It happened many years back, but Rohit Srivastava still remembers what was wrong with his childhood, why it was so and is well aware that he is fortunate to have emerged from its ill-effects.
“I have cloudy memories of my father coming home from work, drenched in sweat and smelling of alcohol. He often abused my mother and yelled at her for reasons I never understood,” recalls the Delhi-based hardware goods dealer, now 27.
“I was six then. I would see my mother sobbing all night which was painful and devastating for a kid,” recounts Srivastava. “My father never spent time with me, neither did he visit my school for parent-teacher meetings.”
For the boy Rohit, the experience manifested itself as troubled sleeping patterns and poor concentration. Luckily at the age of 11, his mother got to know about art therapy from an acquaintance and got him enrolled in a course to help him heal emotionally and move away from the domestic chaos.
“Art as therapy helped me to heal over the years. It has also presented me with the understanding that life is not always rosy, but it is certainly worth living — I do live for my mother, wife, and children,” he shares with Happiest Health.
For survivors of childhood trauma like him, the psychological and physical impacts can be long-lasting and often lead to deeper emotional and mental issues. Hence, early interventions become critical to limit the impact. Art is one such therapy.
Mind and the body’s immunity
There is a strong correlation between mental trauma and the immune system of the body. Stress and emotional trauma disable the immune system from fighting infections. As a result, people living in an emotionally deprived environment often suffer from frequent infections such as colds and diarrhoea.
“Children and young adults who have a history of mental trauma not only suffer from mental health issues like anxiety or depression disorders, but they also have increased [physical] incidences of respiratory illness, cardiac issues, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity,” says Dr Rupali Satija Vala, a consultant physician based in Mumbai.
She also cautions, “Children who were not raised in a loving or nurturing environment or have endured any emotional trauma are likely to start substance abuse [drug addiction] at an early age.”
Situations where art heals
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- When the mother is treated violently
- Household substance abuse
- Mental illness at home
- When a child’s parents are separated or divorced
- When a household member is imprisoned.
Creativity as expression
Pablo Picasso said a painting is just another way of keeping a diary. As an extension of it, today, art is seriously being seen as a form of psychotherapy, or a means of communication and expression for children facing difficulties.
As therapy, art can be a creative outlet when an emotion or idea is too confusing, difficult, or painful to be spoken about or written down.
Conventional talk therapy is often long-winding; children often find it challenging to talk about their experiences or find the right words to express their emotions.
At such times, the therapist’s recourse could be to draw the affected child into painting, drawing, colouring, sculpting, collaging, sewing, storytelling, or poetry.
Lighting up young minds
“Children, much like adults, feel the urge to express themselves,” says Kavya Atray, a practitioner of art-based therapy in Delhi. According to Atray, children often find it difficult to verbalise what they feel and art therapy helps them communicate freely.
“It is scientifically proven that the part of the brain responsible for communication lights up when we use art therapy to communicate. By using artistic creativity, we provide the child with a comfortable and non-judgemental space to deal with their emotions, thoughts, and feelings in the most natural way possible,” adds Atray.
Children also like to play with different art materials making the session fun. Delhi-based art therapist Monica Kapur says, “For children who have experienced trauma and find it difficult to verbalise what they have gone through, this technique is useful. Through drawings or clay work the inner trauma can be brought to the surface and dealt with.”
“While an art class is focussed on teaching techniques or creating a specific finished product, art therapy is more about letting children focus on their inner experiences — their perceptions, imagination, and feelings,” she explains.
Art as therapy helped me to heal [childhood trauma] over the years. It has also presented me with the understanding that life is not always rosy, but it is certainly worth living.
– Rohit Srivastava, Delhi.
Colours give it away
The colours, strokes and images that affected children employ give the therapist cues of what they might be going through emotionally.
Just like a revealing drawing, the use of specific colours also indicates a person’s feeling at that moment. Art therapists concur that art can help one to unburden oneself, and the calming, healing effect of bright colours of joy and happiness.
Samrat Bose is a UK-based medical practitioner who uses art for self-expression. He says, “I have often found that painting with colours that convey my mood is a way of self-expression and also a way to reflect. Sometimes using a different colour helps me to look at a situation in an entirely different way.”