Art therapy as a tool
By How Kah Hwee
Winning speech for BVTMC Chapter Meeting on Thursday, 16 November 2020
Pathways Manual, L1P2(A)- Evaluation and Feedback
Introduction and Engage audience
Good evening club president, toastmaster of the day, and fellow toastmasters. Can we have a show of hands
who would like to try skydiving one day, or have tried it before? Nice! (play video) The closest experience i had
was this, (wait for video to finish) jumping off a 12-metre-high cliff. I landed badly though. If I knew what would
happen to me, or imagined the possible incidents, (next slide) like breaking my leg, or bursting my lungs, I might
not have made the leap. So before the jump (next slide) I emptied my mind and just concentrated on moving my
legs. Has anyone used the same tactic before? Not imagining the worst, not feeling anything and just do it?
Mainpoint 1 – What is dissociative feelings and its challenges
(next slide) You may be doing this more than you realized. We are all susceptible to diseases and we will all die
one day, our planes may crash, our loved ones would leave us. But we try not to think about these because it
can be overwhelming. Our mind can block out unwanted thoughts, to cope with fear or anxiety by not feeling
them, just like how i did before jumping off the cliff. Therefore, a lot of us go through life in a slightly dissociative
manner where we disconnect with feelings.
Mainpoint 2 – What is art therapy
This can be a problem sometimes, which i will share about later. Now, I want to share with you (next slide) how
art therapy can overcome this problem of being disconnected with feelings. First, I would need everyone to help
me with a simple quiz. Open up the chat box in zoom and be ready to type in your answer in the chat box. Type
in 1 or 2 that correctly describes the heading. Okay here’s the first sample question. You have 2 seconds! Okay,
now let’s do the real questions. Be quick okay!
So if you can look at the chatbox, i think most of us has the same answer for each question. During my art
therapy experience, with 10 other people from different countries and cultures, we found many similarities in the
symbols we drew to represent each emotion. (next slide) For example anger, we all had some form of zig zags
or crosses. This exercise showed us that the lines and shapes we use is like an assumed language. We know
inherently how to describe our emotions through lines and shapes, which can sometimes be easier to express
(next slide) But when we don’t put contrary emotions side by side, it is harder to interpret which line represents
which emotion. Hence, art therapists don’t interpret our artwork, this only happens in movies. (next slide) What
art therapists do is facilitate participants to express their emotions. It is up to the participant to describe how they
feel. (next slide) Art therapy can happen with different art mediums. It is non-judgemental, the aim is not to
produce beautiful art, but to use it as a tool to access our emotions in a safe place.
Mainpoint 3 – How I started art therapy
(next slide) My coping mechanism towards overwhelming emotions is to not think about the subject, disconnect
with my feelings and move on with life. More or less I lived this way, until one fine day, I can’t anymore. On a
very peaceful Sunday, 29th of March this year, my world shook up a little when I failed to save my grandmother.
It was my first time performing CPR on a real human being, and I failed to resuscitate her. I began my grieving
and healing journey in the few months that followed.
Understanding our emotions
It was not an easy journey as I had trouble connecting with my emotions and therefore understanding them, so I
tried out art therapy.
In one of the art therapy sessions, using just lines, shapes and colours, we were asked to choose an emotion we
have felt. I chose (next slide) guilt, a very complex emotion. During the process of drawing, we are encouraged
to really connect with the emotion and feel it. (next slide) It allowed me to (next) connect with the emotion guilt,
(next) stay with it for a good 20 minutes, and (next) drill deeper into the multi-facet of emotions we have, to
access the subconscious emotions that lie deep beneath.
When you feel overwhelmed
After we were done, we took a moment to observe our drawing from afar and reflect on it. We then
share about our drawing with everyone, walking through how each shape or stroke comes about based
on the emotion we felt. This also helped me (next) break down complex emotions like guilt, regret,
unfairness and frustrations to simpler emotions like sadness, anger and fear. It became easier to
question and understand why i feel this way.
(next slide) When the canvas we painted representing our emotions is presented in a visual form in
front of us, we see it in a distance and can remove ourselves from it. When we can see and touch the
problem, we have the chance to contemplate, reflect and find ways to cope with it. Growth and healing
comes when we uncover new coping skills.
My grieving process is a treasured experience. I actually grew closer with my grandmother due to this
process after she passed away. I got to reminisce her and hold endearing memories close to my heart.
I also become more patient and compassionate towards my other set of grandparents. All of these
would not have been possible if I cannot sit with grieve and sadness.
Conclusion – Taking care of those feelings
(next slide) Through art therapy, I learnt that being overwhelmed or suppressing my feelings are not the
only two ways of managing emotions. (next slide) By feeling difficult emotions in a safe place, we can
take our time to understand ourselves. For me, sitting with guiltiness has helped me come to terms with
my situation. When I feel overwhelmed, i can now draw emotions on a canvas and reflect upon them
from a distance. From this I learn new coping skills and I manage to comfort and handhold myself
through difficult emotions. It was truly liberating and empowering, even life changing. If one day you
wish to process emotions but need a little help, i hope that art therapy would be something useful for