We are all facing a difficult time which we were not anticipating. Due to the COVID19 our world as we know it is going through changes. While we are adjusting to the ‘lock-down’ measures, we try to understand its implications, to prepare ourselves and create a new way of life, work, and relationships.
The impact of a plague on individuals, groups and communities creates many shapes of fear, realisation of death rather than the illusion of safety and strength. The gap between the individual’s lack of control and the social resilience raises many questions regarding the relationship between the individual and the community. The COVID19 raises questions regarding our personal safety and responsibility towards others in the society, the elder and the young; the citizens and the migrant; the beneficiaries of the health care system, or the poor who have no resources for healthcare…
Experiences of loss may be expanded to include not only the previous world, relationships (also with the therapist/ client), freedom of movement, loss of job and income, loss of sense of health, loss of the daily routines and social structures.
To what extent do the changes in time and space of the therapeutic interaction create the feeling of additional loss?
Mental health clinics and various organisations and agencies that provide services to the community have to adapt to distanced caregiving. However, many therapists as well as clients find it difficult to accept the new setting of the therapeutic engagement, shifting to online platforms for communication.
As a therapist who is working in direct personal contact with other people, connecting intimately in order to bring support and ease the distress of another person, I find myself challenged to develop new ways of professional practice, which I could not realise before.
The first goal is to keep and continue communication with clients that may experience growing stress and being at higher risk than before. There are many ways to avoid breaking the trust and relationship with clients, from text messages, voice calls, video meetings etc. It is not ideal, and we need to work on developing new ways to make such interactions helpful and meaningful, despite its limitations. We need to redefine the boundaries and the ethical behaviour in the new models of therapeutic engagements.
What do we offer our clients? What new priorities do we see in therapy? Are we looking for ‘first aid’ kind of intervention to support people in the current moment as they are isolated, stressed about the unknown? Can we see people who are relieved from the hectic lifestyle they were trapped in before? What can we offer for better managing the daily challenges of home isolation, loss of routine, lack of physical activities, and various forms of disorders that disturbed people from functioning, while now they are not expected to function in the same way they did?
As an expressive art therapist I am focusing on the benefits of art making as a meaningful way to create new daily discipline, with balance between fun time and feeling of fulfilment.
Research studies have raised concerns regarding the stress level and mental health of Singaporean citizens, and the way it influences their well-being, their engagement with schooling or work demands, and the reality of violence and crime in the family.
In recent years Singapore has adopted new approach to the arts as well as to the citizens’ well-being. The recognition of various art disciplines, which may contribute to human development and well-being, is taking new directions. I am happy to see the growing interest in the arts and the growing recognition of art therapy. However, I think that there is a need to establish clear professional criteria of the profession, which should be regulated.
Therapy is a very delicate job as it involves people who are at high risk. I am not convinced that offering “community wellness clinics” in more accessible areas in Singapore is the right approach to encourage “reducing stereotypes” related to mental health. Although it is important to afford people with access to art making experiences, it is necessary to make sure it does not creates the wrong impression on art therapy as an art &crafts activities.
Next month, on November 2019, I am going to represent the Art Therapy Association Singapore (ATAS) at the convention of the Singapore General Hospital’s professionals (doctors, nursing, Allied Health professionals and healthcare management), on the theme of this year: “Joy at Work”.
I am thrilled to present the vision about the role that Art Therapy may have in reinforcing the philosophy of SGH in "providing safe, quality care and experience to the patients". The theme of this year’s convention event is “Joy at Work” which has a significant aspect of self-care for professionals in the healthcare industry. I will introduce some technique in art therapy that may support enjoyable work environment and help de-stress the SGH team.
An Art Therapist's Calling: Clinician, Artist, Researcher
Exhibition at LASALLE College Of The Arts
Ngee Ann Kongsi Library
September 13- October 11, 2019
This exhibition was a joint initiative by the Art Therapist Association of Singapore (ATAS) and LASALLE College Of The Arts aiming to expose the Singapore community to the profession of Art Therapy. Each Art Therapist volunteered to participate, created artistic boxes that represents their professional identity and themselves.
Art Making and Identity Integration:
Cultural, Professional, and Social Development
The concept of professional identity has been defined as integrating professional training and personal attributes within the context of a professional community. In what ways experiences of art making influence the therapist’s learning process and development?
How new identity is being constructed and actualized through the creative process? With examples from my own journey, I discussed aspects of identity development of the art therapist, arguing that art making may support self-exploration and identity formation both for the therapist and the client.
The concept of professional identity has been defined as integrating professional training and personal attributes within the context of a professional community. In what ways experiences of art making influence the therapist’s learning process and development? How new identity is being constructed and actualized through the creative process?
With examples from my own journey, I discussed aspects of identity development of the art therapist, arguing that art making may support self-exploration and identity formation both for the therapist and the client.
This was an interaction exhibition, as viewers were invited to look at the boxes, and Art Therapists were given the opportunity to recommend 3 books from the LASALLE library that was influential to their work.
The British Association of Art Therapists /American Art Therapist Association (BAAT?AATA)
International Research Conference
In July 2019 I was privileged to present with my supervisee student at the International Art Therapy Inaugural Conference, in London, our work from Singapore. The conference was indeed an opportunity to meet art therapists from all over the globe. The cultural aspect of the event created a special atmosphere of reflections, inspiring new ways of thinking.
We have presented our work about live-in foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore, who are an essential part of the economy, but are socially marginalized as outsiders. In a reality of the rapidly ageing and low fertility Singaporean society, families usually hire foreign domestic workers. The FDWs population is doubly at risk to experience poor mental health and emotional stress. Social stigmatization, harsh workplace practices and restrictions on the workers’ freedom are some of the problems and issues faced by migrant domestic workers globally. Aspects of coping, acculturation, and psychological adaptation among migrants are some of the challenges influencing the FDW’s wellbeing. Multi-leveled social justice issues permeate migration dynamics and challenge advocates and policymakers to rethink social justice in a transnational age
About The Workshop
Our innovative art therapy programs suggested developing a space for migrants in a learning community to explore ways for improving well-being, shift in roles and identity of this marginalized community. Following social action art therapy approach, the programs emphasized a collaborative process of artmaking as a vehicle by which communities may understand their realities, identify their needs and strengths, and transform their lives in ways that contribute to the individual participant and to the collective well-being and social justice.
The innovative art therapy programs provided opportunity—for both therapist and clients—to understand the worldview of the FDWs community, while trying to meet in the world of their images. The programs highlights the value of a non-verbal communication within the domestic migrant community, who learn from each other to solve real-life problems, empower each other, and make meaning to their roles and identities.
The participants in the art therapy innovative programs reported the positive impact of their experience not only on their well-being but also in creating a discipline for self-expression, empowerment and mutual support within the community of FDWs. The artworks reflected issues of longing for their home country and family members, a high ability to use the art materials creatively, transforming their communication barriers into a sense of strength and an opportunity to connect with each other in a safe space.
Conclusion of conference
Research in Art Therapy is essential for developing awareness through the impact of art making and a need for more research. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to attend this conference in London with my supervisee and for us to talk about FWD in Singapore. I look forward to the next conference!
People ask me what is art therapy and what does it aim to achieve?
Arts therapy uses the art modality, in a supportive setting, to facilitate growth and healing. It is a process of discovering ourselves through any art form that comes from an emotional depth, foster awareness, encourage emotional growth, and enhance relationships with others.
Art therapy is considered a unique domain of psychotherapy and counseling that recognizes the nonverbal and/or metaphoric expression delivered through the creative process.
People think that art therapy may be similar to an art class.
In art therapy session there is no teaching and learning of art making. Although art materials are provided, the focus is not on one’s skills in art making, or the artwork as a product. While in art and craft workshop people learn to enhance their skills in making better and beautiful art product, art therapy is focused on the person: how does a person make use of the materials? What are his choices and making like? What expression may be observed? How does it correlates and reflects deeper personal characteristics? Among other questions that may be relevant to each specific case.
What has been the attitude of people in Singapore towards art therapy?
In Singapore people see therapy as an indicator of deficit of some sort. Usually clients and families will take the opportunity of therapy only if they are prescribed by a doctor, a school, or a legal counsel. Some people are open to see the benefit of art therapy as a way of self-care and support through life crisis that occasionally happen, rather than a way to recover a sickness or a disability.
How is art therapy tailored to meet the different needs of the young and old?
Art therapy, like other therapies, is client-based oriented and therefore it is focused on the unique situation and needs of each client. It requires from the therapist to keep learning and to develop professional knowledge and skills to suites the specific clients she/he works with.
One may say that art therapy may not be a one size fits all.
It is possible that a person will not find art therapy effective, or that specific therapist does not match her/his expectations. In my experience there is no one style or approach to therapy which is more effective. It is important that the client will feel connected and interested. If a person wants to go through self exploration and self-care, as a therapist I guide them through a meaningful journey, though may be painful - no pain no gain - they reach their goals.