What is the power of art therapy?

In this week’s Blenheim Blog, Kristina Terefe, an art therapist at Latch House, writes about art therapy and its power to enable people to bring about change on a personal level.

Latch House gives adult males involved with or at risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system the best possible chance of succeeding in Lambeth and becoming valuable members of the community. The service includes the Blenheim substance misuse programme partnered with Nacro, a hostel and housing service. These two complimentary services are designed to support people wanting to break the cycle of re-offending and substance misuse following their release from prison. 


What is art therapy?

Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art-making as its primary mode of communication. It involves creating art in order to increase awareness of self and others. By reflecting on the process of art making with a trained art therapist, people can gain a better understanding of difficult feelings, thoughts and experiences. The overall aim of Art Therapy is to enable people to bring about change on a personal level through the use of art making, and to provide a safe environment where people feel valued and listened to.

For many, it offers a way to improve mental wellbeing and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. Art-based psychological interventions are also helpful when verbal communication is difficult or simply too much to bear.

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Art therapy at Latch House

The Art Therapy group at Latch House has been running since January 2015. The group is open to any service users who would like to engage with art making during their stay at the hostel. The group offers a supportive, non-judgmental and confidential space where participants work alongside each other around a communal table.

With the different personalities and backgrounds of group members, discussions are often had where members look at various situations from different perspectives.

By practicing to listen and to share with others, members are able to improve their social skills, self-esteem and ability to trust and engage in positive relationships. It is a space to explore both personal and group related themes.

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Peter (not his real name) is a member who joined the group at Latch House quite recently.

During his first session, Peter was invited to explore the art materials and to make an image to introduce himself to the group by using words, colours, shapes and symbols that means something to him. I also suggested that he could make a folder to keep all his artwork in. In the end, Peter decided he was going to draw an image from one of the art books, a portrait of a man made using pencil.

I noticed that he seemed to struggle with his work. Each attempt to make a mark on the paper ended with frustration. At the end of the session, all the attempts of making the drawing were in the bin. What was left by the end of the session was his folder with his name written on it. Over the next few weeks, Peter continued to try and draw the man’s face and this is what he shared:

The first time I came to the group I didn’t think it was for me. I was tense and I didn’t feel confident with the art materials as I’m not good with art. The first two sessions I only made a folder, everything else I tried to do was rubbish and I screwed it up and threw it in the bin. In the third session I started over again, this time I didn’t throw it away even though it wasn’t perfect. I like coming here now. It makes me feel good. I walk away feeling like I’ve had a haircut.

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As a group, we discussed what had been shared and members were able to feedback that they also felt that Peter seemed more relaxed, comfortable and confident in the group. There was also a discussion about other valuable qualities he had displayed by not giving up and being able to start over again.

Breaking the cycle of substance misuse means learning new skills and managing your life without leaning on old habits. Habits of ‘screwing up’ or ‘believing you are rubbish’ can be especially hard to break.

Art Therapy provides a space where people can safely explore new ways of viewing themselves or seeing things in a different way. It offers a new language that can lead to profound self-discovery and open up new avenues for self-care.

Kristina Terefe, HCPC and BAAT Registered Art Psychotherapist

 baat hcpc


If you would like to know more about the Art Therapy Group at Latch House or have an interest in booking Art Therapy workshops, please email: arttherapyevents@gmail.com

For more information about Art Therapy please visit The British Association of Art Therapists: www.baat.org

For more information about Health and Care Professions Council please visit: www.hcpc-uk.org.

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One Response

  1. N. Solomon says:

    It’s great to realise the impact arts can make on people’s lives.I remember in my year one module(Using Evidence) where arts such as dancing and drawing have been recognised as evidence based intervention mechanisms to promote mental and physical well-being of individuals.However, we should understand and take into accounts the determinants of health that lead people into taking up substances that jeopardise their health in the first place.Prevention is better than cure!

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