By Nathan Durec
Isolation has become normal now that COVID-19 and social distancing are common practice. As social beings, people are finding themselves largely unprepared for these new shared rules, but previous research into isolated groups and art therapy may offer some support.
Isolated individuals are at an increased risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression. As well, the state of society and the perceived lack of control over our lives can increase anxiety. Researchers who have worked with victims of the SARS outbreak in 2003 or in isolated populations, such as prisons or long-term health facilities, have used art therapy as a way to express these emotions in a safe and positive environment.
Taisha Teal, who graduates this summer from The Vancouver Art Therapy Institute with a Master’s level diploma in art therapy, describes art therapy as a hybrid profession that combines psychotherapy with art education.
“Art therapy is about when the art therapist creates a safe space for the individual, and within that safe space, the individual can self-express through art, whether it’s painting, drawing, molding,” Teal says.
Using different art mediums gives individuals an outlet to work through their depression and anxiety when words may not initially work. The act of engaging in art is meant to allow the subconscious to be exposed so that the individual can find new ways to describe what they are feeling.
“The person may think it might be a problem happening in their day-to-day, but usually it’s like a subconscious issue that’s an underlying root for a lot of things,” Teal says. “And that’s when the amazing moment, ‘Aha, that’s it! That’s what’s been bothering me.”
But what about people who say they can’t do art? Teal doesn’t buy that excuse.
“Do you know how to hold a pencil or a paintbrush? Well then, you’re all good.”
It may be difficult to partake in art therapy with an art therapist while in self-isolation. But it can still be done by the individual to release stress and find calm.
“A lot of time it’s more just experimenting with different materials. People who have never painted before, sometimes it’s not about expressing yourself, it’s just about playing and letting go.”
Teal says people who take the time to pick up a pencil or a paintbrush will be surprised at the benefit creative expression can offer.
“It’s amazing to see. They don't think that they're making a picture,” she says. “There's a whole story that comes out of it.”