The calmness of brushing paint on a blank canvas, getting your hands filled with clay when shaping a new design, or hearing the delicate sound of a pencil rigorously sketching away. These are all the vivid sights and sounds experienced through art therapy, something that Jasmine Gannon, an RMIT-university art student, is very familiar with.
Journaling, sculpting, or drawing, art therapy can help people depict their inner thoughts and feelings in new, dynamic ways.
For those like Gannon, who are battling mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression or PTSD, creating art can heighten dopamine levels, and provide a sense of stability and control that allows them to understand themselves and behaviours better. For some patients, art therapy is used to build communication skills and relationships, improving their self-esteem.
Gannon fell in love with the creative arts in her childhood and, now aged 20, her passion is stronger than ever. She has found that being creative has allowed her to better express herself and her vulnerability.
“My most loved part about art is the ability to express emotion, thoughts, and everything else without words. I find that art is often more effective and easier to communicate with,” Gannon said.
Diagnosed with depression in 2017, she said art had helped her during her most challenging times.
“Art is an integral step in my mental health strategy,” she said. “I often find a strange release of emotion when I create work or when I’m feeling depressed – something similar to a good cry.”
Following the mental fatigue Covid-19 lockdowns had on young people in particular, art therapists are now being employed throughout Australian schools to help students’ wellbeing.
These sessions are personally tailored to the needs of each student, and aim to help them achieve renewed confidence while also enhancing their personal development.
Programs such as ‘Chill Skills’, operated by art therapist Carla Van Laar, have been found to increase students’ understanding of what triggers their anxiety, and increase their awareness of new coping strategies.
Gannon sees the benefits of art therapy and hopes that one day it will become more widespread in Australian schools.
“I use it (art therapy) now but was never given the opportunity when I was young. I would love to see other young people gain support through art,” she said.