To understand how art is used in mental health, you will need to think about art as a constitutive theme, an essential element in interpersonal communications. Art does not exist for the sake of its own existence, but for the sake of interpersonal communication. In art, both the artist and the viewer are participants. Although he is the artist who originally imbues his work with meaning, it is the observer who discovers meaning from him. It is the observer who must break the artist’s work into its disparate parts, decipher his hidden code and put that code together in a coherent sentence or paragraph in which the reason for art’s existence is stated. Consciously and unconsciously, it is through art that those dealing with mental illness create a perception of their existence.
It is through their art that qualified art therapists can determine what underlying issues are at the root of an individual’s mental illness. Therefore; their art acts as an indicator/confirmation of what mental illness they may be suffering from due to the ability of certain mental illnesses to affect an individual’s perception and expression. Therefore, the art of a person with a mental illness can be used as a road map to help art therapists determine what physiological and psycho-emotional issues need to be addressed to get the person well again.
Most people with mental illness experience some type of impairment in their ability to intentionally communicate their instinctual desires through repressed thought. This is because people with mental illness may lack the ego integrity (strength of mind and connection to reality) necessary to censor and harness the energy of their instinctual desires (emotions and sensations) while transforming them into ideas. or coherent spoken/thought concepts. However, artistic expression allows people with mental illness to express their instinctual desires in a constructive way without being forced to censor their thoughts, feelings or instincts in a non-restrictive pattern of expression.
This is important because censorship can cause a person to shut down and become unable to communicate with others out of frustration at not being able to convey their thoughts as quickly as they arise.
Therefore; for the mentally ill, art or the artistic act becomes a non-threatening means of communication for the mentally ill and their art observer/therapist. This allows a person with mental illness to communicate freely without reservation and feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, feelings and dreams from the mindscape to the art therapist who interprets the meaning of these phenomena into a meaningful representation of their clients’ inner world; this further assists the art therapist in determining the underlying issues responsible for their clients’ conditions and what issues may be agitating or preventing their recovery from health.
Therefore, it is after the creation of the art as a finished product that an observer/art therapist becomes a participant in the client’s artistic process in attempting to discover both its latent and manifest meaning. It is through the joint participation of the artist/client and the observer/therapist that both come together to develop their meaning. It is through this process that the artist/client receives value or validation from the participating observer/therapist and that both the process and the observer are internalized by the artist; the client takes the therapist and her reaction to her art into himself and is positively or negatively affected by it. Therefore; the therapist’s reaction to her art will either help or retard the client’s health. In short, a therapist’s reaction to her client’s art and her ability to praise and/or criticize appropriately will help her client develop insight, self-esteem, and connection to reality.
Without this interpersonal process between client and therapist, art in itself has no innate value associated with healing a client unless it is to release repressed instinctual energy within the psyche of those who are mentally ill through of various creative outlets that depend on energizing the unfulfilled instinctual urges responsible for stirring up a client’s concomitant emotional states. So, for the artist/client without the participation of the process and the observer/therapist, the art and its creation are worthless and the client discards it. Without process and observing, it becomes one more expression of the unsatisfied instinctive desires that the artist wishes to alleviate, but when he cannot do so, he becomes even more frustrated. In short, without a voice and a listener, those who suffer from mental illness become disconnected from others and from reality while experiencing frustration and anxiety. It is through art, its creation process and the presence of an interested observer that this is prevented and remedied.
Because art and the creation of art gain value through the collective participation of both the artist and the observer; it becomes a constitutive subject that is internalized by both the artist and the observer, and then possesses the power to heal through the internalization of the process and the observer. It is this process that is invaluable to people dealing with mental illness and produces healing in the same way that rationalized therapy, therapy in which disciplined rational thinking, also known as talk therapy, is applied in the the observer/therapist and the client develop insight and understanding. alleviate the client’s anxieties by developing cognitive behavioral procedures that deal with the client’s internalized conflicts or unanswered instinctual desires. The difference is that through art and the art process there is the ability to create a public record of the psycho-emotional state both therapist and client were in during their time together. Therefore; Structured art therapy has the potential to help the mentally ill regain well-being by helping them understand their underlying issues.