Beyond the Silence – art therapy after loss

When you were young you probably enjoyed making all sorts of marks, trailing your fingers through the dust or drawing in mud with a handy stick, spontaneously creating simple patterns. You were making art without even thinking about it.

Mark making is natural to human beings and we’ve been doing it for tens of thousands of years. Art making was and still is a way to represent and record life experiences and a way to start to make sense of things. Art is for everyone. We are all natural mark-makers with our own unique creativity.

Doing something creative is great for self-care. Neuroscience has shown that becoming engaged in the process of art making promotes relaxation, reduces anxiety and can even alter moods. Creative activities are also capable of calming the parts of the brain that are concerned with stress and trauma.

Art doesn’t have to mean painting or drawing; it could be photography, writing, collage, quilting, ceramics or colouring a mandala, there are so many possibilities. If you feel drawn to trying something creative, choose materials and ways of working seem right for you. You might want to write and that’s great because journaling is a great way to get thoughts out of your head. No one else has to see what you’ve written unless you want them to, so see if you can allow yourself to write whatever comes up without censoring yourself. You might want to keep your writing in a special book, but you could also write on sheets of paper and then tear them up when you are finished.

Maybe you have some old crayons in the back of a cupboard that you’d like to play with? Or perhaps you would enjoy making a random collage, tearing pictures out of a magazine and using a glue stick to paste them into a notebook. Go with what appeals to you and remember that art making doesn’t have to be expensive but if you want to treat yourself to a box of pastels and a new blank journal that’s fine too. Whatever creative process you choose, try to let go of any expectations you may have and give yourself plenty of time to become involved in the process if you can.

This might be very new to you so be gentle with yourself and don’t judge what you produce, just let it happen. Stop when you feel like it and then come back later and look your art again. What do you see? How do the words or images make you feel? What would you like to change if anything? You might be surprised by what you discover.

A particular benefit of art making, which is highly relevant after pregnancy loss, is that it requires the use of the body as well as the brain. The body usually gets forgotten when thoughts are churning around in our heads, but we now know that the body stores information from difficult or traumatic experiences. When a hand holds a pen or a paintbrush and moves it across the page the body is actively engaged in the process and suddenly it gets an opportunity to communicate. The arts give the body a voice.

Your own speaking voice can also be very important after a pregnancy loss. You might want to talk and talk and keep on talking about what has happened and that’s normal. What talking can’t do, is to connect to some of the older parts of the brain. These older, deeper areas of the brain are responsible for the emotions and they have no connection to verbal language. To communicate with these parts of the brain we need to use images, sounds and movement. The creative arts provide access to places that words alone struggle to reach.

When we engage with the arts have the opportunity to express and so understand much more of ourselves. In the words of arts therapist Laura Seftel, “art connects the hands and the heart.”

If you would like to use art for self-care and relaxation you can certainly do that by yourself, although it can be hard to find the time or the energy to make a start. If you decide to start exploring your pregnancy loss using art, please go slowly and gently and consider having a trusted friend with you for support. You might also feel that your experiences seem too big or too difficult to face alone and that you really want some help. An arts therapist can provide support for you in any of these circumstances.

Creative arts therapists are able to give you their full attention without trying to fix or change anything. They use conversation and listening skills just like other forms of counselling but they will encouraging you to try art making so that you can reach a fuller understanding of yourself. Above all they will offer support and be a witness to your art making process. A trusted therapist can help you to face and tolerate difficult emotions and will guide you towards making your own meaning from your experience.

For more information and to find an arts therapist near you, have a look at the Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association (ANZACATA) website. The Australian Counselling Association (ACA) website also has a directory of art therapists.

 

Pam Wakefield AThR (Registered arts therapist)
Beyond the Silence – arts therapy for pregnancy loss.
pam@beyondthesilence.com.au

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