The Power of Art Therapy

My journey with art therapy began in 2010 after the major natural disaster (earthquake) in Christchurch, New Zealand, where my husband and I were living at the time. Seven years we struggled with an unresolved insurance claim, along with many thousands of other people in Christchurch.

I discovered the power of art therapy first hand. Art became a ‘coping’  mechanism during that long struggle. It takes incredible strength and determination and a survival strategy to get through such a long, arduous and slow process. So what was it that kept me going? In the down times while I was waiting for things to happen, to progress  – I simply had to find ways of distracting myself – distracting my mind from going round and round in circles, keeping me awake at night, leaving me in a permanent state of anxiety and negativity.  Miraculously though, in my distress,  my body seemed to know what to do, seemed to know how to find a way of coping.  I found myself  furiously creating.

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So what did I make? I created handmade fabric ‘hope boxes’ and the space around me slowly filled with my ‘hope’ boxes. These boxes represented for me, at that time, my ability to compartmentalize. A place of storage for my ‘resilience’. While I painted, stitched and sewed, my mind calmed, my thoughts focused on what I was doing and the disruptive world of unresolved insurance claims disappeared for the time I was creating. I made artistic representations of the Canterbury Cathedral, of the Cardboard Cathedral, square shapes, hexagonal shapes, pyramids and the list goes on – items that were so removed from the world I then inhabited. These items of colour and texture brought me inner peace, stillness, solace and great hope – hope that one day the situation I was in would be resolved and that I would be able to move on with my life.

Hope Box

In the process of the creation of art I was able to momentarily master, tolerate and minimize the conflict and stress. A healthy form of self distraction. My art work became prolific.  Art therapy is a well known methodology for coping with stress. But my art sprang from no intellectualizing on the matter. Rather it was more of an unconscious process – it was my physical self’s way of surviving, of protecting my mental self.  And no matter how much energy I put into expressing my anger and sadness about the failure of the insurance industry and about what transpired in the City over those years into my art – I could not – my creations remained items of joy and beauty (in my eyes).

Hand painted and embellished Hope Box by Sarah-Alice Miles
Hope Box by Sarah-Alice Miles

In that beauty – came healing. A way of overcoming the terrible dualism in what was a very painful process. It was a way of obliterating the negativity and darkness I experienced throughout those years. I was surprised and amazed by my own output. It flowed through me and out of my fingers. Creation after creation after creation…  And I am sure that it was no accident that so much art appeared in Christchurch City after the earthquakes – all expressions of people coping in whatever way they could – and what a wonderful way to cope.

Hand stitched and machine stitched Geisha by Sarah -Alice Miles
Geisha, hand and machine stitched using gold paper by Sarah-Alice Miles

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