Cutting Edge: Mental Health
S A LT L A K E M A G A Z I N E . C O M SEPT/OCT 2016
Music therapist Emily Christensen builds rhythmic bridges with clients.
“As we began tearing things apart, all emotions came bubbling to the surface.” It was the breakthrough traditional talk therapy had failed to achieve. Art, music and dance: all can be considered a “second language,” allowing patients to communicate what they struggle to articulate in words. For Ande Welling, a certified dance/ movement therapist, that language has many dialects: “We make sense of our world, our experiences, our thoughts, feelings, memories, through our bodies. Movement goes on whether or not we are aware of it. Sometimes this looks very much like dance as we help our clients express and create metaphor, meaning and connection through movement. Sometimes, it doesn’t look like dance at all. In these moments, the dance of dance-movement therapy is found in breathing with another person as they experience the waves of grief they have been literally holding back, in making eye contact with one who has avoided this because of trauma, and
BAD ARTIST; GOOD PATIENT A patient doesn’t have to be particularly creative or talented to benefit from art therapy methods. “Some people really click with it, and some don’t,” says Morrell. “Sometimes, it’s the self-proclaimed ‘bad artists’ who make the biggest gains in my practice, and people who are skilled artists sometimes struggle more with the therapeutic element.” Welling experiences the same sentiment with dance/ movement therapy. “I often hear that they clearly can’t participate because they have ‘two left feet’ and are not dancers. In essence, all it takes to participate in a dance/movement session is a living, breathing body and a willingness to engage.”
PHOTOS ADAM FINKLE
and crisis resolution. Though solidly rooted in research and rigorous training, art therapy often gets dismissed as trivial and extraneous. “I probably spend a third of my day explaining what it is that I do,” says Malissa Morrell, founder of The Therapy Studio, Utah’s first and only credentialed studio dedicated to art therapy. “People assume I just paint and color all day, but it’s so much more than that.” Art therapy is a mental-health profession in which clients, working in tandem with a board-certified therapist, explore thoughts and emotions through the creative process. It’s the practice itself, not the artistic product, that matters most. “Art therapy is not about making something that looks good. It’s not about coloring between the lines or replicating something you found on Pinterest,” says Morrell. “It’s a process that allows a person to safely identify and explore the emotions bubbling under the surface.” Morrell tells a story of a 15 year-old client struggling with an eating disorder and self-mutilation. Traditional talk therapy was unsuccessful, as the girl would chatter constantly without revealing much. Frustrated by surfacelevel interactions, the therapist referred the client to Morrell. On the first day with Morrell, the girl declared she simply wasn’t good at art and sat in the room in silence, staring at the materials. In the next session, the girl measured and cut meticulously measured strips of paper, only to throw them away upon discovering they weren’t exactly identical. She would begin projects in fits and spurts, giving up at the first sign of failure. “Finally, I gave her a challenge: Just finish something today,” Morrell recalls. It was an uncomfortable but formidable hour for the girl as she pushed through her fear of failure and unrealistic expectations of perfection—the very themes underlying her self-harming behaviors. Morrell was by the girl’s side as she faced other uncomfortable challenges in subsequent sessions: making messes, for example, or tearing the paper instead of cutting impeccable lines.