Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The healing power of art

Art therapy at Sol Stone Center helps eating disorder patients in ways that traditional talk therapy may not.

Clare Brown

“Art therapy is a great way to access feelings, because with eating disorder patients, they are very often ‘in their heads’ and disconnected from their bodies,” said Clare Brown, program director at Sol Stone and a clinical art therapist. “Art therapy helps patients express creatively what they might have trouble saying verbally.”

At Sol Stone, the partial hospitalization program at Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service, art therapy is combined with other expressive therapies, including yoga, meditation and guided visualization.

“Art therapy is at the heart of Sol Stone,” Clare said. “When I designed the treatment program, I made sure it was going to help patients feel safe and get in touch with their emotions.”

Twice a week, Sol Stone patients are asked to draw something in a group setting. After meditating, the patients are asked to identify how they feel, reflecting it in the image.

“I ask them to transfer the visualized image to paper and we process it in group psychotherapy,” Clare said. “Patients share their images, and in doing that, they get more in touch with what is going on.

“The beauty of their drawings is they are able to talk about them in groups without the pressure of talking about the underlying issue directly with me or another patient,” she added. “The art often shows patients things they didn’t know about themselves.”

There are no art galleries or shows at Sol Stone.

“We are not interested in any pretty artwork or art for display,” Clare said. “I am more interested in what their expression is. What I am trying to do is help them get in touch with what they are feeling.”

Carolyn Hodges Chaffee, the owner and CEO of Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service, hears misconceptions about art therapy all the time.

“When I tell patients who are candidates for Sol Stone about art therapy, the first thing they always say is they are not artists,” she said. “But that doesn’t matter. They will learn to understand what the artwork means and how it relates to their lives.”

Art therapy helps transform patients, Carolyn said.

“They usually say at the end of treatment how powerful it was, and some patients continue their art therapy as outpatients because it can be very helpful.”