An Art Therapist Discovers the Creative Prairie Landscape
by Karen Wallace
I have had the privilege of working as an art therapist for the past fifteen years in Victoria, BC, and before that my family and I lived in the Gulf Islands and the South Pacific. I moved here last year and have fallen in love with the soft prairie colours, the open vibrant sky, and the open plains. Having not lived in the prairies before, I find it refreshing and a new adventure to enjoy (yes enjoy) the harsh rawness of the weather. I am very excited about teaching and working here.
Art therapy is typically referred for situations in which there is a mind-body relationship to the nature of a person’s trauma (i.e. sexual abuse, PTSD). It is also used by clients who seek a more tangibly productive therapy (literally “rolling up your sleeves”), enjoy expressing themselves visually, or for whom talk therapy has not achieved the desired outcome and want to try something new. Art gives children, teens, and adults the opportunity to express powerful emotions, and it is generally described as a highly illuminating, enjoyable, and unique experience.
In my work I see individual clients who are exploring issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, life transitions, abuse, and trauma. I draw on a wide variety of theories to create an integrative approach. I am a practicing artist and combine theories in a very creative way in my practice to facilitate clients’ journeys through change. I am trained in Somatic Experiencing and Focusing and I find that combining these body-centred therapies with expressive art therapies to be a fast, holistic, and deeply effective way to work. Somatic art therapy is an integrated somatic and body-centred approach used with art making. Somatic psychology links neurophysiology and psychology with the wisdom of the body as it relates to trauma resolution and the inherent stress of daily living. Through art you can explore and expand the authentic creative imagery that comes from the bodywork. Through body awareness and creating imagery, you can work towards transforming trauma.
Many of the emotional problems we have can be traced back to disturbing events in the past. These may be significant traumas, such as abuse or a car accident. They may also be less dramatic, but still have a lasting impact: for example, being ridiculed by a teacher or rejected by a best friend in childhood.
Some of the tools I use in my work are sand tray, all forms of art making, life mapping, goal setting, relaxation techniques, guided visualizations, journal and creative writing, movement, somatic experiencing techniques, stress reduction techniques, reframing, EMDR, mindfulness meditation techniques, and play therapy.
For years I have created and facilitated art therapy groups, which can focus on body image, grief, addictions, personal growth, spiritual awareness, and/or trauma recovery. Creating art in a group can be a deeply moving and healing experience. My therapy groups are fun, rich in information, and creative. The creating and making of art in itself is a healing and therapeutic process. Many physical and psychological skills are learned through making and processing art images.
A byproduct of working in art is that children and adults have a stronger sense of who they are and what they are capable of achieving in the world as they learn to be creative and expressive. I have found art therapy to be an effective and natural way to work with adolescents. It helps them focus on their islands of competence, become more resilient, and psychologically stable.
There is no right or wrong way to create art—each person has his or her own individual expression, it is something that everyone can do and creating moves you towards health. Creating a piece of art gives you a feeling of accomplishment and pride. It can also give you a sense of optimism; ownership and personal control to create something you feel good about. Connecting with your innate creative process helps you reconnect with yourself and it enhances self-esteem. Creating art can help foster hope.
I have taught art therapy for many years and look forward to sharing my expertise and knowledge with professionals here who want to know more about this creative way of working with others. I am available to provide in-services for agencies and workshops for organizations.
When I first moved here and told people that I was from the West coast the first question was, and still is, “Why would you come here?” My husband’s and my joking answer was “For the winters.” After living here for a year my answer now is, “For the luminous landscape, the open space, and brilliant skies.” This is truly one of the most creative landscapes in which I have had the privilege to live. My hope is to capture this feeling in my art series “Prairie Prayer Flags” that I have been working on for my art show called Place Like Home to be held at the Artx9 Gallery (Regina) opening March, 2009. I am excited about my new opportunities of working and creating in my new prairie home.
Karen Wallace, BCATR, is an art therapist, artist, and art instructor. She has a private practice with adults and children and specializes in depression, trauma, life transition, and personal growth. She facilitates art therapy, creativity, and art groups. She teaches internationally. Karen is known for her enthusiastic and dynamic teaching style. Her workshops are rich, playful, and creative. To know more visit www.islandnet.com/~kwallace, email: email@example.com, phone (306) 569-2974), or write 2500 McDonald St., Regina, SK S4N 2Z5. Also see the Directory of Services ad oon page 29 of the 14.5 January/February
issue of the WHOLifE Journal.