As part of the Expert Speak series, Docvita CEO Anmol Arora was in conversation with counseling psychologist and expressive arts-based therapist Shatarupa C to explore Matters of the Mind. The two speakers highlighted the importance of looking at mental health the same way as we look at physical health. “Just like we go to the doctor when we have a fever before it develops into pneumonia,” quipped Shatarupa, “mental health deserves the same attention and reflex in getting help.”
In her work, Shatarupa C uses the artistic medium to reach therapeutic goals – music, dance, and art. She maintains a vibrant journal with pages dashed with a variety of hues and motifs, which she displayed to the audience at the event. Here are excerpts from their conversation that can teach us a thing or two about seeking help for our mental health:
Art is Innate:
“Basically,” she said, “my work relies on the philosophy or the concept that art is innate – everyone has art within them, whether it is playing music, dancing, painting or even listening to music – we are all artistic. We don’t have to be a musician to enjoy music.” The benefits of expressive arts therapy underscore how creativity can heal and become a vital life force to anyone who seeks help and a path to self-development.
Talk therapy and art therapy go hand-in-hand, stated Shatarupa. “I work with a lot of clients who don’t have language, for example, autistic kids, or clients with cognitive disabilities. With them, I have to work with art. But some speak languages, and yet art provides an additional dimension,” she said. Art gives people a chance to talk about it – to explain our creation can help unlock our buried feelings and articulate them.
However, art does not have a huge adaptive ability, said Shatarupa. “If a bear is attacking you, you can’t draw and survive!”
The Case for Art:
She explained that art is not about survival, but about thriving and living a good life. While stress is essentially a flight or fight response, art gives perspective to stress, sometimes even shows us a greater purpose to the stress we might be going through, and ultimately leads us to peace.
Art provides an outlet to emotion which otherwise comes out in other forms, often undesirable if left unacknowledged. Art-based therapy brings out pent-up emotions, and this process is called sublimation. Just like aggression can be sublimated by basketball, one can lean on art to channel their difficult impulses. Sublimation is a part of art therapy but can be used to build insight and focus, for projection and reaching other therapeutic goals.
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The Guiding Hand of a Therapist:
Contrary to popular beliefs, therapists don’t give advice, said Shatarupa. “Everyone leads their own lives, their value systems, their own beliefs. When giving advice, we are coming from our own life experiences, and that’s not healthy.”
When consulting a therapist, we might get insights on psychology and the human condition, but a therapist won’t advise us on how to live your life. Instead, they will support us and create a space for us to come to our conclusions, to talk and think it through, to live our own decisions authentically which are aligned with our chosen set of values. “At the end of the day,” she said, “I want to empower you to do this by yourself.”
Sometimes all we need is a sounding board to our reflections, someone to listen to us with empathy instead of offering solutions.
Can our families support us?:
Shatarupa reminded the audience that sometimes, families may not be a great support system for people. “It’s brilliant if they are, but for some of us it is a place of trauma, and it’s ok not to seek support from family. If you don’t have a good relationship with your parents, it doesn’t make you a bad person. If you want to keep a healthy distance from your parents, it’s not a commentary on your character.”
She suggested trying to watch a movie with family or make art together – although these are simple things on the surface, art and movies can show us characters who resonate with us and can give us points of identification, helping us normalise situations. “It’s not just you and your family – our elders can come up with older and more conservative ideas, and you will most likely be more liberal than them – generally, not always.”
The key, she said, to resolving issues to find common ground. Conflict is commonplace in a phase of transition, along with confusion and doubt, but there is always a possibility of being reconciled with those who might be opposed to our ideas and beliefs.
How long should we wait before going to a therapist?:
There is a persistent belief that one has to be ‘crazy’ to go to a therapist, said Shatarupa. Mental health issues, not unlike physical issues, can often be a slow decline into a place it becomes difficult to get out of in later stages. There is no harm in seeking someone trained to listen to us and offer us a space to find out what’s best for us. When it comes to disorders and serious issues like trouble concentrating or sleeping, she said, one should see a therapist.
As the conversation drew to a close, Shatarupa introduced the concept of the biopsychosocial model to the audience – an intersectional model that looks at the interaction between biology, psychology, and socio-environmental factors. Biology is the science of how our hormones and molecules work; psychology is a study of our thoughts, perception and our sensations and sociology gives us an understanding of our environment – all these three play a distinct role in how we behave.
Mental disorders caused due to biological factors require us to consult a psychiatrist, who gives us medicines. But in many cases, our troubles might be a combination of several factors, in which case we might be advised to see both a psychiatrist as well as a therapist because they would help us reintegrate.
We hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you are struggling with the uncertainty this year has brought upon all of us, speak to one of our specialists at www.docvita.com. Docvita is a platform that values your safety and anonymity in seeking help.