Category Archives: Creative Arts Therapy

Transformation of the Ordinary

I am a Creative Arts Therapist with a focus in Dance/movement therapy (DMT). The Creative Arts therapies can be an avenue for creating a symbolic transformation of individual, or community experience. DMT can use the same characteristics of weight, balance, and dynamics as do everyday actions such as walking, working, playing, or communication. Out of our everyday and ordinary motor activities, DMT can select, heighten or subdue, gestures/postures and body movement to achieve something which transcends the ordinary.

For instance as a teen I learned a West African Maize Dance from the Arthur Hall African American Dance company. This dance uses the movements of planting, tending, and harvesting of maize as the core elements of the dance. Taking these agrarian movements and enacting them outside of their usual context begins the process of symbolic transformation. As the movements are performed an element of artistic quality begins to emerge and becomes evident in the transitional movements that occur between planting, tending, and harvesting. This Maize Dance combines the ordinary with the extra ordinary; taking the everyday actions and ritualizing them in a way that expresses and celebrates an important aspect of West African culture.Dance Movement Therapy and Children

Symbolic transformation can take place on an individual level as well. Once, working with a client an opportunity arose to explore the bodily expression of sadness; i.e. what are you doing/feeling physically when you are sad. The client took the ordinary movements/gestures/postures of their sadness and made them bigger and smaller, connecting, un-connecting and reconnecting them as they slowly evolved into a pattern. As this client continued with their exploration a transformation occurred and new movements, suggestive of another feeling emerged. Asking the client to add words to their exploration of the new movements provided a clearer understanding of sadness.

Enacting movements/postures/gestures outside of their usual context allows the possibility of experiencing in way that can be more; objective and subjective. Making bigger and smaller, connecting and reconnecting, movement and feelings emerge uncensored, allowing a different understanding of the original feeling and all that surrounds it. The therapeutic process of dance movement therapy can guide the mover as they explore, uncovering the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Hospital art therapy program helps children express themselves

Nathan Allen loves the colour blue.

His T-shirt is blue, the blanket wrapped around his knees is blue, and his eyes, bright under his baseball cap, are blue.

But blue is also a feeling, and after spending months undergoing near-daily dialysis at the Hospital for Sick Children, who could blame an 11-year-old for feeling a bit down?hands-029.jpg

Nathan was referred to the hospital’s new on-staff art therapist to help him cope with his emotions. And when Jennifer Bassin came to visit recently week with her case of supplies, he chose the colour blue to start on a sculpture of a car.

“Shocking,” jokes his mom, Judy Chapman.

Nathan was diagnosed with a bilateral Wilms’ tumour, a rare cancer of the kidneys mostly affecting children, at age 5. He started chemo and radiation and had a partial nephrectomy in both kidneys. His left kidney never worked properly again, and after almost five years of remission, cancer returned to his right kidney.

Now he undergoes chemo once every three weeks and dialysis five days a week. That’s a lot of poking and prodding for an 11-year-old who would prefer to be playing defence on the Georgina Blaze novice hockey team and cuddling his 3-year-old beagle, Daisy, at home in Keswick, Ont.

After three more chemo treatments, Nathan can go home. His parents are training to do at-home dialysis and counting down the days until Nathan can receive a new kidney. His mom is praying she can eventually donate one of her own.

Until then, he looks forward to his weekly sessions with Bassin. She visits during the two-and-a-half-hour dialysis process, and they paint or sculpt while the machine whirs in the background.

“It absorbs some of the time,” Nathan says. “I like to build stuff.”

Bassin has brought something called a 3Doodler — a cross between a hot glue gun and a tiny 3D printer, which can make plastic sculptures. This day, after he makes the car, she asks Nathan to make something that resembles his idea of cancer.

“A big, black, blob,” he says.

Nathan is an outpatient but most of Bassin’s patients are long-term in-patients at Sick Kids who have chronic illnesses, complex medical histories or have faced traumatic injuries.

Since the program started in May, she does art therapy just two days a week and sees between four and eight children aged 4 to 18. Psychiatric patients have benefited from art therapy at Sick Kids in the past, but this is the first year the new program, which is entirely funded by donations, has been extended to medical patients.

“Art therapy is taking the language children already speak and meeting them at that level,” Bassin said. “You don’t have to be good at art to participate in art therapy. It doesn’t have to be about the painting or about the drawing. It’s more about finding something they enjoy that we can use as a tool to explore how they’re feeling.”

One patient, who had recently been in a traumatic boat accident, sculpted a vessel out of clay — and then smashed it against the wall in a moment of catharsis. Some enjoy the physicality of painting big murals, and some like to rip up what they’ve drawn. Another drew a landscape so she could imagine herself outside the hospital, at a picnic.133741-133461

“When you create something outside of you, you can really treat it like it’s at a distance, and it makes it safer for us to explore a little bit.”

Making art helps young patients take back some control in their lives, if only for an hour. Some patients are content with their creation, and others want to delve deeper into their feelings, Bassin says.

Nathan’s family hopes he can go home in late September, when he can rejoin his classmates in Grade 6 and go back to being an annoying older brother to his sister Emma, 7. He’s still quiet, but less withdrawn after a session, his mom says.

As he paints a mask green, with blue lips and black eyes, Bassin asks Nathan if he has a plan.

“Nope,” he says. “Just going step by step.”

The Hospital for Sick Children

Wade on the water

Illness that is of a chronic nature has a huge impact on individuals separately, as well as within the context of family systems. Health care systems, being “systems”, have an inability to care for patients on an individual basis. While systems managed health care, impersonal by nature is promoted as cost effective, it increases costs in the long run by not holistically treating the client. Impersonal health care adds to the disassociation patients often experience; for the ill body/mind and subsequent new family/life dynamic, the medical profession, and the possibilities of wellness.1378006_10151699852947169_1244682694_n.png

In 1990 I worked with Bear, a 38 year old womyn who had a late stage mastectomy. She was dealing with issues of an altered body, of thoughts of death, her children being motherless, things left undone. During a 10 day group movement based expressive arts residential retreat, she took the opportunity to explore some of these issues. One of her expressions was in the form of a healing ritual. Most of the group stood on one side of a pond, singing the gospel hymn, “Wade on the water”. On the other side, Bear was carried down to the waters edge, wrapped in a blanket, and left there, standing, still wrapped. She slowly undid the blanket and waded into the water, slowly swimming to the other side, where, like a chorus of angels we waited, still singing.

Bear engaged in a method of emotional healing that falls, far, from the “systems” method of health care. Her methodology embraced her needs, hopes and fears in a manner that can only be facilitated in an open, accepting, creative and supportive atmosphere. The waves that she stirred that day in the pond are still going, still rippling outwards, deeply and profoundly on all those who witnessed her wade in the water.