INTERVIEW WITH KELLY REEDY
In simple terms, can you explain what Creative Arts Therapy is about to those who might not know what it is?
For thousands of years, human beings have been compelled to create visual art, music, dance, or theatre in order to seek solace and protection in response to life’s difficulties, as well as in celebration and connection with other members of their society. Today a trained creative arts therapist uses these art-based methods of expression, combined with an in-depth knowledge of modern psychology, to assist her clients in overcoming life’s challenges and gain greater self-awareness and resilience. Creative Arts Therapy serves to inspire and guide the innate healing ability that arises in individuals when using their hands, voices, and bodies to express their innermost feelings, especially during times of emotional or physical distress.
What does Creative Arts Therapy mean to you?
My love of creating art has nourished my life-long engagement in the arts as a therapist, educator, and artist. My recent experiences working as an art therapist with a wide range of clients has reconfirmed my belief in the power of art to move, inspire and heal, as well as given me the confidence that my using the creative arts in therapy is the best way for me to share my knowledge and love of the artmaking process to help others.
How did you first discover about Creative Arts Therapy as a practice?
In 2007, I met the founder of The Red Pencil, Laurence Vandenborre. I did not know much about creative arts therapy before, but through my encounter with Laurence I became more interested in how art can be used in the field of mental health. I followed the development of The Red Pencil organization over the years and was impressed by the work they did both in Singapore and around the world.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be an Art Therapist? Was it your first career choice?
I first trained in fine arts as a painter and later did a master’s degree in education, always keeping my own studio practice going while teaching part-time. In 2013 my daughter began looking into university programmes for applied theatre studies, through her I was introduced to how all of the creative arts could be used therapeutically. I began to feel the desire to expand my work in art to include using art as therapy. I decided to enroll in the MA Art Therapy programme at LASALLE College of the Arts Singapore in 2015. It was one of the best decisions of my career.
What are some of the challenges you have experienced as an Art Therapist?
After completing my MA in Art Therapy and beginning to practice in this new profession, my greatest challenge was rethinking my own identity as an artist, educator and newly minted therapist. While the fields of fine art, art therapy and art education can be closely related, there are times when you must not cross certain boundaries, especially in clinical therapy. After several years of practice, I feel more confident in how to use my different skills at the appropriate time and place.
What is the greatest joy about being an Art Therapist?
My greatest joy working in this field is using the language that I love and know best, artmaking, to assist others to express feelings they have no words for and to help them deepen their self-awareness and resilience though the creative process.
“My greatest joy working in this field is using the language that I love and know best, artmaking, to assist others to express feelings they have no words for and to help them deepen their self-awareness and resilience though the creative process."
Photo credit: Amos Mak
“… I have discovered there are often special moments during the therapy sessions where we can see a spark of self-understanding or displays of newly found self-confidence and self-compassion in our clients, revealing that they feel seen and safe in the shared therapeutic space."
What do you think are some common misconceptions about Art Therapy?
Many people have the misconception that you should be good at artmaking in order to benefit from art therapy. They may have bad memories of being told they had no talent, perhaps as a child. This of course puts them off of making art when they are older. In the end, many people who have this fear find that it quickly disappears as an art therapist guides them in the process of artmaking, rather than being worried about the product. Some people also believe that the artwork will reveal too much to the therapist. It is important to remember there is a triangular relationship between the therapist, client, and artwork. It is through this relationship that a therapist can help guide her client to discover their own meaning in their artworks, while acting as a support, not a judge.
From your experience, how do you think Art Therapy impacted the lives of your clients?
In this field, we often conduct time-limited therapy, perhaps only seeing a client for a few sessions or a few months. So as therapists we are not always able to follow our clients over many years to see how they are faring in the world. Yet I have discovered there are often special moments during the therapy sessions where we can see a spark of self-understanding or displays of newly found self-confidence and self-compassion in our clients, revealing that they feel seen and safe in the shared therapeutic space. These moments are very rewarding and our hope of course is through our work together our clients will be able to incorporate these positive experiences into their lives.
You pursued further studies in counseling after your masters in art therapy, how has your background in counseling been useful in your art therapy practice?
The foundation of my art therapy practice is my deep knowledge of how to use art materials and the artmaking process therapeutically. Yet I am very much engaged in learning more about different methods and clinical approaches in psychology. I continue to take courses with expert facilitators across multiple disciplines, such as trauma-informed care and mindful, self-compassion practice. At the moment I am working towards certification in the fields of mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques and Jungian sandplay therapy.
How has being an Art Therapist affected other aspects of your life?
Before becoming an art therapist, I was interested in learning how to meditate, but unfortunately I never seemed to find a way to really incorporate it into my daily life. Because of the intensity of one of my first clinical internships with female youth-at-risk, I realized that I needed to better ground myself in order to support my clients. This led me to studying mindfulness and self-compassion-based meditation practices and bringing them into my own life as a means of self-care. These practices have also helped me to become a better therapist, as I can mirror being calm and centered for my clients.
Do you have any advice for budding Creative Arts Therapists out there who want to start this profession?
I would encourage anyone who wanted to go into the Creative Arts Therapy profession to become fluent in the artistic specialty of their choice. If they want to use music to help people, they should feel very comfortable with their voice or other instruments. The same of course is true for someone wanting to work through visual arts, dance, or theatre. Creative arts therapists bring a very powerful tool to the therapeutic relationship, the ability to facilitate the non-verbal expression of deep emotions through the creative process. This is what makes our profession so distinct from traditional talk therapy. By being fluent in the artistic language of your choice, you will better be able to help your clients express their inner feelings through making art, music, movement, or applied theatre.
What role does art therapy play in times of pandemic?
Art therapy and artmaking provide a wonderful means of self-care for people of all ages. Fostering self-expression through art is a gentle, non-verbal activity that can help individuals relax or bring about new perspectives regarding their feelings and fears. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone because of the abrupt disruptions and uncertainty it has caused in our personal lives, communities, and the larger world. Many people are searching for ways to work through their fears and anxieties concerning what the future holds for them and their loved ones. Like prayer or meditation, the act of making art helps us to calm down and brings meaning and joy back into our lives in the present moment. It is of utmost importance that we turn to our inner creative resources to see us through this difficult time. Using art therapy and all of the creative arts modalities is essential to our wellbeing now and in the future, just as they were in the past.
You’ve recently facilitated a number of online art therapy programmes for The Red Pencil (Singapore). Could tell us about your experience? How does it compare to conducting face-to-face art therapy workshops and clinical sessions?
When we went into our circuit breaker or lockdown in Singapore in April, I wondered how I could continue my work as an art therapist. Shortly afterward I received an email from The Red Pencil (Singapore) inviting art therapists to provide online workshops and private clinical sessions. They announced they would support us in learning how to use Zoom to conduct sessions, as well as work with us to develop ethical practices using this new platform. I was delighted to be guided by their team in giving two online self-care workshops for the general public. I also conducted clinical sessions online for three sets of children recovering from life-threatening illnesses and their siblings. At first I questioned how I would be able to safely keep the children involved in the online sessions, as their ages ranged from 5 – 12 years old. I was pleasantly surprised with the children’s focused engagement during the therapeutic artmaking process and the transformation, which occurred in each child over the course of two months. It was wonderful to see how well art therapy can work online for both children and adults. I do admit I like to work face to face better, as I can see more of how my client is responding to materials and the process of making art in general, which is sometimes hard to see on the computer screen. That said, I will continue to blend these two modalities in the future when necessary and to further explore the potential of working with art therapy online.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone… Many people are searching for ways to work through their fears and anxieties concerning what the future holds for them and their loved ones… It is of utmost importance that we turn to our inner creative resources to see us through this difficult time."