Expressing yourself artistically can have an incredibly powerful effect on your mental health and for people experiencing the trauma of a cancer diagnosis or bereavement, it can be even more profound.CancerCare therapist Tina Allonby is a registered Art Therapist. Art therapy utilises the creative process to help our clients express themselves artistically and find new ways to gain personal insight and develop new coping skills.
Tina has been working with CancerCare since 2020, helping children and young people who come to us after experiencing bereavement or who have a close family member with a cancer diagnosis.
Her work involves encouraging and facilitating the child’s self-expression through the use of a variety of artmaking media including drawing, painting, crafting, clay modelling and sculpting from scrap materials.
Tina’s interest in art therapy began after obtaining her BA degree in Fine Art, when she began facilitating art for health and wellbeing workshops for adults accessing mental health and learning disability services.
“It was inspiring to see people discover a new form of self-expression through artmaking, that might have otherwise remained hidden. It was wonderful to see their well-being and self-esteem flourish with a new found sense of achievement,” said Tina
After qualifying as an art therapist at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh, she went on to work providing one-to-one and group art therapy for children and young people in social services and schools, and with adults in mental health services.
“My primary approach to working with clients is ‘non-directive’ which allows the freedom to explore and express difficult thoughts and feelings through the use of art materials. This offers the client another ‘language’, non-verbal and symbolic, and for some it is often easier to use artmaking as a means of communicating and expressing their emotions,” said Tina
“By symbolising feelings and experiences in images, it can also make them seem less threatening or overwhelming. The artmaking process and resulting work can then provide the focus for reflection and discussion,” she added.
Sessions are unique and can unfold in a variety of ways depending on the client.
“Some clients will work quietly, but many like to talk while they make their art as it can feel less intense talking while you're doing something creative. Often, surprises can happen during the artmaking, which the client will also want to talk about.”
The art created by the client is of great significance as a symbolic representation of their inner experience and all pieces of work are confidential and stored securely as a record of the therapeutic process for the duration of their therapy.
At the end of therapy, Tina will review the art therapy journey with the client by looking through, and reflecting, on the artwork and their experience of creating it.
One of Tina’s clients, 11-year-old Elizabeth, spoke of how art therapy helped her.
“When my mum was diagnosed with cancer I was really upset and didn't know what to do or say so I began coming to art therapy at CancerCare. It really helped me to express my feelings and explain how I was feeling in a welcoming environment. Tina always greets me with a smiling face.”
Tina is a practising artist, qualified art tutor and a member of Green Door Artists collective based in Cumbria. She has also led many ‘art for relaxation' workshops which place an emphasis on enjoying art within a supportive, calming, group environment.
It's also important to remember that clients attending art therapy do not need to have any previous experience or skill in art.
An adult client says of their experience:
'I'm quite an imaginative person but I’ve never developed any kind of artistic expressive skills, such as drawing or painting. Art therapy gave me a chance to overcome my artistic inhibitions and, at the same time, to explore, in an innovative way, all the personal issues that I was struggling with at the time.'
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