Once a week, a group of residents at The Salvation Army Booth Centre, a housing centre for men in Montreal, gather together for an art therapy workshop. For two hours, the men explore their lives, their state of mind and their vision of the future, through this artistic medium.
Art therapy draws its principles from psychology and visual arts in utilizing artistic impression as a means of communication. This is not a drawing course. It is a way of expressing what one feels or experiences, in a non-verbal way initially, by experimenting with different tools such as drawing, painting, collage, or sculpture. This therapeutic process is useful in the treatment of various addictions as it makes it possible to work on the aspects of the underlying problems of drug addiction.
The art-therapist, Fiona Smith, proposes a different work theme each week. Each activity could be from “creating an image to represent oneself”, to “representing one’s strengths” or “draw how one is feeling at this moment”. Each participant does this exercise in his own way. In the beginning, often the reaction is one of discomfort. Many participants have not used these drawing materials since childhood, and this can bring back a lot of memories and emotions. Participants concentrate on the set of work themes, polish their works, take a moment to reflect, then take a glance at their neighbour’s paper.
Participants, if they wish, speak about their work during the group discussion. “At that moment they may feel vulnerable because they have to look at themselves, and their past”, adds Fiona Smith. The group and the therapist then have the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback.
Several weeks later, a change is noticed. The saved drawings retrace the road taken by each one of them since the first session. Art therapy opens up new ways of sharing hopes for the future.
Jonathan, age 36, participated in the six-month program. “Upon arrival, I saw everything black, I did not recognize myself. I learned how to rediscover myself, to imagine who I was and who I will become. I understand and value myself thanks to this workshop.”
The art therapy workshop compliments all the other services provided to the residents of the Anchorage, a rehabilitation program for alcohol and drug addicts at the Booth Centre.