Art therapy opens many doors

Panhandle Health Winter 2009

RICK MYERS, Staff Reporter
People in pain have a great deal of visual content, and it is the art therapist’s mission to serve as a facilitator to help their patients understand the content of that visual language.

Longtime local art therapist Charlotte Ingram works in hospital and private settings, where she is able to draw out of her patients some of their deepest feelings through various means of artistic expression.

She said an “image language” is more accurate on how a person really feels. “We are helping people understand themselves from a new perspective,” she said.

Ingram works with Partners in Behavioral Health at Regional West Medical Center half of the day in a group setting and then at Options in Psychology, where she has a private practice.
“I love the group setting, but I just wanted more variety,” she said of her splitting time with the hospital in 1989. “The private practice is a lot of fun.”

There seems to be a misnomer about “art” therapy in that “talent and art has nothing to do with it,” Ingram said. “It’s all about the images.”

“I may ask someone to draw a storm to describe what is going on in their world,” Ingram said. “If they can make any type of image then they will be able to begin expressing how they feel.”

“Interpretation is not my mission,” Ingram emphasizes. “I facilitate!”

To sit with a patient and get them to share what they are experiencing in a drawing can speed up therapy, Ingram said.

“They are so full of intensity and can unburden themselves,” she said.

Outpatient sessions can be a lot more broad and can go in a lot of directions, Ingram said, while in-patient sessions at the hospital involve a lot of specific art therapy and some verbal as patients gather during morning sessions.

“It’s very simple to make images,” Ingram said. “Images are what our brains do for business and all of our memories are stored in images.”

Making images is a backdoor way into our hearts, Ingram said, whether it is poetry, music, dance, drawing or painting.

In the hospital setting, there is more work going on with music therapy than in the in-patient setting.

The art therapy community nationwide has greatly increased, Ingram said. When she entered the field, there were about 500 art therapists and now over 4,000.

Art therapy is for trauma, neuropsychological and addictions.

“We’re using a lot of new techniques and it’s very exciting,” Ingram said.

At the Behavioral Health unit at Regional West, art therapy is done in hour-long sessions Monday through Friday during the mornings. Six groups are usually the norm and the average patient number on the unit is 11 or 12 and ages range from 8 to over 80.

Current financial situations are causing a lot of stress in relationships,

Ingram said.

“With this recession and lost jobs we are seeing a lot of stress on families and marriages,” she said.

Ingram said staff in the unit are seeing a lot of methamphetamine, but alcohol and “pot” are still the “big ones.”

In the privacy of her office, Ingram said she enjoys the therapy space and child play areas she utilizes with her clients.

Ingram estimated that there are 30 to 40 mental health professionals in the area, and the community is much more fortunate than other areas of the state with support programs, clubhouses and independent living facilities.

She admits that the hardest thing she deals with is anger directed at a child by an individual with intent to damage that person. Ingram estimated that about 8 percent of the abuse cases she works with fall into that category.

A vulnerable child is more likely to be affected by something they see on television and that can translate into behavior as they grow older.

“Unfortunately, violence is seen as a solution to a vulnerable kid,” she said. “We use the therapeutic arts to help a child or individual understand themselves.”

She said there are the occasional rewards when a former client says how much their sessions have helped them find their lives again.

“It’s nice to get feedback,” she said.

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