Guest blogger, Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.
There is an often overlooked tool in the fight against depression, substance abuse, and other troubling disorders. Tapping into a person’s creative potential can unlock healing energies within them, and bring amazing insights into both the problems that have been causing a disorder, and the solutions for dealing with the problems. It is particularly effective for people who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally; and can help anyone discover things that cannot be expressed with words alone. There are few therapists using this powerful means of healing people’s hurts, despite volumes of research showing it’s effectiveness as a healing intervention.
I talked with an artist, Mari Mendoza, who consults with Michael’s House helping addicts unlock some of the mysteries of their disorder through art. She said that she discovered the powerful influence that art has on treating chronic depression and addiction years ago when she was trying to help a little 13 year old girl who had become addicted to methamphetamine in her attempt to escape the crippling depression that had plagued her since early childhood. In addition to her depression, she was suddenly discovering that she had an attraction to females; a condition that was taboo to her strict religious family. No one could reach her verbally, due to the fact that she was not even sure what she felt or thought, and she had repressed her ability to express herself verbally. Mari attempted to reach her through art by having her create a mask that represented her true self. Her mask was half a dark frightening face, and the other half a rainbow. She was able to identify the inner conflict that was driving her depression and drug use. It was the conflict between her family’s dark repressive taboos and her desire for happiness. She saw that she had been held back from expressing positive emotions. This simple project helped her connect in a meaningful relationship with Mari in which she could gradually feel safe to open up and express her true self. She began to be free from depression and addiction. It was art that had unlocked the healing energy within her and within a relationship with a safe person.
Mari said that simply using color and images to express feelings that have not been expressed verbally can release negative emotions from a person. A person’s inner self can be revealed, and they can begin to get in touch with hope.
Author, Renee Baribeau related how she overcame suicidal depression that had also led her to substance abuse after trying for all of her life to overcome the downward spiral of troubling emotions that plagued her. She had always thought she was just not a creative person and had been told so as a child; but a therapist in a psychiatric institution got her to begin creating images through painting. At that time, Renee had reached the lowest point in her life, and felt completely hopeless. She found herself becoming lost in the color and imagery of painting, forgetting her sad feelings and troubling thoughts. The depression began lifting for the first time. She explained it this way: “Through art, you can hear a message that is not your old tape.” The thoughts that were driving her depression were replace with new thoughts and feelings.
It is not just the creation of images that taps into this healing energy. It is any creative pursuit, such as dance, writing, cooking, sculpture and music. See what you discover by tapping into your creative side.
Artists for Recovery
May 2nd from 9am-1pm
Palm Springs (515 North Palm Canyon Drive),
Come join therapy and recovery professionals and patients, along with Children for Recovery, and the representatives of Safe House for this May Day celebration. http://artistsforrecovery.eventbrite.com
Christopher Knippers is a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Palm Springs.