“Art has a potential for showing and changing people’s experience, including psychological elements.” – Dr. Fahad Alfahed, Art Therapist and Lecturer at KSU
Making art makes us feel good, but does it possess healing capacities? Artists have always recognized the well-being and self-transformation that art provides. Cubist painter Georges Braque described art as “a wound turned into light,” while American artist Julia Cameron proclaimed that “Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics” and “brings healing.”
Art’s ability to express what lies beyond words and give shape to the goings-on of the human unconscious led to its early medical usage with psychiatric patients. Slowly, art therapy, formally recognized in the 1940s, emerged as a distinct branch of psychotherapy. Practiced in myriad settings – hospitals, rehabilitation centers, prisons, shelters, and refugee camps, it is used to help individuals cope with trauma, personality disorders, depression, and physical disabilities, amongst many other health impairments.
Research confirms, from both a physiological and psychological perspective, the value of the expressive arts to the healing process. Art’s benefits are not reserved, however, for those experiencing major challenges as studies show that making art reduces stress, improves self-esteem, enhances learning, and fosters creative thinking and problem-solving skills.
Working with an art therapist possesses advantages, as Dr. Fahad Alfahed, a board-certified art therapist and lecturer at KSU, explains, “Art itself is therapeutic when it is used appropriately with or without an art therapist, but working with the right art therapist is essential to best achieve desired outcomes.”
Producing art in a place that feels safe with someone you trust allows clients to go deeper in their self-exploration.
Moreover, the interaction with a well-trained therapist who perceives clients’ art with fresh eyes and listens to the stories they weave around it greatly facilitates clients’ intuitive understanding of their images, allowing them to better imagine a way forward.Art therapy is now practised across the globe, including in Saudi Arabia, although it is limited to a few institutions. Dr. Fahad also notes the issue of training: “People in Saudi Arabia are interested in art therapy, but many have difficult access to education.” Lucille Proulx and Michelle Winkel, directors of the Canadian International Institute of Art Therapy currently teaching in Cairo, observe the desire for art therapy education in the wider Arab world: “We are now experiencing from our Egyptian students the thirst for art therapy techniques and theory during this month’s training on attachment-informed art therapy.It is critical that we address the stresses and challenges impacting today’s families in creative ways, and art therapy is an economical, evidence-based intervention wonderfully suited to Arabic culture.”
Because the creative arts are central to contemporary Saudi culture, the growth of art therapy would have far-reaching, positive social consequences. We can only hope, along with these art therapists, for a day when Saudi-based art therapy programs are established across the kingdom.
Places Offering Art Therapy
King Fahad Medical City
Location: As Sulimaniyah, Riyadh
Tawazon Space (founded by Khoulod Aladani)
Location: Abdul Rahman Ibn Abi As Sarh, Shati Dist., Jeddah