Art Therapy: Painting to Heal

Art therapy: healing sick people and getting to know them better.
In a hospital in the capital, artistic creativity is used to heal psychological dysfunctions and to "read" into anxieties in more depth.

A clinic of alternative medicine which promotes art therapy to heal psychological disorders and anxieties has been opened in Seoul's General Hospital in the south of the city. This is the first centre to offer such treatment in the country.

Kim Sun-hyun works there as a therapist. The doctor, who specialized in art, said she learned art therapy's efficacy when she taught children how to paint.  "I thought art can be most helpful when it is connected to medical treatment," Kim said.  After studying art therapy in Japan, the doctor married in Germany and underwent training and internship courses at the Universitaet Humbold there and later in the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas. 

Art therapy is not just figuring out the patient's psychology through their paintings: for Kim, this is only "art diagnosis".  "Art therapy, or art treatment, goes beyond that. Therapists select media and instruments – crayon, pastel, watercolours – whatever is best suited to each patient," Kim explained. 

"Doctors also recommend that patients use brighter colours or suggest subjects and programs with which they can get in contact with nature," she said. 

While expressing their feelings through drawing, the tensions of patients ease and they may even reach a sort of catharsis.  "To cure disease, taking medication is not enough. We need to care for a patient's mental and psychological aspects as well. Art therapy helps heal not only the disease, but also the mind," Kim said. 

When a patient is admitted, the physician makes an initial diagnosis and consults with an art therapist to draw up programs according to the patient's disease and stress level. The therapist constantly discusses the patient's condition with the physician.  In many cases, relief of mind leads to an improvement of physical condition. 

For Kim, the "retrospection" necessary for drawing is one of the most significant outcomes of this treatment. "At first, when asked to draw a picture, patients hesitate and are reluctant to express their concerns. The tendency can be seen also in cases of anxiety in children who do not know how to express their feelings in words," she said.  However, in the majority of cases, the first scribbles are the best starting point: "When I point out something in their painting and tell the patients they may have difficulty from it, they slowly start to talk about their discomfort." The explanations offered by patients themselves for their artistic expression allow doctors to distinguish conscious from unconscious sentiments.

Choi (not her real name) was admitted to the clinic for depression provoked by excessive worry for her son, who has a mild speech disorder. When she started therapy 18 months ago, she could only manage to draw some scattered things "resembling dandelion spores".  Kim said "she could not focus on anything or move forward in life. Now she draws circles in bold lines in the three primary colours, which shows she is ready to tackle the problem." Choi can also interpret her painting – of a big tree and a smaller tree some distance away – by herself: "The small tree is my son. I believe he now can stand independently without my family's help."

Kim pointed out that members of Korean society – influenced by Confucianism –were not accustomed to expressing their feelings, but staying quiet only led to isolation.  She added: "Opening up is important for a healthy mind, and art therapy is one way to achieve this."

 





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