Marina Chong was one of the 7 women caregivers /parent of special needs children invited to attend a support group focusing on using arts to help their well-being and self-care. The sessions were once a week for 9 weeks.
Marina is a mother of an autistic son in primary school who, due to an incident that took place in the past under her supervision, is currently living with his grandparents. She believes that her in-laws do not like her much and is afraid her son thinks the same and does not miss being with her. She was afraid of not being a “good mother to her son”.When observed in the sessions, Marina was friendly and trusted her group members and therapist which allowed her to be open. On the other hand, she also displayed feelings of depression, stress, frustration and sadness.
The group therapist explained that self-esteem issues are very common amongst women. Therefore, the main goal during the clinical cycle was to focus on improving the individuals skills, sense of self, and help boost their confidence. One of the tasks given during a session was to create an art work that reflected an environment where they felt most comfortable and safe.
Marina’s happy place was her bed, a peaceful place where she could sleep and felt most comfortable (figure 1). Creating an artwork about a safe and comfortable place seemed to sooth her nerves. The bed shows a place of rest that one needs in order to escape the stress that comes with professional and personal life. The hearts may represent a desire to be loved or give love, perhaps relating to her family circumstances. The borders Marina has created show the protective nature a mother has towards her child.
The second figure shows a picture that she created, called ‘3 hearts, 3 smiles.’ This image represents Marina’s family dynamic and the love she needs. There is another border (sticky tape) which differs slightly from the broken border from the previous image. The three hearts and 3 sets of eyes represent her husband, her son and herself. She shared the fact that it was an image of the beach because she enjoys going there and being in the water. The contrast between day and night element – the sun and the bright sky with the dark blue starry night border – seems to be something Marina hopes to have.
In session 5, Marina lets go of her boundaries, and explores newer materials for the first time. Using chalk pastel on her art work made her feel joyful and relaxed. In contrary to her precious works, this image was very precise, vibrant, and dynamic. Marina was smiling joyfully after several group members complimented her on her artwork.
Figure 4 shows the artwork that the group created in session 7. For Marina, this became a very important step towards building confidence. Everyone stood around the table, not knowing where to begin, when Marina took the lead and used green oil pastel to draw branches around the paper (sort of like a border, but this time with nature and less rigid). The rest followed and began creating leaves. All the group members agreed that ‘had Marina not drawn the initial stems, they wouldn’t have been able to make a beautiful picture like this’. The group appreciated Marina, and the therapist began seeing significant growth.
When therapy first started, she seemed stressed and reluctant to create any artwork. Later on it was pointed out that she seemed happier and less stressed, which was surprising to Maria, who hadn’t noticed she had been frowning. Even though the changes may not be major after only 9 sessions, there is still improvement in how one sees themselves. Their level of confidence increases and can only move up from there with good therapy work.