Art Therapy is increasingly being recommended by experts to complement medical treatment and to address non-medical conditions. It has, in fact, been found to increase positive returns on health system investment that even the World Health Organization published definitive evidence of its benefits.  

Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) offers Foundation in Art Therapy, accredited by the British Association of Art Therapy (BAAT) and tailored for anyone considering a career where they can use art to support the wider community. The course will run its second edition from 15 to 25 March. VCUarts Qatar is a partner university of Qatar Foundation.

Launched in the spring of 2020, the programme is being conducted by Sara Powell, a VCUarts Qatar alumna, and founder of ATIC, a psychological and counselling centre in Dubai.

Powell has an MA specialising in Art Psychotherapy from LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, and is a member of the professional association for Creative Arts therapists in Australia, New Zealand and Asia (ANZACATA). She has close to a decade of clinical experience in providing art therapy to children, adolescents, adults, and families.

Michael Perrone, one of the participants in the first edition in March 2020, shared his experience.

The course was really enjoyable and was a thorough introduction to the concepts and history of Art Therapy. We had both lecture-based presentations and hands-on art activities – which reinforced concepts discussed in the presentations.

Perrone is a faculty member at VCUarts Qatar. According to him, there was a wonderful cross-section of students in the class, which made the sharing and personal exchange very rich.

I would love to take a second course; a follow-up to this one sometime. The instructors – practising art therapists themselves – all had differing expertise, and that helped to give diverse perspectives and personal anecdotes.

Art as therapy 

Art therapy in all its varied forms – performing, visual, literature, cultural, online and so on – has a range of therapeutic applications in addressing conditions, syndromes, diseases and social situations including dementia, strokes, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, child abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, schizophrenia and substance abuse.

Foundation in Art Therapy course 2And it’s not just patients who benefit – studies have shown that health caregivers gain from taking part in art courses. Improved communication, collaboration, self-awareness, sensitivity and empathy, were just some of the emotional benefits reaped by participants – all of which were factors that prompted VCUarts Qatar to take the lead on initiating the course in the region last year.

Aysha Al Kooheji, VCUarts Qatar Program Manager for Community and Continuing Education, noted that the inaugural art therapy course was quite successful and proved to be beneficial for participants.

She said that positive feedback prompted them to offer the programme this year. Aside from the therapeutic benefits, learning the skills to be an art therapist demonstrates the different pathways open to art and design graduates. Additionally, the course also equips professionals with techniques that can be used in their own jobs.

Powell, the lead instructor on the course, said they are excited to open registration for the Foundation in Art Therapy course, approved by the BAAT, for March 2021. She said that the course takes into consideration cultural diversity and the needs of the community.

The course offers an opportunity to add to one’s professional framework or alternatively be used as a means to further explore art therapy as a potential future profession.

According to Powell, participants from the previous year explored art therapy as a mental health profession alongside partaking in experiential workshops across a variety of topics, in support of children, adults, medical settings, schools, and trauma. They learned to apply theory through the experiential art workshops in aid of implementing art ‘sensitively’.

An effective tool to promote well-being

Globally, art therapy is increasingly being acknowledged as an effective tool to promote well-being. The 2019 WHO report on the effects of art on human health cited how in the UK an initiative called Arts on Prescription has been used for around two decades, as part of broader social prescribing schemes.

Individuals who approach their primary care doctor with non-medical problems such as isolation, anxiety, loneliness and mild depression – which is the case in 20 to 30% of all visits to doctors in the United Kingdom – or who require additional psychosocial support for their physical or mental health, are seen to benefit from this programme, as well.

In the face of such evidence, VCUarts Qatar’s initiative is timely, and in fact, can be seen as a natural progression for a country that loves art. From the works of Damien Hirst near Sidra Medicine, through the historical art pieces at the Museum of Islamic Art, to Qatar Foundation’s art collection, few countries have embraced art as Qatar has.

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