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You Don’t Have to be Good at Art for Art to be Good for You – report by Lainee Kirk

Art therapy provides a space to reflect on oneself and relate and connect with others. Creating art with coworkers opens a different context to collaborate and share rather than the usual workplace goal-oriented frenzy. London Art Therapy Centre’s Hephzibah Kaplan hosts corporate workshops to invite a change of pace through art in the workplace. 

As a part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Kaplan was invited by an advertising company to hold an art therapy session for employees. Upon arrival, upward of a  hundred employees flooded outside the building as a fire alarm beeped distantly. The group waited outside for a bit before piling back into the building, jittery and taking a moment to chat before returning to their respective places. The scene was quite a literal illustration of the chaos and liveliness of a workplace.  

Around 25 employees from different departments gathered in a circle of chairs, some grouped with friends and others sitting alone. Kaplan introduced herself and her colleague, Mirella Issaias, both HCPC-registered art therapists. She gave a brief background to this approach to art and dispelled some myths about being ‘good at art’. 

When working in a corporate setting with time restrictions, Kaplan usually selects a suitable prompt to get people going. The group was invited to use the plethora of art materials and to be as expressive as desired during the artmaking, and equally, to be mindful of the internal process. 

The group dispersed amongst the art supplies, some going for the large bin of fabrics, others choosing their paint colours. The sounds of markers across paper, tissue ripped into tiny pieces, and giggles, as people talked about their art filled the room. After about 30 minutes of artmaking, the group came back together. 

Before reflecting on the artwork, Kaplan eased the vibe by explaining that art therapy is about depicting the internal imagery that can come in many forms. The expectation that creating art is a skill that some have, and some do not is ingrained into us since primary school. Still, there is always a sense of vulnerability when sharing something you have created.  

As the participants began sharing, they soon became comfortable talking about why their art translated the way it did. One woman pointed out the sparkly fabric she glued as a part of her tree trunk to illustrate the wisdom she wishes to share with the world. Another participant drew a tree sprouting from the stump of a chopped tree and spoke about starting a new chapter in life. Not every detail had meaning, but most people were able to find aspects of their picture that reflected an experience or character trait. Kaplan’s experience shined through as she commented on the pieces, sharing her observations and offering useful insights without exposing anyone’s vulnerabilities.

Lainee Kirk

Participants reflected on the sense of peace they felt after the artmaking and discussion.  Some talked about how they had stopped making art on their own because they didn’t see the point but were refreshed by the freedom to create without expectations. They gained a new perspective on art as a therapeutic tool to express something from their internal worlds and learned how this approach helps manage stress and self-regulation.

The desire to slow down and allow the mind and body to rest was much felt. Participants talked about the wish to integrate artmaking back into their lives as a means of relaxation. With the hustle of work life, a reminder to slow down and take time for yourself is essential. Mental Health Awareness week brings up the conversation of mental health and isn’t where it ends. This week and every week, invite slowing down and creative expression into your life.

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