Creative expression and authentic emotions are often silenced by the presence of an eating disorder. As a nonverbal language, art therapy can facilitate the process of slowly uncovering and unearthing the creative self that may be hidden under layers of shame and guilt. Adolescents are often reluctant and resistant to verbalize their thoughts and emotions. However, when given the opportunity to paint, mold a piece of clay, or glue and reconstruct a collage, they are able to explore the confusing and overwhelming world of their eating disorder through color and imagery.
Art therapy at Veritas Collaborative focuses on the process of creating art while challenging perfectionism and promoting change. While creating art with a variety of materials, patients also process symbolic imagery in their artwork through reflection and discussion. As an art therapist, I integrate treatment goals into art therapy directives and encourage adolescents to search for meaning and insight in their artwork. Patients are encouraged to choose art materials that inspire them and to discover their own creative strengths. In the group setting, group members create murals and sculptures to practice interpersonal skills including collaborative problem solving, setting boundaries, and negotiating space. During individual art therapy sessions, patients gain insight through visual timelines and investigation of obstacles in recovery. In the Multifamily Art Therapy group at Veritas Collaborative, families create art together to strengthen and renew connections.
As an active witness to the transformative language of art-making during their recovery journey, I have observed themes in patients’ artwork shifting from expressions of anger and frustration to symbols of freedom and recovery. Patients begin to trust their creative voice rather than the voice of their eating disorder. They begin to claim their unique creative perspectives and ideas, eventually reclaiming themselves. As a patient recently described his or her experience of art therapy: “…art allows me to create without inhibition, to feel without limit, and to be without judgment.” Their artwork provides a visual record of the struggles, disconnects, heartbreak, triumphs, shifts in perspective, and the change that occurs during treatment at Veritas Collaborative. The artwork becomes a visual record that is a part of each individual’s unique journey, and as another patient stated, “it’s a safe haven for me and something I will carry with me for all my life.”
Written by Karen V. Kuebler, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT