Art Therapy: beyond prejudices, express yourself and be heard

19 September 2019

Art Therapy: beyond prejudices, express yourself and be heard

Interview with Annie Bilodeau, certified art therapist and psychoeducator who works at the Centre d’action bénévole Laurentides, with caregivers of seniors and with various private clients.

19 September 2019

Many people have preconceived ideas about art therapy. As its name indicates, it is an approach that combines artistic expression and therapeutic practice. It takes a long time to become an art therapist. The comprehensive training includes psychology and visual arts courses before taking a master’s degree. Annie Bilodeau took this very specific curriculum. When she learned about the reality of caregivers during her master’s degree, she made it a speciality. Over the sessions, she uses her experience to encourage caregivers to allow themselves to be supported.

A more accessible approach than you would think

As a caregiver, have you ever suffered from anxiety, eating or sleep disorders? Perhaps you have never made the connection between the demands of your role and these health issues. Why? Because you never have the time and space necessary to observe yourself and assess your situation. Time to focus on your experience is precisely what art therapy provides: “Each person has their own journey and comes based on their needs,” explains Ms. Bilodeau.

What exactly is this journey? “To draw or create in a spontaneous and symbolic way what they are experiencing, simply to express it, to become aware of it, to take a step back and to seek new ways of addressing their problems.” Generally, two or three sessions are necessary to get familiar with the exercise, to appreciate its depth and value: “Many people think that you need a background in or a knack for art, but it’s quite the opposite! Art therapy is a psychological approach that is still very misunderstood. When people hear the word “art” they think of their bad experiences at school, for example. The goal is spontaneity, not beauty. Once people get past the idea of making it beautiful, it goes smoother.”

What happens in a session?

  • Focus time is used to talk about the theme, for participants to express their needs and challenges. This is when caregivers realize that they are not alone, that quite often, others have experienced or are experiencing the same difficulties as them. Feelings of helplessness, guilt and anger are often reported.
  • Creation time and then observation and reflection time during which, without pressure or forcing the participant, Annie asks questions about the work. She then proposes that each person make a change to their creation to give it another perspective: “If the drawing is a closed door - which might represent the absence of support, for example - we try together to see whether a partially open door could be drawn. This opening could suggest, among other things, possible solutions, to go out for some fresh air, to express their anger or to ask for support from family,” she says.
  • Sharing time, during which the solution is shared with the group.

Annie Bilodeau, during a session. Source : La Fabrique culturelle.

Understand, choose and accept changes

Annie Bilodeau sees herself as a guide, but also as a “safety net.” Her role is to create a climate of trust and to encourage caregivers to name their needs, to take ownership of the changes that occur, to learn to be less surprised: “It’s a space dedicated to them: we give them the tools to psychologically prepare themselves to accept the evolution of their role. They have little space to express themselves in their daily life, so they can do so during these sessions. And it's easier for them to do so through their drawing.”

Annie Bilodeau notices this every day: being a caregiver is a very rich human adventure, just like art therapy. An adventure that takes time but is worthwhile.


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