Exploring your creativity can be a powerful force for promoting mental health.

Art Therapy is the application of visual arts and the creative process within a therapeutic relationship, to support, maintain, and improve the psychosocial, physical, cognitive, and spiritual health of individuals (Source: Malchiodi, 2013). 

Art therapy can provide a safe space to work through emotions and healing. Covenant House Vancouver has a dedicated art therapy room that hosts a variety of scheduled art therapy classes, usually in one of these three formats: 

One-on-One Counselling Art Therapy 
An opportunity for youth to heal through working with an art therapist, who guides the young person through their creative process. It’s a place to “talk” about mental health concerns through creative communication and a safe space to work on trauma and debilitating mental health issues. 
Group Focused Art Therapy  
This is a closed focused art therapy group where smaller groups meet pertaining to a particular topic, such as healthy relationships. These sessions run for about 6 to 8 weeks and requires youth to sign up. 

Open Studios 
Open Studios are a space for creative self-expression and a means of exploring positive, non-traumatic emotions. Youth can also come to Open Studios to get to know our Registered Clinical Counsellors, meet other youth, and experiment with different art material. 

Radical Hospitality
Many of the youth that Covenant House Vancouver serves have experienced significant trauma; building trust can be difficult and this is a challenge that our staff often encounter. Registered Clinicians and Counsellors practice radical hospitality, which emphasizes creating a warm, relaxed, and welcoming space and atmosphere. At many open studio sessions, you will smell aromatherapy, see a variety of tea, served with biscuits, cookies, and all sorts of snacks to welcome the youth passing by. Some may pop their heads in, and others may stay awhile. There is no expectation and youth can come and go in our open Art Therapy spaces as they please. 

The Stages of Art Therapy 
Creating art is a powerful part of trauma therapy. It helps youth express their feelings when they cannot find the words or do not want to re-live their trauma again by retelling their story. 

Trauma is held in the body and mind. Creating art with an art therapist makes the therapeutic process more accessible to a lot of youth as they can express their experiences through creativity. Their stories come out through their artwork. Then, the therapist and youth take a step back and look at what’s been created. While breakthroughs with art therapy are so subjective, varying from individual to individual, there are three important phases of art therapy:  

Stage 1: Creation of safety and stability 
Stage 2: Exploring a narrative 
Stage 3: Meaning making 
First and last stage are the most important parts of process. The first stage is where trust is built and created and the last is where youth try to make sense of their art and how they have expressed themselves. The second stage of the process is more youth driven. It is very subjective and individual as healing can mean different things to different people; it depends on how the youth would like to explore the narrative.  

Healing Through Expression
Art Therapy is not about being artistic, it’s about being creative. It’s about having a creative outlet for emotional expression. The focus is on the process and not the finished product with healing happening from the process of creating and not from the finished piece. 

Creating art with an art therapist externalizes the trauma, giving youth a different perspective, which can be greatly beneficial. Creating art requires both hemispheres of the brain to work together, which can repair the damage that has been caused by the trauma, leading to healing.  

From a neuroscience perspective, when individuals experience trauma, studies show that the part of their brain that links the left and right halves is damaged — creating a disconnect between their experiences and their ability to talk about them.  

Engaging in creative acts helps to repair this damage, allowing communication to once again be restored between the two sides of the brain. This explains why individuals can sometimes only “talk” about their experiences after they’ve been able to creatively express themselves. 

Covenant House Vancouver provides Art Therapy in conjunction with our other programs and services as a more integrative approach based on our trauma-informed and attachment-informed framework

Read up on it 
If you would like to learn more and read up on the topic of art therapy, these are some recommended books from one our Clinical Counsellors and a resident Art Therapist: 
Art is a way of knowing by Pat Allen 
Art Heals by Shaun McNiff,  
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert 

Qualifications for Art Therapists at Covenant House
Art Therapists at Covenant House Vancouver have the same counselling psychology training as Registered Clinical Counsellors and are registered with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. They are also trained in using art and creativity in their practice and may be registered with Art Therapy Associations at the provincial, national, or international level.