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Episode 35 | Art Psychotherapist Canada Interview with Carole Preston What is Art Psychotherapy

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Podcast Transcript

Episode 35: Art Psychotherapist Canada Interview with Carole Preston What is Art Psychotherapy

[00:00:00] Amy: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the Holistic Health Show. Today, we have Carol Preston joining us from Canada. Carol is an art psychotherapist. And, Carol, I don't know a whole lot about art psychotherapy, so I'm I'm hoping that you can just dive right in and share with us what it is and why you do it.

[00:00:35] Carol: Sure. Art psychotherapy is art therapy. Maybe some folks are more familiar with art therapy as a profession or is that a as a mode for therapy. But basically what it is, it's like talk therapy but all of the expression and all of the kind of therapeutic process happens through art and through creation and creativity. in order to experience art therapy, it's not just sitting down with a coloring book.

[00:01:01] Carol: You need to have art therapist. There's a therapeutic relationship with an art therapist somebody who's trained in art therapy or arts art psychotherapy, and then you also need to have, creativity or materials and art process alongside of that art therapy in Canada is not as well known, I found as talk therapy or just going to a psychologist or social worker or even, like, an occupational therapist. They can do therapy now too, but it's not as well known.

[00:01:29] Carol: But in other [00:01:30] parts of the world, it is. Like, I think it's quite common in Australia, New Zealand, United States, and the UK as well.

[00:01:35] Carol: I just graduated from my art therapy program last year, and so I've been building a practice since then. , it was a 2 year program. And before that, there was always, , elements of art and creativity in my life and in other positions that I had, throughout my life, throughout my twenties and thirties. And it all just kind of coalesced into, like, oh, this actually makes sense for me. It really, weaved in together, , all these, random strands of, working with youth when I was younger and having done , arts based workshops and arts based community development type projects.

[00:02:09] Carol: And then I mean, I feel like when people get into being a therapist sometimes or even into, , the wellness and mental health field, it's because they have kind of personal things that happened to them. For myself a number of years ago, my brother passed away, which was terrible. But 1 of the ways that I managed that grief and dealt with the grief was to engage in art. And so I didn't do it necessarily with a therapist, although I have, you know, I've experienced art therapy for myself as a client. But at that point, I just need something that kind of takes me out of this kind of pain from this loss.

[00:02:45] Carol: And I started doing just online tutorial videos that were, like, an hour long and fit exactly within the time frame of my son's napping because he was a baby at that point. And I was Kind of able to get into a flow state with [00:03:00] that and was able to just, , find that, , calmness and centering that I needed, and just like a place to put that kind of sadness and energy into that. And as I kind of went through that journey, I kind of got to a point where I was Living in a rural area and looking at, , what can I offer in the community, and where can I go next for a career, and in rural areas, there's not as many opportunities unless you have some sort of a professional designation, then you can really kinda make it work if you have a trade or professional kind of designation.

[00:03:28] Carol: And I didn't really have that. I had an undergrad in psychology, and so I was like, hey. If I'm gonna go back to school, I want it to be something that I'm passionate And so it's like, hey. If I'm gonna go back to school, I want it to be something that I'm passionate about, something that I can connect to, and, have it be something different that I can offer to folks in my community and also in a virtual capacity.

[00:03:43] Carol: , it was a beautiful journey to becoming an art therapist.

[00:03:47] Carol: I got to meet people from all over the world got to learn about art therapy and all of the goodness that it can bring to people, and I really got to experience, like,, the use of materials as well.

[00:03:58] If we could go back and just explain to me and the listeners, What is psychotherapy on its own, first of all?

[00:04:05] Carol: Yeah. Being a psychotherapist and being a psychologist are 2 different things. The training that you do is a little bit different and also your ability to do assessments . Where I am in Alberta, psychotherapy is not really a common thing.

[00:04:20] Carol: You're either a psychologist So you're a social worker or as mentioned, the occupational therapy. And I'm licensed as a psychotherapist, a qualifying psychotherapist out of Ontario.[00:04:30] But I am an art therapist or an art psychotherapist, so I only practice art. So I don't do any testing, and if someone was, need needing an official diagnosis from, the DSM, I'm not the person that someone would come to.

[00:04:44] Carol: , you would have to go to a psychologist for that.

[00:04:46] Amy: Alright.

[00:04:46] Amy: And then everyone hears a lot about talk therapy because that's kind of what's been the norm for a very long time. And you're hearing more and more, , different modalities coming up that are venturing away from exclusively Talk Therapy.

[00:05:01] Amy: And I I'm curious. How is 1 processing, releasing, , managing, , their emotions or their trauma through art therapy.

[00:05:13] Amy: So you mentioned it's not just sitting down with a coloring book. , when I think art, I think back to, you know, grade 9. I'm doing papier mache. I'm told to draw something specific. You know, You're doing portraits.

[00:05:27] Amy: I'm thinking of all these, , construction and building type art forms, but I guess I'm not putting the 2 together as to how doing that, aside from it being a relaxing, project. I'm not putting it together on how that's helping somebody deal with trauma or cope with, you know, like you said the death of a family member, so grief. So could you explain a little bit how that process works?

[00:05:55] Carol: Yeah. I mean, I'm not a neuroscientist, and so I'm sure there's other folks [00:06:00] that can talk about kind of the connections and that kind of thing in the brain more so than I can. But the understanding that I have and what I was taught was that different materials do different things for us. And, there's, , a lot of research now on like, somatic therapies and the use of the body to, get rid of stress and anxiety and and all of that. And so with art therapy, like, you're moving your body.

[00:06:28] Carol: There's, like, art therapy and then there's expressive art therapies, which integrates more dance and music and voice, and you can do You can have, like, elements of that kind of expression within art therapy, but for me, I primarily work with, , art materials, and then I like to combine kind of poetry in it. With talk therapy, you're only accessing 1 portion of your brain at the part that talks. But when folks experience traumatic events, it's not coded in language. It's coated in sensations, smell, body positions, taste, color, kind of texture, how the air feels around you. It's not

[00:07:11] Amy: physical,

[00:07:12] Carol: It's a very physical thing.

[00:07:14] Carol: Right? Because when something traumatic happens, it?

[00:07:16] Carol: overwhelms our nervous systems. Right? It's interesting. As you're saying that, I'm just thinking, when you think about a trauma or some, you know, big event, you can't always describe it in words. You can't always express vocally how it [00:07:30] makes you feel. But yet you can say how physically it makes you feel.

[00:07:35] Amy: You know, you've you've gotten an overwhelming sense of nausea. , you're getting neck pain, headaches. You're associating, like you said, some of the senses with this event.

[00:07:45] Carol: That, cognitive portion of your brain that is, like, the center for language and and that that kind of gets shut down when something really traumatic happens and you go into, , fight or flight. Right? And so, then everything is a response that way. And then also with trauma, those events keep happening over and over again and are kind of alive in your body, and you're not really present in the here and now.

[00:08:08] Carol: And so when you're using art, there's so many different levels it can work on. So it can bring you into the here and now because you're engaging in the here and now with the material. So you're working with, like I'm holding Play Doh in my hand right now. And maybe this Play Doh was in the refrigerator or in the freezer, so it's cold, and then it's giving you that sensation, really kind of bringing you here. And then, , as if you're working with someone who has had, a a really big trauma in their life, however they find it and they're having a hard time being in the here and now, you can take them from that, , we're just working with touch first, and we're working with senses first.

[00:08:42] Carol: And then you can kind of move up from senses into other into other areas where eventually at the very top, At the very end of kind of your process, you're ending with maybe they're working with poetry, maybe they're talking, maybe they're actually writing things down about that process where maybe in the [00:09:00] beginning, all that they all they can do is play with plasticine or clay or get their hands into whatever it is that you're offering them to kind of work with. Right? Where they can kinda feel that out, be in the here and now. And then be able to release some of that stress and tension. There's some really good books that while I was in my art therapy program that I read that were, like, wonderful additions to the the things that I was learning.

[00:09:25] Carol: So 1 of them is, an older book, and I think a lot of people know about it. It's Bispel van der Kolk's The Body Keeps the Score. . It's really interesting in that book because he doesn't talk so much about art therapy, but he talks about creativity. And he talks about how if you've experienced so much trauma and you are unable to be creative or you don't have that capacity for creativity because you're in , fight, flight, flee mode, that you can't find an alternative solution.

[00:09:55] Carol: You can't find a solution to get yourself out of it. He did a lot of research on adverse childhood experiences, where if you have so many of these adverse childhood experiences, you're more likely to experience mental health issues or you're more likely to have an official diagnosis of something within the DSM. So you could be of, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, what he found [00:10:30] was if they had more of these adverse childhood experiences, they were more likely to have this.

[00:10:34] Carol: And so within his book, he kind of unpacks his research, , over his lifetime. And then he does He talks about creativity and how, Yeah. if you're not creative, you if you don't have that, like, spark for creativity because that's been kinda shut out of you. You're not gonna be able to find creative solutions to your problems. He works with imagery as well. So, , he kinda talks a little bit about his process, which is always, getting clients to breathe and ground themselves and be in the here and now and learning how to breathe again. And then creating a he does this draw me a picture of your childhood kind of thing, and he uses that to assess kind of where the client's at.

[00:11:16] Carol: So then for myself, , I think, , A lot of people, they've only done arts and crafts when they were little. , I get clients who haven't played with plasticine or clay or Play Doh since kindergarten. You know? But as soon as they touch it, it's like they sink into it, , and it. just taps into different areas. And I think, , if part of being an art psychotherapist is to encourage creativity and to spark creativity within people because so many people are like, I'm not an artist. I can't do art therapy.

[00:11:44] Carol: It's not about being an artist. It's not even about the final product at all. It's about, , the process. It's about the materials, and it's also about the therapeutic relationship.

[00:11:55] Carol: 1 of the biggest factors in success and [00:12:00] healing when you go to any kind of therapy, talk therapy, art therapy, is the relationship that you have is that therapeutic relationship with the therapist. And so vitally important is to find a therapist that you can work with and that you like. And that when you sit across from them, you feel that they're trustworthy and they're you know, you kinda gel with them. And, you know, it's a therapeutic relationship, So you're not gonna be friends, But you still have to feel comfortable that they're that they've got you, that they're gonna hold you and introduce you to things, especially, for art therapy for myself, , that I'm gonna introduce you to things that are gonna help to keep you safe, but are also gonna expand you a little bit. So what happens as well sometimes when we were talking about the materials and kind of how they can be useful, and how they're different from talk therapy is sometimes we get to a space where, , if you are always used to being in control And then you as you're going through therapy, , you're kind of getting closer to maybe experimenting with materials that don't provide that kind of control.

[00:13:10] Amy: And what are some of the other materials? So you mentioned, like, Play Doh or plasticine.

[00:13:14] Amy: And I'd like to know, I guess, what would you start someone with,

[00:13:18] Carol: Yeah. I mean, it's not maybe it's not even gonna be a surprise because it's just kind of standard art materials. So, like, At the lower end of the spectrum for, rigidity, it's clay and plasticine, and you might even do, , woodworking or, [00:13:30] whittling or that kind of thing within your studio.

[00:13:33] Carol: The middle of the road stuff is, like, oil pastels, some like thicker acrylic acrylic paints. Collage is a big 1. , a lot of people love collage. To work with collage, it's also you're just selecting images And placing them on the page, so it's very low risk.

[00:13:51] Carol: And then the fluid media is, watercolors. Like, you know how to use watercolours, you kind of have trained yourself how to use watercolours. , it's great. But you have to have , if you're just go coming into watercolors, they kinda go everywhere. It's hard make something really awesome, but you can use that, like, watercolor or, , India ink as well, and, , get that on the page and, , kinda move it around.

[00:14:14] Carol: When I have clients, I usually work with multiple materials within a session, and we might do a couple of different images to unpack whatever it is that they're talking about.

[00:14:22] Amy: so through the sessions that you're working with people. You're kinda guiding them, are you, to maybe not guiding what they're putting on the page, but guiding the trauma to to come out. What I don't really know quite the right words to

[00:14:37] Amy: use there, but

[00:14:39] Carol: It's always an invitation. Every art therapist is gonna work a little bit different, but in general, what happens, you come into the art therapy studio. It might be a big space. It might be a smaller space. It might just be sitting around a table in a private room.

[00:14:53] Carol: And, usually, there's a little bit of talking in the beginning. You know? Like, how are you doing? And, maybe what are you interested [00:15:00] in working on today? Or whatever it is.

[00:15:01] Carol: If it's not like an intake session. , an intake session with art therapy is kinda similar to talk therapy. A lot of questions and what they're looking for and setting the stage. But always, it's an invitation. So whatever they wanna work on.

[00:15:14] Carol: Oh, anger management or I'm frustrated with my mom or, , I really wanna talk about, , this thing that happened last week. It could be, , really topical as well. Oh, you're, you know, you're stressed at work. So, , how can we, , what can we do to release that stress? Depending on who it is that I'm working with, the invitation might be a little bit different every time. And I might go in with a plant based on last session and be like, okay. Well, last session, they did this and this, and this is kind of what they created and what they got out of the piece. But now, You know, how can we get them to, move along in the process and for their own, , healing and own self exploration? But then they might come in and be like, nope.

[00:15:54] Carol: I wanna talk about this, this, and this that happened. , you just switch gears and maybe, , Maybe I've set out Play Doh or maybe I've set out plasticine, but I always kind of keep materials close on hand.

[00:16:03] Carol: And they can always say no. It's always about consent as well.

[00:16:06] Carol: Always. Because some things can be really triggering. Like, for myself, , I really like working in charcoals, , but I don't like how it feels on my fingers.

[00:16:14] Carol: I don't like that dry feeling. I have dry hands anyway. And and I also don't like when plasticine dries out on my hand.

[00:16:20] Carol: So you can get into sensory issues too, Especially with folks maybe that have autism as well, , you have to really kinda pay attention to how people are [00:16:30] reacting to the materials as well. And also, , keep in mind that some folks are really people pleasers and then as they're working with It's kind of like, no. You're not into this at all.

[00:16:39] Carol: , we're gonna switch gears here.

[00:16:40] Amy: And then you mentioned with the sensory, so I'm curious. you're obviously you're working with plasticine and Play Doh. You're you're molding that with your hands.

[00:16:48] Amy: And then when you're moving into the paints, You would tend to have a paintbrush,


[00:16:52] Carol: There's definitely a sensory play element to art therapy as well.

[00:16:57] Carol: Like, you're playing with materials. You're exploring materials. You're getting your hands in there. There's, like, therapeutic value for that as well that you can really feel how slick it is. And sometimes, , that's the session.

[00:17:08] Carol: You just, , lay out a bunch of paint on, , a on, like, a clean kind of surface, and you're just, , moving the paint around and really feeling that. And whatever is happening, like, in your body for, , that kind of soothing or whatever it is, there's therapeutic value to that. You

[00:17:24] Carol: know? imagining that feels great to me.

[00:17:27] Carol: . I mean, having a good imagination is so important.

[00:17:30] Carol: And , having that sense of play that you can play in that, and I think a lot of times, , we especially nowadays, , we need permission to play and do those kind of things. , you can do that within therapy, and there's a therapeutic value for it. But, like, I mean, Amy, if you wanna throw some paint on on a table and on a paper and just to get into it 1 afternoon with paint, like, that's awesome as well.

[00:17:54] Carol: We should be able to play in that way. Right?

[00:17:57] There's, , old school art therapy , where [00:18:00] therapists would interpret the work for the client, And that's not so much what we do anymore at all. We ask questions about the art, and we get curious about the art. But we always ask questions, and And we just observe.

[00:18:15] Carol: And, , hopefully, with the questions that I ask, it helps you to kind of unpack that a little bit for yourself

[00:18:21] Carol: and then also you get to practice things.

[00:18:23] Carol: , you get to practice being in control of a situation. You get to learn how that feels, , if it was in within, a therapeutic space. You you get to feel how it feels to be in control of a situation.

[00:18:34] Carol: And then because you know how that feels, if you're if you're used to outside of therapy situation being out of control or being in situations where you don't have much power. Maybe you're going to school and you always have to do what the teachers are telling you or whatever.

[00:18:48] Carol: You can, , transfer those skills. It's also another reason I really like art therapy because you can transfer the skills that you're learning within it and that, , practice element outside into other situations I wanted to mention, there's another book that I really love

[00:19:00] Carol: Emily and Amelia, I wanna say, Nagoski. I might be getting the name wrong, but they wrote a book called Burnout. And all of the research within burnout is done on women, and a lot of a lot of, like, psych Research is not done on women. It's done on, , college age men.

[00:19:18] Carol: , and it's about the stress cycle and completing the stress cycle. . And so what I like about that is that, , I can kind of marry that and the information from, , all of these other resources that aren't [00:19:30] directly art therapy or arts art psychotherapy,

[00:19:32] Amy: So for those of you listening, if you wanna check them out, I will link those below. Carol, I wanted to ask, what types of age groups are you working with or could you work with, and then what Source of people would benefit from art therapy.

[00:19:48] Carol: Oh, yeah. I just wanna say everyone. Yeah. I mean, that's very broad. So in my practicum, from age 6 to 75 is who I was working with.

[00:20:00] Carol: . You can use art therapy for pretty much anyone.

[00:20:02] Carol: Art therapists will have certain demographics that they will work with or kind of specialties and niches that they'll work with too.

[00:20:10] Carol: Anyone who is wanting support for their mental health, and anyone who is willing to try out different materials or at least be in that space and maybe you don't wanna work with certain materials, but you , at least a few materials you have to be willing to try and explore.

[00:20:25] Carol: If you're just wanting to come in and talk, , it is art therapy, so you're gonna be invited to do things with your hands and to explore materials and to create what's on your mind or

[00:20:35] Amy: I imagine that would be quite a challenge for some people because often when you're thinking about again, when you go back Art. And really the only time many of us have had any interaction with art is through class, where you're being judged and marked on it by, maybe your peers who will look over your shoulder and make a little comment, you know, and they're not they're Not meaning to be rude, but, you know, [00:21:00] you're 14, 15, 16 years old. They're making comments. Your teachers has decided there was Very specific criteria onto what it was you were allowed to do and how you were allowed to do it.

[00:21:10] Amy: So it wasn't necessarily Creative. It it was more draw this and make it look like it.

[00:21:18] Amy: So I didn't necessarily find a lot of creativity within that.

[00:21:23] Amy: And my point here is Anyone who's thinking of exploring a different type of therapy outside of talk therapy.

[00:21:32] Amy: I suppose when you go into it, you know, I would feel a bit like, okay. Yes. You can you we can talk about what it is I'm gonna draw, but I also wanna do a good job. And so there's that challenge as well, that kinda hurdle to

[00:21:47] Amy: Past and just just let it flow.

[00:21:49] Amy: Do you find that with some of your clients who come through the door?

[00:21:52] Carol: Yeah. I think it's a I think it's a common thing. Like, we're all taught to color in the lines. Right? When you learn to color, You know, you're in kindergarten and the teacher's like, oh, color in the lines. Color in the lines.

[00:22:02] Carol: Why do we have to color in the lines? There's, , a stifling of creativity. Like, you can only create in a certain way, and it has to be aesthetically pleasing all the time. And I think, that's also, an opportunity in the therapeutic space as well is to kind of unpack some of that programming that society's put on us, that it has to look nice.

[00:22:24] Carol: I think the other part portion as well is, , you don't have to talk in art therapy. , I mean, everyone is different, [00:22:30] and I also love a talk therapist. You know? Like, I am chatty. I'm a chatty Cathy, and I can chat people's ears off and talk about all the stuff.

[00:22:38] But sometimes we don't wanna talk about it, and sometimes we don't want to verbalize it or anything. ? And so I think art therapy is an opportunity for us to have healing without having to name it.

[00:22:54] Carol: Also, if there's things that you wanna hold back, , you could put things in the imagery or in the objects that you've created or whatever it is or, , in the way that you're, rolling the Play Doh in your hands that, , maybe gets asked about, but you can say that you don't wanna talk about it at that point. You know? And that you don't have to because whatever you're working out, , on the table with, , the paint everywhere, , whatever you're working out, it just stays in there and it kinda gets externalized as well, , into those pieces. It is a challenge, though.

[00:23:22] Carol: And it is a barrier for sure where people are , well, I'm not artistic, and I'm it's not gonna be good and whatever, and so why would I do that? It's kind of like that is the first hurdle

[00:23:32] carole_preston_raw-synced-video-cfr_riverside_0105: You don't have to be an artist or call yourself an artist or be an artist or have gone to art school to, get benefits from art therapy. I think it's also , anything. , you have to choose, , a kind of therapy that you're comfortable with. , if you're not such a chatty Cathy, maybe sitting for an hour in a room with a therapist is you're just sitting there looking at them like,

[00:23:53] Amy: Yeah. Trying to find the words.

[00:23:55] Carol: yeah. Exactly.

[00:23:56] Carol: Or maybe, , movement's your thing. , There's dance therapists and [00:24:00] drama therapists and , . Music therapist, .

[00:24:02] Carol: Right? explore.

[00:24:04] Carol: There's so much to explore. . It's kind of exciting. We're people and we are diverse, there's, , common threads,

[00:24:10] Carol: but, how we deal with it and how we interact with it and how we process it and the things that we do to process it are all different. You know, way back, like, way back in the day when we're, , hunters and gatherers, living in caves or whatever, , there is always art, always creativity, always music. Always, , those opportunities to create community and, heal in community,

[00:24:31] Carol: create . Be expressive. .

[00:24:34] Carol: You can do workshops. You know, you can do group work. You can also do couples therapy with art therapy, which is always, , so interesting to me, , how people interact with, , the invitation that has been presented to them and what does that say about the couple and how do they how can they practice being together in a new way, but also using art on a community level , for community healing when, big stuff happens or even just community connection in a different way. Right? 1 of the things that I do in my art studio is I have an art hive every Wednesday, and It's not as well attended as I would like, but the concept of the Art Hive is that you come into a space.

[00:25:14] Carol: There's ample art materials. Everyone is, like, an artist in that space, and then you're creating whatever it is that you wanna create in that space with other people and around other people. And then you get to have these casual conversations and make art together, and [00:25:30] maybe you stay for an hour or maybe you stay for 2 hours, But you have an opportunity to connect with people in a different way and space.

[00:25:37] Carol: So I've recently connected did with a local artist in the community, and she has been developing it's it's kind of like her own kind of journey, and she's calling it, the main character journey. And so I'm partnering with her to create workshops for her main character journey. It's, , Really interesting. She's taking, ideas from, you know, like, comic books and also from, like, D and D about, , creating yourself as, like, your main character in her life.

[00:26:04] Carol: And she's done a lot with, , self portraiture as well to develop that kind of sense of main character

[00:26:09] Carol: and There's, , the main quest, which is, , the main character journey, and then she has, , other little side request and stuff that we'll invite people to do kind of on their own time, , outside of the main kind of character journey, workshop that we're gonna be doing.

[00:26:23] Carol: And that's we're gonna do it online so folks can join from wherever it is they are

[00:26:28] carole_preston_raw-synced-video-cfr_riverside_0105: in the world

[00:26:29] carole_preston_raw-synced-video-cfr_riverside_0105: and,

[00:26:29] Carol: But , I would encourage folks if they're interested in art therapy, , check out an art therapy school in the area or online try a few sessions that way. And then if it's something that you really like, I mean, if you like the student art therapist, great.

[00:26:40] Carol: But if you're like, oh, Yeah. No. This was good, and now I wanna go for, someone who's fully certified or fully licensed, then you can do that.

[00:26:46] Amy: You know, it's always nice to get out and and, you know, venture into meeting people face to face. But if you're not ready to do that or, you know, for whatever reason you can't. It's just excellent to have the resources available online. So [00:27:00] what I'll do, Carol, I'll also share link to your website and some of your social media pages so that all you listeners out there can Check her out.

[00:27:09] Amy: See do you know do a little deeper dive into what it is Carol does, and reach out if you have questions.

[00:27:14] Amy: Carol, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time. And thank you so much for listening to the episode today.

[00:27:21] Amy: I hope you enjoyed the show. If you did or if you know somebody who would like or benefit from this episode. Please do share it with them. Bye for now.

[00:27:31] ​

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