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Painting a brighter future through art therapy

Pandemic has led to a rise in anxiety, loneliness and depression, says Art Therapy Guelph founder
Heather Caruso, an art therapist, registered psychotherapist and founder of Art Therapy Guelph.

When words fail, art therapy can help.

Unlike traditional talk therapy, it uses art-making as a tool for healthy expression of emotions and feelings, as well as the sharing of lived experiences.

It's something more people are turning to in the wake of the pandemic.

“There are fewer restrictions, but some people are still afraid. There had been much upheaval in the world,” says Heather Caruso, an art therapist, registered psychotherapist and founder of Art Therapy Guelph.

“There has been a lot more anxiety during the pandemic, as well as isolation. People might need to unpack issues such as loneliness and depression, which has been on the increase, along with anxiety. Even relationships have changed depending on people’s views on health issues surrounding COVID-19.”

Caruso describes art therapy as form of psychotherapy combined with creative expression.

“Art lessons teach techniques. In art therapy, I give guidance but I allow the person to express themselves however they wish,” Caruso says.

The end-product is not the goal, rather the process itself is the objective.

“Art therapy is helpful in ways that are not limited by speech,” Caruso says.

Since 2020, Art Therapy Guelph has offered children, teens and adults opportunities to express their emotions creatively – either in person, in groups or online. 

Art therapy has deep roots in modern psychotherapy. Although used as a therapy since the 1950s, Caruso says the practice has been around for hundreds of years.

“During sessions, clients say they have experienced positive self growth and emotional release. Their creativity is often sparked,” Caruso says.

“Talking about someone’s creation offers a great opportunity to learn more about themselves, develop coping strategies and gain personal insight.”

Art therapy helps people work through their mental and emotional issues.  

“People have said that they can’t believe that a little bit of drawing has had such an effect on them, where they could bring themselves out through drawing,” Caruso says.

“Some think that art therapy is just for children, but most people I see are adults. Often, they are surprised at how they feel after doing certain art exercises.”

As a young girl, Caruso recalls one of her report cards highlighting her creative spirit, immersing herself in art, and others having a hard time trying to pull her away from it.

“I love looking at, learning about and talking about art. I find it fascinating to see how people, who are doing the same exercise, can come up with something so different. I learn a lot from people, and they learn a lot about themselves,” Caruso says.

“I find it fascinating and so fulfilling. I love that I get to do this every day. It’s not a job for me.”

Caruso says art therapy does not require artistic talent and there is no judgment. It is about freedom of expression by using any colour or art material that fits each individual need.

Individual sessions offer privacy, with one-on-one attention.

“Participating in individual art therapy with me may be for you if you are experiencing emotional challenges, need to talk about something bothering you and your past, or have long-term mental health challenges,” Caruso says.

Art Therapy Guelph hosts a few different art therapy groups. Some groups are held online or in person. Each group has between six to eight participants.

Each session is 50 minutes long and art therapy supply kits are also available for purchase.

Caruso says art therapy can provide opportunities for deeper reflection, self-exploration, personal growth and coping tools.

"I think that people find it surprising how powerful it is," Caruso says.

Art therapy is good for emotional regulation, but is also used as a tool to help with expression that does not have to use 'language'.

“I am so grateful to be able to share my gift with others,” Caruso says.