Art therapy. As a male trainee, I have dealt with the criticisms and comments first-hand regarding its worth. In a field dominated by women, not only attending therapy but also becoming a practitioner can be seen as ‘feminine’. Coming from a group of mates working as prison officers and salesmen, I know this better than most. These thoughts are usually those of people denying their own need for such therapy; a projection of their own internal defences. Although a lot has been done in promoting mental health awareness, it seems there is still a way to go - figures from the Office for National Statistics show that suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales. This alone proves the need for men to own their feelings and realise that they are not alone in needing someone to talk to.
In a society where man is deemed to be ‘strong and silent’, I believe this is where art therapy comes in. I personally find it difficult to put such emotions and feelings into words, especially in the presence of a patronising therapist or counsellor. Art therapy allows for non-verbal expression, giving us the chance to unpack thoughts we may have, as well as those which we are not aware of. At the risk of sounding like a hippie that will not be taken seriously, the artwork can serve a direct link to our unconscious, allowing for us to then reflect and talk more clearly about what we have made or realised. This form of therapy is not just for those that have a talent or skill in art - art therapy is not at all about producing a great painting or something to be hung on the wall. If anything, I have found that coming from an art background has inhibited my work in therapy into making something I am proud of.
As is made clear in the previous blog posts, the mental health of fathers is equally as important as that of the mothers. From dealing with issues surrounding responsibility, the direction their life is heading, depression, anxiety around parenthood, the list is endless. This is where we can counter the phrase ‘take it like a man’ to promote the idea that we can talk to someone, even if we feel it isn’t worth it. I can personally guarantee that any reputable therapist will not see it that way. That being said, an art therapy session could be silent the entire time. For men that have a more productive mindset, it could prove cathartic to spend the whole time working on a piece in the presence of someone that understands how it feels. The process of creating is largely more important than the product.
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Although not a parent myself, I have been surrounded by young dads in the form of close family and friends. I’ve seen the struggle parenthood puts on relationships, dynamics within the family, finances, and the underrated need to simply speak to someone that can relate to them. Although being on the topic of therapy many of the negatives of parenthood are mentioned, it is important to acknowledge the self-coherence and boost that can come from sharing milestones and expressing the positives with someone.
All being said is particularly relevant for individual art therapy sessions without exploring the benefits of group work. Men may see group therapy as further emphasis on having to ‘man up’, feeling that being surrounded by other men may cause them to repress their feelings and show a strong façade. It could, however, prove the opposite – being surrounded by a group of guys that have also worked up the courage to attend could give you the push to express something that may have felt impossible before. The feeling given to a group resonance over a shared subject, in this instance a support network for fathers, cannot be denied. The support held by the groups and events at This Dad Can is enough to prove things are changing and sought after.
All I ask is that art therapy isn’t seen as a last resort or paired with crystal healing and colouring books – there is so much potential to help people, especially men, that is often disregarded due to lack of knowledge and stigmas. I’m currently still learning, but if you have any questions do not hesitate to ask or search for the British Association of Art Therapists for more information on art therapy or to find a local practising art therapist.
Sam is a part of the This Dad Can community. He's a passionate artist, whose work can be found at www.sampaulsmith.co.uk
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