Introduction to art therapy

Bree, Community and Peer Advisor in Art Therapy and Creative Practices

Bree is one of our Community & Peer Advisors in Art Therapy and Creative Practices. She is currently researching the broad range of benefits that Art Therapy can bring to Open Arms clients.

Art Therapy emerged as a therapeutic practice in hospitals during the First and Second World Wars. Internationally, the practice has become integrated with veterans and their families, in particular for trauma and grief, which Bree has experienced herself.

In 2009, Bree’s husband ‘JT’ was on deployment to Afghanistan as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician. Tragically, he was killed by explosion while rendering safe an improvised explosive device (IED).

Bree was 25 years old, recently pregnant, living with their two small children and working as a high school art teacher. Despite her own grief, she also felt very strongly for the members of JT’s team who 'not only had to bear witness to his death, but needed to continue to operate in this environment, complete their mission, and return home to live their lives with some resemblance of peace,' she said.

'From the moment JT died, I was acutely aware of the responsibility I had to the wellbeing of all of the people impacted by this substantial moment in time. Having meaning, purpose, autonomy and agency has been a formative part of shaping my ongoing wellbeing.'

Over the past five years, Bree retrained in Art Therapy, Counselling and Psychotherapy and joined our ‘lived experience’ Community and Peer Program in February 2019, expanding the pilot program to include the roles of family and carers.

Bree said she was raised with 'music, art, nature and play embedded in her being'.

'I attribute a lot of the skills, capacity and mindset that have allowed me to accept, integrate and utilise some pretty heavy and traumatic stuff, to those creative foundations and ongoing practices.

'The deepest clarity and understanding I’ve experienced has been as a consequence of my engagement in art therapy,' she said.

'It allows us to put into words that which we cannot say, to see what we’re ready to see, to externalise, shape, reshape and integrate our experiences in a way that enables, empowers and broadens the perspective of the maker.

'Sometimes I need to feel more grounded and connected, other times I need to feel more contained and together. Sometimes I need to be reflective and integrative, let myself feel and go through the motions, and other times I find I need a distraction, hope, have fun and just play. There are different creative practices to stretch and strengthen different aspects of ourselves. You can’t go skipping leg day...'

Bree finds the work rewarding and likes seeing the moment that clients find some relief. 'When those unhelpful thoughts, doubts and fear of judgement can just be parked to the side for a moment, and we can find some sense of normalcy in the familiarity of shared experiences, maybe some solutions, maybe a new perspective, maybe some acceptance,' she said.

Bree aims to 'push the boundaries' of what Open Arms can do as a service to support our clients.

'I’m really looking forward to delivering the pilot program to our clients in the near future. Watch this space.'

Calming activities to try at home

Art therapy

  1. Photograph the light: morning, noon or night
  2. What can you make with a little piece of paper?
  3. Build an indoors cubby fort
  4. Capture a colour that makes you feel calm
  5. Make patterns from found objects and photograph them