We spoke with Kelly Gauthier, of the Leaside Therapy Centre in Toronto, about art and photo therapy, and why you need to take control of the inevitable changes in your life.
Q: What are art and photo therapy, and how do they work?
A: Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of art making as the tool for identifying the areas of a person’s life that are most in need of attention. Because art is an innate process that we are all born with, it serves as the most natural way for one to express their emotions. As a result, the release of these emotions directly reduces stress, anger and anxiety, and increases self-esteem and personal awareness.
Photo therapy is a powerful therapeutic process that uses photographs as a tool for revealing important details about our lives that we have chosen to dismiss or keep hidden. It is only when we take the time to acknowledge these details that the healing process can begin. However, going back and reliving these experiences is next to impossible. This is where photo therapy, and its use of photographs, does what no other therapy can do.
Q: How does art therapy differ from other forms of therapy?
A: Unlike psychotherapy where talk is the basis from which therapy begins and ends, art therapy allows the client to determine the direction they need to go in and provides a visual alternative for those who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. It’s a safe environment where they can come and create and just be themselves; and the conversations that come as a result of this are authentic and intentional. In talk therapy, a client has the opportunity to retract what they have said or recount their feelings when things get uncomfortable. In art therapy, the art simply speaks for itself : a visual rendition of their emotions and feelings provides a truth that makes it extremely hard for one to recant.
Q: How does photo therapy differ from other forms of therapy?
A: Photo therapy provides a unique opportunity to revisit experiences without having to relive them, and because photographs have an incredible way of revealing themselves bit by bit, it allows you to notice what needs to be noticed at your own pace. It is in the revisiting process that one begins to notice things about a situation that may have been missed before, and through noticing, they are now able to see the situation from many different angles and perspectives. I have often heard clients say that talk therapy lacks the visual component that photo therapy offers, and one that they find crucial and necessary for seeing things from someone else’s perspective.
Q: Who benefits the most from these two forms of therapy?
A: In my experience thus far, I have found that both therapies have something of real value to offer everyone. When asked, people were very willing to share their previous experiences in therapy, and the overall consensus was a real feeling of dissatisfaction. Most felt that talking about something wasn’t enough and that the creative elements that both art and photo therapy provided helped them locate the missing pieces.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone who feels powerless but is reluctant to try therapy?
A: This is a hard concept for me to understand, but one that I am faced with daily. It still amazes me how many people are in need of help but are too embarrassed to ask for it. That age old taboo that therapy is for the weak continues to surface, and it doesn’t seem to matter how much evidence there is to support it otherwise. I work hard everyday to do my part in changing how people view therapy, but I think the best advice I can give to someone who is feeling stuck or powerless is to remember that all feelings deserve the same attention. If you only respond positively to the good feelings, you are bound to feel stuck and powerless when it comes to the bad ones.
I have often found that those who are reluctant to try therapy are not reluctant because they don’t believe it will help, but reluctant because they believe it will. Change is scary for a lot of people, even positive change. So why not give in to it and have a say in whether change will have a negative effect on your life or a positive one?