Free Friday: Love Art Not Citalopram, Escitalopram, Fluoxetine, Fluvoxamine, or Paroxetine.

As anxiety levels rise, depression increases and mental health deteriorates prescriptions for antidepressants from the doc soar. But is dropping these pills really the only option?



Around our little green and blue planet antidepressants and antianxiety medication are the most popular pills to pop.


According to NHS online, antidepressants have had the largest increase of prescription drugs in the past ten years. In 2015, 3.9 million more of those ‘happy pills’ were administered to patients in comparison to 2014.


This is often seen as a bit of a ‘quick-fix’ for issues of the mind, and although in some cases it’s the best solution there are other options to explore such as CBT, counselling and art therapy.


Art therapy – So that’s just a bunch of hairy hippies stood in a field with a paint brush, most of them naked of course, chatting about how great the flowers, love and peace all is man?! Not quite.


Art therapy delves into the subconscious, exploring issues from people’s past. It’s being used to help kids deal with trauma, adults get over depression and – unbelievably – rehabilitating Jihadists.


Picture taken by Robin Leck – Instagram: @robinleckphotography



Art therapist Anita Bradford believes art therapy helps to see patients problems from a different angle. “For me, creativity is the key to personal change and whilst that is also important in talking therapies, it’s easily forgotten. By being involved in the creative process, it keeps it to the fore. Many people find talking difficult. Some will be struggling with traumas that pre-date language,” she says.


As is often the case with the arts it’s usually the first to face the chop and the first to lose out when it comes to getting the pounds from the piggy bank and art therapists often find work hard to come by. Leaving doctors no choice but to turn to prescription pills for their patients. “In an ideal world, where people can be adequately cared for in a safe place, perhaps it would be more beneficial for the therapy if drugs were not prescribed.  However, we do not live in that world,” says Bradford. “Drugs should be a short term way of alleviating symptoms, but for some they seem to be prescribed as a lifelong course with many side effects.  I certainly think the prescribing of drugs needs to be thought about very carefully.”


Medication has been known to ‘numb’ all feelings, not just the bad ones, which is why they can seem less appealing than sticking your hand in a fire, or eating a mouldy badger. There is also the danger of the patient stopping it when they feel ‘better’, bringing them face to face with Mr. Cold Turkey. For some psychiatric conditions medication is important and will allow a patient to live through their symptoms and have a ‘normal’ life (because we all know how great that can be). “Medication can keep people alive. But medication cannot deal with the issue that caused the symptoms, for that I believe some sort of psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy, including art therapy, is needed,” she says.


Art therapists are often stereotyped as not being ‘the real deal’, but they have to go through a heck of a lot of training: a degree in art with a huge portfolio and an MA in art psychotherapy.


A typical session with an art therapist will involve discussing the patient’s issues, exploring the materials and then creating art. “There’s a long period of looking together at the image, making observations to interpret the unconscious messages and feelings that may be expressed to enable them to have a better understanding of the problem that lies behind their symptoms,” she says.


In 2015, adults were going crazy for colouring. Robbing the crayolas from the kids as a way of reducing stress. With anxiety on the rise it’s no surprise that methods of relieving it are popular too: meditation apps, youtube relaxation videos and TV doctors helping us all to chill the f**k out. While these aren’t necessarily art therapy methods they are very therapeutic for the those living in the stress fuelled environment of the 21st century.


Maybe art therapy isn’t for every Tom, Dick and Harry, but the Toms, Dicks and Harrys that do engage with it don’t necessarily have to be able to draw. Stick men and scribbles are just as easily interpreted as Mona Lisa’s smile (even he missed off the eyebrows).


Art therapy has had a huge success rate in the Middle East, rehabilitating some of the World’s most dangerous men. Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation centre is using art therapy to deradicalise Jihadists: something that wouldn’t be able to happen with the use of prescription drugs. The centre has an 80% success rate, using art and talking therapies to create empathy and reduce hate in these radicals. According to the BBC news online, 3,300 inmates have graduated from the centre since it opened its doors in 2004. This stands as the biggest testimony towards the therapy and shows how powerful tapping into the subconscious can really be.


Karen Arthur, a secondary school teacher and mum of two, used art therapy for her youngest daughter when she split from her husband. “My eldest went to a talking therapist. It was just before her GCSE’s and she was a mess but it was too hard and she stopped going. But my 11-year-old, who was bewildered and reticent, just didn’t understand why dad wasn’t around really. I knew an art therapist I respected and contacted her. She agreed to see my youngest weekly.”


Without the therapy her youngest wouldn’t have been able to open up and own what she was feeling. “She was confused and upset, sometimes she’d cry but she would also tell her good stuff,” she says. “Without it she would have been very shy and meek.”


In an ideal world art therapy and other talking therapies would be available to everyone, with drugs being used as a last resort, or only in extreme cases. Well actually, in an ideal world everyone would be of sound mind, living peacefully hand in hand. But then let’s face it – that would be really crazy.


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