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Art therapy helps reveal buried emotions

Teegtha’Oh Zheh opened its doors Wednesday to show off artwork done by program participants.The work was done through a new art-therapy…

Teegtha’Oh Zheh opened its doors Wednesday to show off artwork done by program participants.

The work was done through a new art-therapy program where Teegtha’Oh Zheh developmentally disabled participants created art using various mediums, such as paint, papier-mâché, string and crayons.

The makeshift gallery at 108 Copper Road contained an array of colour, textiles and beaming artists eager to show their work to family and friends.

Art therapist Brandon Murdoch guided the participants through a journey of self-expression and discovery.

“Our initial goal was for communication and self-expression so we would invite participants to come upstairs for one hour each week to create art and to have that time to themselves,” said Murdoch.

“I would say this is a very unique experience and it’s very unique to the Yukon; we were looking to express their creative communications through this exhibit and to really honour their process and celebrate it.”

One participant, particularly proud of her work, was Britt Cowper who created a painting and a papier-mâché rattle in hues of orange and purple.

She said orange was her favourite colour and she especially liked mixing the paint in her palette.

She had filled her rattle with beans and rocks and loved to hear the music coming from within, she said.

“Art therapy is a process using art that is for communication, self-expression,” said Murdoch.

“You use multi materials — you’re just expressing what needs to be expressed using clay, paper, pencil crayons — and the purpose is to be able to communicate those feelings that aren’t so easily expressed.

“It’s a form of psychotherapy; you don’t have to be an artist to do it.”

For these adults, who don’t always have the ability to comprehend their feelings and emotions, art allows them to express themselves.

Then the therapist and the client work together to discover what the art is about, said Murdoch.

Murdoch said that the feelings put into the art could be sadness; they could be grief or they could be pure excitement.

Art expresses the gamut of emotions.

“Everybody needs support to be able to express these emotions,” said Murdoch.

“It’s what art allows you to do.”

The 12-week art-therapy program was a pilot project at Teegtha’Oh Zheh.

It was funded with residual funds from the program budget.

In order to make the therapy program a permanent part of the clients’ lives, Teegtha’Oh Zheh needs additional funding.

“I want this to be part of the program,” said Murdoch.

“I want it to be 12 months of the year they have the opportunity to do art therapy, that there is no breaks in between.

“Consistency is the key for a therapeutic process to be successful, especially with this population, consistency is completely important — that’s what I would love to see happen.”

Of the show Murdoch said: “I think everyone is really enjoying it. I’ve had a lot of good feedback and I’m super proud of each individual here and the participants are gleaming and that’s really important, that’s why we put it on to celebrate them and their art.”

Teegtha’Oh Zheh was started years ago to accommodate adults with intellectual disabilities who were being released from British Columbia institutions.

At the time, Canadian society had realized these people had rights and deserved to live as independently as they were able.

Teegtha’Oh Zheh runs two residential programs with full-time assisted living and also day programs such Murdoch’s art-therapy initiative.

Executive director Art Stephenson would also like to see more permanent funding for the art-therapy program.

“We would like to see some sort of long-term, permanent kind of funding so that we could continue offering the art therapy,” said Stephenson.

“Art therapy is really a developmental program, you progress continually through constant art therapy.

“It’s not just a one-shot kind of a program.”