Sunday, August 14, 2011

healing the mind

 What is Art Therapy?
"Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight. Art therapy integrates the fields of human development, visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms), and the creative process with models of counseling and psychotherapy." 

We were fortunate enough to shadow the experts in our interested area for few days. Some wanted to focus on dance & music, womens rights, education, medical care or art. I wanted to see the reality of the medical care system in Senegal. Our internship was at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Fann (known as hospital Fann). On the first day, we attended the art therapy session. It seemed like it was used mostly for the “mental” patients ( even though we couldn’t quite figure out their definition of “mental” illness since there were alcohol and drug rehab patients, deaf patients, college student patients who came for anxiety etc) but it was open for the public for free and there were both in-patients and out-patients. I absolutely loved the environment. It was a small studio with some reggae music. Nobody was judging or judged, and everybody was free to express whatever they were feeling inside by all means. Some drew, some talked, some just made tea all day, some listened to the music, some told jokes and riddles and some wrote poems. A patient that I worked with told me his life story. He mostly complained about the poor quality of life in Senegal and about the lack of opportunity to follow his dreams which were writing music and film making. Everybody had no shame in sharing their thoughts. Everybody was so welcoming and open-minded. I was thinking that I was going there to help but I was the one who was helped. How these people could genuinely love the others even us foreigners was heart-warming. I felt truly comfortable and “healed” in that little studio.

Omar is deaf. He was born deaf. His brother is a doctor at the hospital and that's how he found out about the art therapy. he was recently married and just had a baby boy! i could tell that he was so happy when we asked him about his family. he also recently sold his art piece which helped finacing raising the child. Now he is the head of the family and he feels like he is doing something right.
Omar; my favorite artist/patient.
one of my favorite art works by Omar.

Omar and us:)

by Omar.

also by Omar. He is such a genius!!

Some of the artworks by other patients! 1,2,3 are by the same artist. He actually went to an art school for 2 years. his work was somewhat more complicated and symbolic. most of his works had something to do with Africa.
1) face/ Kora



3) crying Africa

This is the patient i worked with. He was working on ancient Egypt and pyramid and Sun worshing. He said it was meaningful to him since he was beginning of the civilization and culture. He was admitted to the hospital for anger issue but now discharged, but he still comes back for this art therapy session because it gave him "peace" and "forget about everything."


Wait, I made this art therapy sound all emotional but not scientific or effective. I don’t know much about its history and its biological, chemical, physiological aspect of it except for what I read in Wikipedia. But to some extent, I could understand why it would work in Senegal. While In the states, individuality and privacy is much appreciated and respected, in Senegal, community and collectiveness is more emphasized. It is depressing to feel isolated or unloved in the state where everybody pretty much minds their own business. Imagine feeling left-out in Senegal where others except you seem to be always together and share everything together. Wouldn’t you feel even more sad and alone? Art therapy in the hospital Fann was in a group form. It was an activity that anybody could enjoy and socialize and feel belonged. Their unique characteristics were valued here and that “difference” was used in making creative and special arts. I could understand how this sense of being understood and heard could help to relieve some of the pains and negative thoughts especially when the patients are suffering the diseases of the mind.


This patient hears voices. He was drawing the war scene. there were airplanes, tanks, knices, guns and dead people. he said that somebody told him to draw that. later i found out that he was a street kid. his mother hd mental illness and he didn't have a father so he lived on the street near the French military camp. it was surprising to see how vulnerable human minds are especially when we are young. This made me think of other kids in other parts of the world where there are killings, bombing and all the inhumane things going on.

we went to the studio to say goodbye on our last day( it was very difficult to say goodbye.) they were focusing on music that week. there were several professionals who came from France and they were recording each patients' expression in music. we were told that they come once in a while to evaluate the patients and the access the effectiveness of the therapy. it was good to see some kind of support since it seemed like the hospital wasn't doing much. There wasn't enough equipments(brushes, paints, etc) to start with. They sometimes sell their artworks and the hospital and the patients get 50/50 to financially support the group.

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