The ‘Therapy’ within Art Therapy

I personally have four forms of therapy. The first is Art, the second is Dance, the third is my loved ones and the fourth is professional. I understand from my own story that recovery is not possible without the help of professionals nor is it achievable without the support from family and friends. 

Alongside my professional team of Jana, my Psychologist & Jasmine, my Nutrition I was blessed with a loving family and wonderful friends. All these people were the fuel inside my recovery engine, they kept me pushing forward to reach my physical and mental health potential.

While these special souls kept me moving forward, it was dance and art that kept me sane. Both dance and art were an escape for my mind. They took me away to worlds in which I was free. The pressure and atmosphere of the dance world in many ways had negative consequences on my health but the act and art of dancing itself only enhanced my zest for moving to music. My passion for dancing has always been an unbreakable love but the box in which it arrived to me in at first was difficult to handle. Dancing requires a lot of physical energy and lot of emotional vulnerability, it is a discipline of both an artist and an athlete, where you must be both expressive and fit. This meant that while I was restoring my weight I had to take time off dancing, other wise my body would struggle to match the calories required let alone gain weight. 

I took 18 months off dancing in order to restore my weight. It was torturous and I missed dancing dreadfully, however I knew that once I was mentally and physically stable I would return to a dance class. In that time away from dancing I found art, I discovered sharpies and I unearthed one of my greatest sources of therapy.

Restoring my weight, meant gaining weight, and it was a hefty amount. Gaining weight comes down to the sticky science stuff of, calories in vs calories out. This meant that as well as eating more I also need to retain calories better. In a nutshell, more food and less movement. In this 18 month time period I had to do a lot of sitting down still, lots of recovering individuals must too as this is beneficial towards their weight restoration. 

Sitting down filled my illogical, anorexic cognition ticking mind with shame, guilt and stress. However doing art became a distraction to these thoughts. Distractions are often thought to be ‘unhelpful’ things that “distract you from the real task” but in recovery distractions are crucial. I believe art to be one of the most therapeutic distractions in the world and an added bonus is that it saves energy, helps you to relax and repair your mind as well as body. 

We all need rest, but recovering individuals certainly need more. Art is a wonderful source of downtime that encourages both creativity and peacefulness. At times as I was doing my art I felt almost suspended in colour, floating in time and above the clouds (my foggy, messy mind). 

Another value of art is that it is not permitted by time. You can do art at sunrise, sundown, mid-day or at mid-night. You can do it in the natural light from a window or your shining desk lamp. 

Art helped me heal. 

Art helped me to become healthy. 

Art allowed me to escape. 

Art accepted me in any mood.

Art distracted my mind from my anorexic thoughts.

Art dissolved all my stress. 

Art showed me kindness. 

Art showered me in calmness.

Art connected me to my creative side.

Art came to my aid.

Art encouraged me to use my imagination.

Art expanded my passions.

Art explored my creativity in ways I hadn’t yet discovered. 

Art helped me to let go.

Art healed me, my body, my mind, my spirit and my soul. 

And to this very day art still does all those things, and I know that art will be in my future and will forever be in my life as one of my best therapies. 

Photography by: Ansa Gohar

Photography by: Ansa Gohar

Margherita Barbieri