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Art Therapy and Resilience: Drawing on our Strengths
by Karen Adler, Dip, TPAT,
ATH Asst. Editor of Arts and Art Therapy


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Editor's Note from Karen Adler: How art therapy can enable us to recognise, access and use our inner strengths.

‘Resilience is one of the core skills we will need in the future. Our systems are so brittle and overstretched – human systems and ecological ones – and we need opportunities, time and space for regeneration.’ Anne Deveson

The combining of old concepts in new and different ways is often the hallmark of innovation - the bringing of something new into the world. In a therapeutic context, if one brings this new way of seeing old problems in new ways then one has opened the door to being able to glimpse a new way of being and a different way of doing things. 

Many clients come to therapy because they’ve exhausted the limits of their natural resources in their attempts to change a behaviour they’ve realized is self-defeating. Grant Eckert states that ‘Art jumps over the process of linear and logical thinking. It trains the brain to shift into thinking differently, of broaching old problems in new ways.’ 

This is what makes the use of art in a therapeutic context so important, so powerful. When it comes to doing things differently, from a point of deeper understanding of both self and of unconsciously learned behaviour, it helps to be able to think outside the box. The phrase, ‘thinking outside the box’, is itself a graphic visual image. It presents us with a clue as to how and why art therapy can be more effective than merely speaking or thinking about an issue. It’s the making and seeing of something in front of you – the visibility, tangibility and 3-dimensionality – of a drawing or an object that can swiftly shift us to an aha! moment of comprehension and insight.

Neurobiologist, Semir Zeki, in an article, "Artistic Creativity and the Brain," detailed the relationship between the development of cognitive abilities and the creative process. He stated that artistic expression is the key to comprehending ourselves. He also believes that art helps the brain in its search for knowledge.

This image of the brain ‘searching’ for knowledge, I find particularly powerful. As a practitioner, it enables me to imagine me working with myself, rather than against myself. It enables me to imagine a client tapping into her or his own wisdom, working with themselves, the whole of themselves, rather than the very small portion of who we are that’s required for everyday living, 

And when it comes to the notion of resilience – the most basic definition of which is ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity; toughness’ – art therapy can give us ways of working with this important quality when we most need it and on an ongoing basis. 

ResilienceyCenter.com lists resiliency traits as: ‘optimistic, responsible, creative, synergistic, professional, quick learner, flexible, self-motivated.’ With art therapy exercises, these traits can be both drawn and then drawn upon. We can retrace our steps, our lives, and search for instances when these capacities were part of us. We can revisit and re-establish these traits, dragging them from the past into the present, rather than allow images of total devastation to be our whole view.

When disaster strikes, when we are traumatized by external events, it is a natural response to withdraw, to seek safety. To take this most necessary ‘time and space for regeneration’, as Ann Deveson says, is part of being resilient. To use this time and space to nurse our wounds, to heal our shattered minds and bodies, to work with colour and texture and shape and making things and drawing pictures, enables the seeping back into ourselves of bounce, elasticity, toughness. And from this firm base of resilience, we can step forth, back intolife, back into our lives.


©Karen Adler, 2011



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About the Author

Karen Adler, ATH Asst. Editor of Arts & Art Therapy, is a Transpersonal Art Therapist, an artist, writer and researcher. She is a firm believer in the inherent healing qualities of the Arts. She has run art therapy workshops for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, self-harming behaviour, eating disorders, for post-flood and cyclone trauma and for people seeking to bring about positive change in their lives. Karen also uses Art Therapy to help in the resolution of her own life difficulties and is continually surprised by the insight it brings. 
Contact Karen at karenadler222@gmail.com or karenadler@allthingshealing.com.





Deveson, Anne. The importance of 'resilience' in helping people cope with adversity in On Line Opinion : Australia’s e-journal of online and political debate, 18 February, 2004

Deveson, Anne. Resilience, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2003.

Eckert, Grant. Art and How it Benefits the Brain,
http://www. self-help-healing-arts-journal.com/art-benefits-brain.html

Zeki, Semir. Artistic Creativity and the Brain in Science, 6 July 2001: Vol. 293 no. 5527 pp. 51-52,




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