Mental health is a relatively taboo subject in this country. In writing about it, I find myself weaving a story in order to help the reader think about focusing on themself before using the words ‘mental health’. By contrast, looking after physical health has been popular for a long time. People proudly walk around in workout gear, whether they visit a gym or not, as being ‘fit’ is acceptable and even considered essential. London is packed with gyms, physio, pilates, yoga, nail bars and fashion retail, giving us plenty of choice on how to groom ourselves and look good. Even dentists have shifted focus onto the aesthetics of whitening and collagen injections, rather than the health of ourteeth and gums. Our minds, despite being part of the body, get relatively little attention. For most, the idea of openly walking into any form of therapy for the mind is far from fashionable.
Hiding emotion is ingrained in the British culture, as it’s better to ‘just get on with it’ and ‘have a stiff upper lip’. Revealing how one feels can even be considered a weakness. However, ‘bottling up’ feelings can lead to physical ill-health. We all have emotions and it is healthy to be aware of them. If we are mentally healthy, we are able to manage our emotions and communicate them in an appropriate way.
When we have a sense of feeling OK in ourselves, we are more open to new ideas, feel calm, have a sense of humour and have the potential to think about and look after others. We literally can feel happier as we have more ‘headspace’. We may notice that we breathe deeply and fully, our bodies are relaxed and we feel happy.
Therapy can be beneficial for everyone as it is all about forming a good relationship with someone who will listen and support, without judgment, aiming to help the client gain some personal insight in order to change something about themselves. Therapy is like a gym for the mind thatcan be visited long term or for a short spell. A therapist has done their best work when their client tells them they feel better and don’t need to come back.
In the UK, many people aren’t familiar with the therapeutic experience. There is also a fear that, once you start therapy, you will be hooked into going forever because, unlike a physical wound, you may not know when you are better. The idea of putting yourself in the hands of a stranger and exposing vulnerabilities that you have found easier to hide, and have managed to live with, is not easy.
An art therapist can create a comfortable, warm and empathic space for the client by using the arts as a language. Only 7% of our communication is verbal and art therapy has the benefit of using 7 languages – painting, movement, sand tray, clay, puppetry, music and poetry.
The art therapist supports someone, witnessing them as they create an image, noticing the way it is being made and exploring the image together, without judgment, bringing a sense of trust and support, leading to a deeper communication than using words. We can reveal our life history through free play and the arts, opening up dialogue that may be unknown or hard to express in words.
A child who develops and sustains a good sense of self, or has self-esteem, will thrive in social situations (including a good sense of humour, which links to a feeling of inner-stability, of being relaxed and open-minded). This can be observed in children who have had difficulty in childhood, such as a broken home or the loss of a parent, where the adversity has forced them to cope and survive. This sense of strength and being able to cope has given them the sense that they can cope in the future.
The powerful healing properties of the arts can help us build awareness of our emotions, often hidden in our subconscious or even held physically in the body. Our physical health and mental health are closely linked and the first stage to healing, or simply feeling better, is to have awareness.
The significance of mental health is probably more important now than ever, as we now live in a world full of uncertainty and instability. We all need to feel safe and secure, whatever age we are, and if we can help find a way to look after ourselves and build our own sense of safety, then we are better equipped to look after others.
Milly Green, founder of Art Movement, has combined 25 years’ experience in the art world with her own recent art therapy training and developed a unique creative wellbeing course, ‘Art for Life’. Aimed at adults and children, ‘Art for Life’ is designed as a hands-on, fun journey of discovery using the arts, to help open up new dialogue and provide something exceptional and uplifting for everyone, particularly parents and children, in order to feel good and live an authentic and happy life.
Art Movement www.art-movement.com email@example.com 07973 692 494