Sunday, May 24, 2009

Art Therapy

This month the Cabrini Connections Art Club is proud to welcome John Wai Li.

John is an art therapist from the University of London, who is working with the students over four sessions in the month of May. John describes Art Therapy as a form of therapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication. He is guiding the students through sessions that center around a different theme each week. "My overall aim is to enable the students to reflect on their feelings and grow on a personal level through the exploration of the art materials in a safe and facilitating environment" says John.

During sessions, John pays special attention to how the students interact with one another and with the art materials.

When the sessions are over, John will give a presentation about his and the students' experiences. The art work, which John considers to be a visual representation of thoughts and feelings, may be displayed at Goldsmiths College, London, with the consent of the students.

Before coming to work with us, John was originally trained as a fine artist. After art school he taught at a local college, where he found himself working closely with a student with autism. "I could see that the art process was having some kind of positive effect on him, but as a teacher my remit and boundaries only went so far. It was from this experience I researched the subject and found out about art therapy."

Since earning his MA, John works as a therapist in group and one-on-one sessions in England. His time at Cabrini Connections has been a cultural learning experience both for John and the students. He says, "I've been to the US a few times, I like it here, the American people are very friendly and less reserved than the British. I like the mentality of being talkative, perhaps that is why therapy is so successful here." But working in the US does present challenges. He explains that when patients react to differences, be they racial, cultural or other, they can feel a multitude of complex emotions. Bridging these differences is difficult, especially in this case because time is so limited, so he has adapted his approach from a psychodynamic model into a more theme based directive model. But he makes the point that the adolescents he works with in Cabrini are not so different from those at home, because they share universal adolescent issues, such as finding out about their own identity in the world and separation anxiety.

The students are curious about John's culture, but as he states, "the most important thing is that we build a good relationship so that the therapy group can be successful."

We do hope that it has been a success both for John and the students, and we look forward learning more about their experiences together.

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