Free Guide to Starting Art Therapy at Home
About a year ago, a new resident came to Vienna and we had a difficult time connecting with her. She was very sweet, but depressed and kept to herself. She was struggling with dementia and had just moved into a new facility where she didn’t recognize anyone. We tried multiple interventions, like music, to improve her mood but nothing was working. Luckily her family was close and they were able to come in daily, which helped, but didn’t completely solve the problem. In her youth, this woman had been a huge lover of the arts. She was a traveling ballerina, and later, when she could no longer dance professionally, traveled doing makeup for dancers. She loved music and collected art. Her granddaughter was a summer intern at Vienna, and found an art program she thought her grandma would enjoy. At the time, the program was offered through the Alzheimer’s Association. This intern contacted the Alzheimer’s Association and got Vienna’s Activities Department certified in the course. The art program was a simple painting class but after only a few sessions we saw a massive improvement in this resident’s mood. She was getting out of bed in the morning and putting herself together, with a touch of her favorite lipstick, she was out in the halls laughing with other residents and staff, and she was even participating in group activities.
What had changed? This woman finally had an opportunity to express herself. The act of painting calmed her and allowed her to navigate and share what was going on her mind. Have a finished piece of artwork gave her something to be proud of. In the past few years, we’ve started instituting some dramatically different programs at Vienna that treat the whole person, physically and emotionally. Medicine is an important part of treatment, but no amount of medicine could have improved this woman’s life in the same way a simple paint brush and paper could.
For people who are caring for their loved ones at home, we want to share some of our favorite programs with you. We want your loved one to stay independent as long as possible, so we’re sharing tips like this program to make your work easier, and to help you better connect. You don’t need to be a trained artist, and neither does your loved one, to benefit from art therapy. Art therapy is as easy as having some paintbrushes, paints and paper, and knowing a few good questions to ask.
· Paper towels
· Painters Tape
· 11x17 watercolor paper pad
· Spray bottle filled with water
1. Find a nice, quiet and well-lit area to set up paint station. This area should be free of visual and sound distractions, and should have a comfortable table and chair. Tape a piece of paper to the table to secure it.
2. Set out paint supplies: watercolors, paint brush, bowl with water, and paper towels. Use the spray bottle to mist the watercolors before you start. This will make them easier to use.
3. Find some type of prompt for painting inspiration. This could be a picture, a plant, a stuffed animal, or whatever else you think might inspire the painter. For example if your loved one grew up with pets, focusing on painting a dog might bring back memories. Or if your loved one was an avid gardener, a plant might inspire memories of gardens and favorite plants. Put this prompt directly in front the painter’s work station.
4. Get your painter set up. Explain the watercolors and what they’ll be painting. They may feel more comfortable if you’re painting with them, or they may be content painting alone and just having someone to chat with. Ask your loved one about what they’re painting. They may want to focus on their work, or they may start talking about what the subject inspired.
5. The first few paint session will probably take some extra encouragement, especially if your loved one is new to painting. Gently remind them what they’re doing and emphasize this is a fun activity, nothing to stress about. Paint session generally last about 30 minutes, keep to whatever time works for you two.
6. Once your loved one is done, ask them if they are “done done” or if they would like to pick up again on this painting later. Remember to ask for a painting title.
Hold on to the artwork. Hang it up on the fridge, or in a frame in the living room. Each piece of artwork tells a different story that might have otherwise been lost. Maybe it took you two on trip down memory lane, or maybe you got to learn about your loved one’s passion for tulips. As the person progresses, you’ll watch them embrace their own unique painting style and become more confident. As many artists progress, you’ll notice a change in the amount of space they’re painting on the page, attention to details, enforced techniques, and more. You will also get better at asking questions, finding prompts and learning new ways to connect with your loved one. What’s even more important, is that you two will have an activity you can both cherish together.