Painting, drawing and modelling are recognised as an important part of a child’s development. But by the time most people are adult, they’re self-conscious about ‘doing art’ – and so miss out on a pleasure that can also benefit our health.

The therapeutic effects of artistic effort are used in hospitals, but they can be equally valuable to people who are well — helping to prevent illness, to relieve stress and to increase emotional and Spiritual satisfaction and strength. These benefits don’t depend on artistic skill or talent, but come from the activities themselves, such as feeling the emotive and stimulating effects of colour observing the world more carefully, concentrating on shape, harmony and form, and thinking about the mood or spirit one wants to achieve in a painting or sculpture.

The therapeutic philosophy of Rudolf Steiner which inspired Weleda also includes art therapy. “Artistic therapy has a deep and direct effect on the soul. This can gradually bring about improvements in the patient’s vitality, physical health and emotional well-being”, For art therapy is not just a question of getting a paint box and pitching in. In the four-year course, the student therapists – who often want the skill to expand another career, such as teaching – learn how different forms of artistic activity are suited to particular health situations.

“People with anxiety-related problems benefit tremendously from modelling work or sculpture. Working with your hands, with substance and space, is a very different experience to working with colour. And finding a sense of balance, and feeling centred, through building a structure, is extremely ordering for people who feel their life is disordered. It’s as though in modelling a piece of clay we can learn to find the centre of ourselves at the same time. What you do outwardly through your actions works inwardly.

“Colour everybody can sense. It stimulates responses – whether surprise or wonder or joy or calm or sadness. So if we bring someone a colour experience we are helping them to be in touch with their feelings. But within painting you can work more towards form, which can help a patient to feel more structure in their lives. Or on the other hand, you can also use painting to help someone to loosen up, to let go. It can be very helpful for people who get stuck with obsessional problems, such as eating disorders. Painting and colour work is very challenging and it can offer a goal to work towards. Cancer patients benefit tremendously from colour work.

“In veil painting, we work on watercolour paper which is stretched onto a frame at board. The surface is dry, and we apply very soft subtle colours in layers that have to dry in between each application of paint. So it’s a very slow, quiet process and there’s a lot of waiting involved. It makes you hold back, and take stock. The colour can build up and become gradually quite strong, but it retains a wonderful luminosity almost like a with veil painting with a particular rhythm and stroke and they have told me that it is the only time when they feel they can really breathe.

“Wet painting has opposite qualities. We work on wet paper with watercolour, and you have to work quickly. The main benefit is to stimulate spontaneity and imagination. But for someone who is rather anxious, putting paint onto wet paper where it runs away and creates unexpected happenings is not easy: They may benefit from the structuring effect of modelling or drawing to begin with. We aim to begin where people are, and slowly support their steps to become either freer or more formed.

“With colour, the red range often brings warmth, especially the more orange reds. The bluer reds introduce something more ‘noble’ into the warmth. Then the blues bring a quieter more peaceful feeling, and the violets bring an ‘inner mood’, perhaps a meditative quality — warmer or colder depending on which range you go to. Greens bring quite an equlibriurn, bringing you closer to nature, a more ‘earthy experience, although you can work with some greens in a very luminous, uplifting way as well.

“We also work with black and white, particularly drawing, using charcoal, pencil, crayon. Black ant white can bring something very orderly and focused. Some people need that simplicity. Some people are afraid of working with darkness, of making an impact onto the paper – or their lives. Working gradually with black and white, introducing more dark areas, can help people to ‘grip’ their lives. Some do not need to work in a representational manner with colour and form, they need to work with dark and light in a more abstract way – you could call it a ‘mood’ way”.

The Hibernia School of Artistic Therapy offers a four year vocational training in art therapy, except for people on sabbatical from their previous jobs, who can come for up to two years, for a refresher course or to develop their existing careers with artistic work.

The students have sculpture and clay modelling, painting and drawing studies, and medical lectures every week, given by doctors. The main tutors are two GPs who are practising locally within the NHS, and there are also visiting specialist lecturers. Then students have courses in speech and drama, art history, eurythmy movement therapy, and gardening in the School’s bio-dynamic garden.

At the end of training, the students start to go out once a week into the community, working under supervision either with the elderly, with maladjusted teenagers, or Children’s groups, or prison work. They also go on observation periods to watch qualified therapists at work.

There are basic human qualities required in any therapeutic work: you have to identify and work on these in yourself to become a good therapist, such as being able to listen and observe. The art therapist is not a counsellor, but the therapy is a way of “accompanying the patient on their journey”. For as with all treatment that has sprung from Rudolf Steiner’s teaching, it is based on the belief that illness is not just an unfortunate accident in our lives, that we can make more sense of it than that: it can also be an opportunity.

Information Courtesy of
: Hibernia School of Artistic Therapy Centre for Science and Art Lansdown Road, Stroud, Glos. GL5 1BB

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