therapy. It’s an easier bridge to cross to therapy because there’s art involved.
AAH: Some criticize art therapy for relying on the therapist’s personal interpretation of the art. What do you think about this?
DAS: Well art therapists are not allowed to interpret. Interpretation is one of the dangers of art therapy. There are lots of people who think that an art therapist will tell them what their personality is and this is not the task. The task is to help the client become more aware of certain symbols. This is a sensitive subject in art therapy, but if interpretation is necessary, it must come through the patient.
To find out more about Dalal Al-Sindi, contact email@example.com
– Alwia Al-Hassan