Exploring the mind with art
PUTTING a paintbrush to canvas can be daunting for first-timers.
Especially if you don't feel terribly artistic or creative.
Art therapist Christine Heath is working to change that, as she believes being creative can be a healing outlet for everyone.
Christine has worked as a counsellor for many years, but it was only when she discovered her own love of art that she decided to pursue the idea of helping others through creative expression.
"I had been doing art and counselling separately for many years," Christine said.
"Six years ago I thought it would be nice to combine the two, so I completed a course in transpersonal art therapy in Melbourne, which covers all areas."
Having worked as a telephone counsellor for a family support group in Adelaide, as well as other counselling positions over the years, Christine was excited about this practical way of reaching others.
"I have always needed to do something expressive and creative - from mosaic to sculpture and painting," she said. "It's nice to experiment with art as it gets you away from the everyday hassles.
"It really is relaxing and therapeutic and it's so nice to now be able to pass this on to others."
Having made her home at Currumbin last year, Christine is now offering her art therapy and art expression classes to locals.
"It can be therapy, used as a counselling tool, but I think the whole general public would benefit from connecting with their creative side as well.
"That's why I have the therapy classes as well as the expression ones and also one-on-one sessions if required.
"In the classes we use a variety of mediums, from acrylic paints to pastels, collage and clay.
"I've found the therapy groups allow the participants the opportunity to express and explore themselves and discover things that perhaps they weren't aware of.
"I don't analyse the work or try to solve the problems. I simply give them the tools and guidance to use them."
One of the joys of her work, according to Christine, is seeing the amazement on the faces when people step back and look at what they have created.
"People are usually surprised by what comes out in their artwork.
"But I create a safe environment where everyone is comfortable to work. Sometimes the classes will start with a meditation to promote relaxation but every session and group is different and ultimately everyone experiences something different about themselves."
However, you don't have to be seeking counselling to enjoy one of the art sessions.
"I have been holding casual get-together art expression groups as well," Christine said.
"They are simply a way to look at life from a different perspective and move in a different direction if need be. There is no judgment within the groups."
And most importantly, Christine says, you do not have to be an artist or have done any art previously to attend.
"It's simply about expression and it's amazing how people can connect in different ways," she said.
"You may only do a line on a page or a stick figure. It's not about artistic ability - it is for you only, and is usually meaningful in some way."
Christine said art therapy was useful for people who struggled to put their thoughts or feelings into words.
"When words aren't enough or you have difficulty saying them out loud, well, this kind of therapy can help.
"There's a famous quote that says 'art is an external map of your internal world' and it's so true.
"I do believe art enables people to work from their heart and soul. If you can relax and connect to your inner being, you will work from a different part of your brain as the creativeness - expression, intuition and imagination - comes from working on the right side of the brain."
Fully transportable, Christine says she is able to hold her workshops at any location around the coast.
"These sessions can be used as corporate team building exercises, in health groups, in schools and in the general community.
"In the past I have worked with people with eating disorders, cancer centres, rehabilitation groups, women's shelters and carer groups. All the workshops are always person-centred and non-judgmental."
Christine said she has been a member of the Australian Counselling Association and the Federation of Psychotherapists and Counsellors of Queensland.
"Art therapy covers everything, regardless of gender, age, culture or religion.
"It's used a lot for children and people in trauma.
"I like it because it really is satisfactory to see
people connect through experience and express themselves. It also allows them to move forward."
Christine, who completed many art courses herself prior to studying art therapy, said many people who attend the workshops have not done any art since their childhood.
"Art has always been a part of my life so to be able to combine it with counselling and offer a unique therapy is wonderful," she said.
"At the beginning of the session many people don't think they can do anything artistic but I've had clients who have gone on to study art techniques.
"That's just one of the many satisfying outcomes - it's so lovely to be able to help others especially when you see them begin to connect with their own self and gain insights which bring about their own self-realisations.
"It really is a visual journey where people do a lot of imagining, creating from their dreams, feelings and shadows. And through that people find their own meaning - they interpret what they have done - it doesn't matter how simplistic it may be."
Christine produces many of her own beautiful artworks at home as a way of understanding what's going on in her own life.
"For me art has always been a way of relaxing and exploring my own inner resources," she said.
"And I teach how to get in touch with creativity and think outside the box, but I'm not a technical art teacher."
Art therapy is drawing from within and, according to Christine, it assists people to express emotions, perceptions and imagination through art.
"The emphasis is on expressing image - colours, shapes, symbols, dreams - that come from within. It is a personal process of making art," she explained.
"There is no right or wrong way with this type of creative expression and you do not have to have prior art experience or need to be good at art to participate.
"Art can simply be done for the pure enjoyment of doing it - getting people away from everyday hassles and worries.
"And a benefit of that is it can be enlightening, but best of all it is something that is open to everybody."
Christine said she found people in need of help were often at a bit of a loss as to how to help themselves.
"You just encourage them to do anything to get started - even a scribble or a single line on a page.
"Many people are surprised by what they can do."
- Art Therapy workshops planned for October 19 from 6.30pm (Qld) and October 22 from 9.30am (Qld) at Xtra Health and Wellness Clinic in Burleigh.
- Inquiries and bookings to Christine Heath on 0409 194 487 or go to www.heart2art-therapy.com.au