My journey of self-discovery through art therapy

5 April 2024
Parita Pandya Written by Parita Pandya
Parita Pandya

Parita Pandya

Parita is an Engineer turned Writer.

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April 2023 is when I got that sinking feeling. The feeling that led me to confess to myself – it’s not working anymore. 

The equation in question here is that with my (ex)therapist. 

After enduring a therapeutic partnership for three long years, we had reached a dead end. 

Our sessions started to feel as if we’d been riding the same merry-go-round at the same speed. Knowing exactly when it’d stop moving and when it’d pace up. Too predictable. And while there’s nothing wrong with predictability, after a point, I had stopped feeling any real progress.

As an overachieving, nerdy kid, I had learnt way early in life that the only way to feel validated was to achieve. 

If I don’t top the class, I don’t matter. 

If I’m not perfect at what I do, I am bad.  

In this particular case, the narrative, ‘if I don’t show her I’m growing there’s something wrong with me’, had taken a front seat. 

So when I say I had stopped feeling any real progress, what I mean is that I didn’t feel resolved or rejuvenated even to the smallest bit after the sessions. I was merely trying to ‘achieve’ the feeling of resolution and safety. 

The only next natural step was to bid adieu.  

After giving myself a break for a few weeks from finding another therapist, I found an Instagram page through somebody I follow. 

‘Offering 1:1 therapy based on embodiment, body trust and expressive arts.’, the bio read. 

I texted her showing my willingness to explore Art therapy. And soon we hopped on a brief call the next week. 

Typically feeling threatened by the ‘not knowing’, I asked her on our first conversation. “So, how does this work?”. 

“We’ll figure that out along the way?”, she responded. 

The response only further fueled my anxiety given ‘figuring out’ wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. ‘But I must have a chalked-out plan for how this is going to work,’ I thought. And that was more of my default response back then.  

But here’s how Art therapy differs from traditional talk therapy. 

There’s no definite structure. No guidelines, or rules to adhere to.

The word ‘art’ may create a visual of this perfect doodle or a picture-perfect narrative brought to life on the blank page through colors. But that’s far from true. 

In the sessions, we’d discuss situations that had irked me or had awakened a whirlwind of intense feelings during the past week. She’d ask me to put it all on paper. “Take a moment to visualize what comes to you and then give it a go.” 

Even on days when I had no visuals, I learnt to just let my instinct guide me and create whatever it told me to. 

She’d then add a few prompts and see if I felt like incorporating them into my drawing. 

On a particular day, I took my Boat earbuds box and went skating with it. Headphones on, grooving along the way. Just me and my BudBox. (as I had named him. And yes, it’s now a ‘He’ since then).

My journey of self-discovery through art therapy

On another day, all that came to me were mountains, the Sun, the grass and a few colours.

Did these visuals feed my rational brain’s demand for logic or reasoning? Not really. 

That’s the whole point of it. 

What has art therapy given me over time? 

Over six months, staying amidst colors, sketch pens and watercolors taught me to surrender. To come to terms with the fact that control is the biggest illusion and I had been living most of my life serving this illusion.

The ‘I-don’t-know-what-color-will-I-pick-the-next-moment!’ went from scary to fun. And when your brain learns to embrace the unknown in these little instances, it also somehow, as a byproduct maybe, learns to stay calm in life’s uncertainties. 

Another major benefit of art therapy is it shifts the focus from words to visuals. If you’re like me, vulnerability doesn’t come easy to you (high-five there!). This is why we may be able to better express ourselves visually than with words. Way more comforting, right? 

My journey of self-discovery through art therapy

This is not to say that I no longer feel intensely in everyday situations. It’s just that these sessions have over time built a foundation of resources that I can come back to anytime. Whether I’m spiraling at 2:20 am or at 3:02 pm, all these visuals come in handy. Recalling them soothes my nervous system as I struggle to navigate the turbulence during such moments.  

Standing on the balcony and sharing a smile with the sun, or giving a high-five to the moon have now become regular occurrences in my everyday life. They act as a reminder – “ I’m always here. No matter what.” 

So, is art therapy just colors and paintings? 

Not really. At least that isn’t the case for me. 

The sessions are a mix of music, movement, breathwork and colors. At times, I just write the words that come to me after feeling a sense of safety in my body. And then put them onto the blank page with colors that resonate with that feeling. 

The biggest benefit? It’s at my disposal. Art in any form is. Always at your disposal. If nothing,  we have a few colors and a blank page to our rescue. 

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