We recently spoke with Australia Counselling member Frances Taylor about art therapy and the benefits of working creatively with clients.
Frances is a Queensland counsellor who see clients in Redland Bay, south of Brisbane. She uses art therapy and has an interest in creating her own art.
Watch the interview below, or read the transcript under the interview to find out more about art therapy.
Frances Taylor has always worked in the nurturing and healing industry, first as a nurse, then a natural therapist and now as a counsellor. She is a mother of 4 grown children, has 4 grandchildren, 2 fur children (2 mini dachshunds) and a hubby of 42 years. In her private hobby life, She is an artist. She is passionate about family, health, animals, justice, conservation, art in all forms and recycling.
She says that like many of her colleagues who have studied different counselling techniques and theories, she works eclectically but favours the post modern approach of creating a new story and being solution focused. She loves expressive therapies as well as “the talking therapy.”
Frances likes to help people make a shift to where they want to be, authentically; without judgment, within their control and with strength. She wishes to inspire and motivate change. She has been in private practice for 12 years and is a clinical member of ACA and an ACA registered supervisor of counsellors. Read more on her profile or website.
Clinton: Hello, this is Clinton Power, founder of australiacounselling.com.au and it’s my great pleasure to be speaking today with Australia Counselling member, Frances Taylor who is a Queensland counsellor who also practices art therapy with her clients. Welcome, Frances, How are you today?
Frances: I’m very well. Thank you very much. Yes. It’s a stormy day in Brisbane but it hasn’t started raining yet.
Clinton: Well, I wanted to speak to you specifically about art therapy because I know it’s something as a modality that you practice with your clients. You do art therapy with them. Can you tell us little bit about how your practice came about before the evolution of your practice, and how you became interested in art therapy?
Frances: I started practicing about 12 years ago now, and in my private life, I’m a hobby artist. I love art and it really has been a natural progression for me to be able to get people to express themselves through art. I find it particularly useful in many cases with my clients.
Clinton: Do you have a particular medium that you practice with your own arts?
Frances: I paint, I sculpt, and I draw, so I do lots of different types of things. With clients, and I also to do sand tray with clients, but generally it’s drawing or painting. It is usually the thing that I go for the most.
Clinton: Tell us maybe for the lay person who’s never heard about therapy who has no idea what it is. Can you just explain to us just a broad concept of what it is and what it looks like?
Frances: Okay. Well it’s really an expressive therapy so people can express themselves by doing a drawing of a feeling. For instance I might ask somebody to draw me a shape of how you’re feeling today or pick up a colour that reminds of how you’re feeling today and make a shape with that colour, and it really starts a dialogue. People seem to naturally keep fiddling with the picture and they’re not supposed to be a thing of beauty. They’re just literally an expression. I can draw and paint quite well, but if I’m actually doing art therapy, I’ll do stick figures. It’s not something that you need any talent for.
Clinton: That’s reassuring to me as you don’t actually need to be an artist to participate in art therapy.
Frances: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. You just need to be game to give it a go.
Clinton: Right. How can art therapy help someone who perhaps is struggling in their life with relationship issue or may be an issue in the workplace? Can you give us a broad overview of how it can help someone?
Frances: By being able to put things on paper that may be somebody contextually verbalised works really well particularly with young people I find. Often times I might have teenage boys sort of being dragged in by the scruff of his neck by his parents who want me to sort him out. I don’t want to sort him out. I just want him to be able to express himself and tell me what’s going on in his life and sometimes it’s a lot easier for that person to pick up a chunky crayon and just start fiddling. The other thing is they don’t have to look at me as they’re doing that. I find that that’s quite helpful when you’re dealing with adolescents.
With other age groups, just being able to get feelings down, how big a feeling is? What colour a feeling is? How overwhelming it is? People will draw themselves as a tiny weenie person on a big piece paper and then they’ll draw this massive storm cloud up in the sky or something. They’re constantly showing you how they’re feeling. They’re showing you the pressure that they’re under or whatever and it just gives an opportunity then for dialogue so that we can look at alternatives. What would you like your picture to be instead and how could we work toward that type of thing.
Clinton: Sometimes you’re saying the art therapy really is a springboard to then begin a conversation about what’s going on with the client.
Frances: Absolutely and if a conversation is needed, sometimes I find the people just run away with their painting or their drawing and they really don’t want to talk. They just want to get on with it and all their work is internal that they’re doing and then that’s fine as well.
Another thing that I quite often use art therapy for is unresolved issues that maybe somebody is harbouring some resentment that they’re struggling to let go of a problem and to be able to scribble that picture out or whatever they want to do on how big is it, what colour is it, how messy is it, how strong is it, all that sort of thing. Then sometimes just tear it up into a million pieces. We’ve even gone outside, dug a hole in the garden and set fire to it.
Clinton: Oh, wow.
Frances: Or buried it in the garden but my husband always prefers me to dig them up later. There’s just so many things. I think a lot of people or human beings can be quite ritualistic and sometimes therapeutic ways to ‘let go’ can be brilliant. I’ve actually also given people little bits of paper to write their problems on and we’ve actually poked them inside a balloon and then blown it up and tied it up and then let it go. I live down on the beach and so they easily get blown out to sea and it’s just quite therapeutic.
Clinton: It sounds like you can be very creative with how you use art therapy.
Frances: Absolutely. Absolutely and it’s great fun to do and I’m actually looking to doing a Masters in Mental Health Art Therapy degree next year, so I’m very excited about that and I’ll take it even further.
Clinton: Wonderful and sounds like you have quite a passion so already. What’s your sense of why art therapy might be effective as an approach to working with clients?
Frances: I think the talking therapy doesn’t work for everybody. Some people are very reticent to open up quickly and so it’s a bit of a gateway, I think, to just to engaging these people.
Clinton: Tell us, can you give us an idea of what actually happens in an art therapy session? When the client comes in kind of talk us through what might they expect as you introduce some art therapy in the session?
Frances: Okay. I’ll give you an example. I was speaking to a lady some time ago who felt that her heart was empty. That’s how she was describing herself. She was feeling as if her heart was empty. I gave her a big piece of paper and some crayons and I said to her, “Look, draw me a picture of your heart” and so she drew a picture of a big heart and not in an anatomic way but in the classic heart shape. Then I said to her, “Now you tell me your heart is empty, but is that really true? There must be some things in your heart. Who would be in your heart? Who would feature the biggest part of your heart?” Then she started to draw and write in names of family members and her dog and different things like that and actually after a period of time with me prompting her and saying, “What things do you really love to do? What fills your heart with passion?”
She was able to write down more and more things. We actually filled this great big picture of this heart, and by the time she left, she was really very pleased with it and took her heart home with her and said, “Well, that was something I didn’t expect, and I feel hate’s better and I don’t have an empty heart. You’re quite right, it’s not true.” It is quite simple really.
Frances: Absolutely. I’ve helped people with grief and loss to make little, we made little cloth hearts which we’ve cut out of fabric and then written on all the bits of fabric important people’s names or if it’s just about one person, some fantastic qualities about that person and this sort of thing and made a little pocket out of this heart and pushed all these things into it and then sewn it up, and I’ve got that to take away with them. It works really great with grief and loss, making a little doll or something like that. It might sound a bit childish but it’s actually not.
It’s quite lovely to do with an adult or a child and I actually did one with a little boy who’s about 12 and I thought, this will have to be a super hero doll and it was. Inside this little super hero he had got written down all his strengths and all the things he was proud of and all this sort of thing and it was great. We stuffed it inside this little person that we made and tied it all up with wool and everything else and he really liked it. He said, “I’m going to sit my super hero on the top of my computer when I get home.” Yeah.
Clinton: I wonder as I’m listening to you, how much of the effectiveness of art therapy is about helping people connect perhaps with a different part of the brain because we often hear about left brain, right brain, always think which half is creative, one kind of tends to be rational cognitions, the other part creative. Do you think that art therapy helps you access different areas of the brain?
Frances: Yes, apparently research to date has shown that it does reach all parts of the brain, and by doing art, you’re actually firing up your transmitters that were otherwise sort of more dormant. I guess that’s where the creativity comes in. Of course creativity leads to problem solving so in counselling, it’s great for people to be able to see their own answer.
Clinton: We’ve had some of these issues before that people, clients potentially saying, “I’m not an artist.” I often come across people who we found art classes in school quite shaming. They’re very embarrassed to do any kind of art. What do you say to the client that perhaps is very nervous about picking up a crayon or pen or paints?
Frances: Well, they certainly don’t have to do it. I don’t ask everybody that walks in the door whether they want to do that, that’s for sure. Often times, I’ll sit with someone and I’ll also draw. I’ll just be drawing something of mine, they can’t really see what I’m drawing, so they don’t necessarily, they don’t feel they need to copy me or to think that they need to be doing it right or whatever.
For instance with the heart exercise that I was talking about before, often times, I’ll draw a heart and I’ll start drawing little pictures and little things inside my heart that I like. The other person is sort of sitting across from me, but they get the gist and they’re doing their own scene. Sometimes a little bit of prompting gives people a bit of extra confidence. I deliberately don’t have beautiful writing tools and beautiful crayons and things. They’re all big chunky things that kids would use on the floor in preschool type of thing. It’s all part of it. Apparently, I don’t really know why, but apparently, I think well probably you just maybe engage with your inner child a bit more if we used the childlike things. I have texta pens and things like that but usually it’s a touch on the messy side.
Clinton: Can you tell us a bit of what differences that are you seeing in the outcomes perhaps in people where you’re using art therapy and perhaps other clients where it’s only talk therapy? Are you seeing different outcomes between those two groups?
Frances: I think it just depends on the situation and I had a client the other day who had, she was very angry with her husband because she feels that he’s got this alter ego that he turns into and he’s not nice when he is that person. I said, “Let’s draw him” and she drew him when he was in this bad mood and she gives him a different name when he’s like that. She drew this picture and of course after a while, she was laughing. It was quite comical and then we talked about why he gets like that. Does he know he’s like that and can you use him to turn his bad mood around and things like that? Again, she went off with her picture and she actually said to me as she was leaving, “Well when my husband’s in a really good mood, I’m going to ask him if he’ll draw a picture of me when I’m in a bad mood because it’ll be fun to compare them.”
Frances: Yes. There’s lots of different ways that you can use things and I wouldn’t like to say that art therapy for me was much more beneficial than talking therapy. I just think it’s another string to my bow, another tool in my toolbox.
Clinton: How can people get in contact with you, Frances, perhaps and either you’re in Queensland, you’re in the Redland Bay area is that right?
Frances: That’s right, which is on the coast. It’s South East of Brisbane. My telephone number is 07-3206-7855 or they can catch me on my mobile which is 0415959267, and I do Skype counselling as well so it really doesn’t have to be a local person to come and see me. I often talk to people out in rural areas and some actually even overseas so the sky is the limit with modern technology which is rather wonderful.
Clinton: Is there a website where people can visit and read more about you?
Frances: Yes. My website, I’m actually doing a new one, but the one that’s up and running at the moment which is probably a bit aged but however it’s www.goodcounselling.com.au.
Clinton: That’s good counselling with two Ls or do you spell it with two Ls?
Frances: With two Ls that’s right.
Clinton: Fantastic. Well thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today.
Frances: Thank you, Clinton. It was a pleasure. Bye, bye now.
Clinton: Bye. Bye.