Art therapy a safe way to express loss

Grief never goes away. It transforms, but the grief is always there, says counsellor Tina Pitsiavas.

Art therapy is an outlet for those who are grieving a loss to be able to communicate how they are feeling without the need for words.

"It's not necessarily the loss of a person - it might be the loss of lifestyle, a job, a house, or going through the empty nest feeling," Pitsiavas says.

"What happens with grief is that it transforms, but the grief is always there."

Pitsiavas runs art therapy sessions with Initiative Counselling and Psychotherapy Services in the Corrimal Community Services Centre.

Art therapy works twofold, says Pitsiavas, by honouring and expressing. It helps people honour their lost loved one, while also expressing how they feel.

"People have the chance to use images rather than words. It's hard to find the words of how they are feeling about their loss," she says.

Art therapy emerged in the 1940s when British artist Adrian Hill described the therapeutic benefits of drawing and painting while recovering from tuberculosis.

Working with CanTeen and the Triple Care Farm, Pitsiavas has helped create memory boxes and shrines to honour loved ones.

"You can make a collage with photos, or get a canvas and pick the person's favourite colour, or their favourite flower or something similar," she explains.

"It creates something like a shrine of happier times."

The style of art depends on the person's personality: some deal with grief by painting happy memories while others may still be angry.

Some may choose to studiously paint while others might throw paint onto canvas.

"Grief transforms into something you can cope with, but if you don't deal with it it becomes complicated grief, which can bring about psychological problems," she says.

"The process is to gently talk about the person [they have lost] while drawing. It's engaging the left side and the right side of the brain at the same time."

Pitsiavas stresses that you don't need to be an artist to try art therapy.

"A lot of people who are not artistic or who are afraid their work won't be good enough are encouraged to do collage," she says.

But most importantly, the therapy provides a safe haven for people to express how they feel.

"It's a way for people to feel that someone has witnessed what they're going through," Pitsiavas says.

"With art therapy, sometimes you don't need to talk at all - the image says it all."

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