When Art is Therapy
By Mona Gonzales
The Philippine Star, Health & Family Section, March 30, 2004

Maybe you've seen this on Oprah: A woman's closet is a mess. Her shoes, bags, and clothes are in piles on the floor, shelves, door hooks, etc. She cries, "Help!" Then Oprah enters with the organizer expert. Fast forward and voila! Shoes are in boxes (with photos outside box); bags on newly-installed shelves; and blouses, skirts, dresses and pants are hung by color. The closet is organized.

My mind was like a messy closet. But you can see your closet mess. Your mind hides the "mental mess" behind work, activities, and friends. I had no idea of the extent of my mess until I attended an art therapy class facilitated by Dr. Randy Dellosa of The Life Transformation Institute.

Dr. Randy is a psychiatrist who, on the side, gives life enhancement seminars for housewives, students and professionals who don't need a shrink, but may want to "shrink" their stress. Through art activities and expertly posed and chosen questions, Dr. Randy leads you where you need to go. It is not for you to "get confessional", but to discover the surprising blueprint of your present life and become aware of pathway possibilities. Dr. Randy's training in art therapy, combined with his expertise and experience in psychiatry, spells the difference.

"I felt choked in by the Freudian model of traditional psychiatry", says Dr. Randy. So he took special training in art, touch, massage, dream analysis and other types of therapies. Combined with his medical background, participants benefit to the max.

One art session only allows a maximum of six participants. Our group included myself, Net Pacoli, an international award winning TV documentary producer; and Marilen Kahn, proprietor of Len's Kitchen. We all had apprehensions since none of us had talent in the arts and none of us knew what to expect.

What do others say of the seminar?

Says Marilen, "I realized that I had to face a reality that I had been avoiding for years. For too long, I'd been putting it aside, but now I have to deal with it. The art therapy sessions gave me direction. It's something I now want to confront, get over with, and get it done fast." Of the art therapy, she adds, "I'd recommend it to others because you can learn so much about yourself that you didn't realize before."

Of the experience, Net Pacoli says, "I was made to face something I'd really been ignoring, but it was done in such a way that I didn't feel threatened by it. And there was quite a bit of self-realization, especially with the first art exercise. I was surprised at the interpretation. The exercise got to my subconscious."

Net adds, "Now that I've gone through it, I feel a lot better. There had been some tension between my husband and myself, and I didn't know where it was coming from. Now, I know that my tension was coming from a stressor outside my marriage. And now, I can handle the tension."

Net believes the therapy succeeds only if you have a very good facilitator. "I'd recommend this only if Dr. Randy did it. He was able to earn my trust. And he was obviously competent. Also, he was neither threatening nor patronizing. He took our thoughts and our ideas very seriously."

The three of us agree on something else: Since we had the session, there is new, inner lightness of being. As net aptly puts it, "It's a fearless way of facing your fears. Very real, very practical, and very non-threatening.

Brain structure

If you understand the structure of the brain, you'll see why art therapy is so successful. Everybody has two brain hemispheres- left and right. But for the first eight years of life, the right brain predominates. This side responds to images/patterns, is the problem-solver, learns to make connections, and expresses emotions. (Our emotions reside in the limbic system, which is in the middle, but their __expression is a right-brain activity.)

The left brain is the storer of knowledge. And as knowledge accumulates, by age eight, the two hemispheres of the brain are defined. The left brain takes over and oftentimes suppresses the right brain (where the emotions and subconscious learning reside).

Because the right brain responds to images, the use of art therapy helps to release your suppressed fears, feelings, and concerns. Under the guidance of an expert, you learn to make drawings from the gut (rather than from skill). And as you do so, surprising new dimensions of self-revelation and self-understanding emerge.

"This sort of therapy operates on the principle that most of us hold the answers within ourselves," notes Dr. Randy. "So the psychiatrist as the expert takes a back seat. He becomes a facilitator who leads you on a road to discovering your life issues and finding the answers for yourself."

What I personally appreciated was the respect for privacy, even amidst the group. Some were more open than others in talking out their issues. Others discovered their issues and pathways, but preferred to keep these discoveries to themselves.

"There are two things that can make a therapy like this effective," Dr. Randy points out. "First, a lot depends on the facilitator. If the psychotherapist is good, he can draw out what's inside a person in the way that is most productive and useful to the participant. Second, the people who will benefit most are those who are open to change in their lives, and open with their issues."

Did it matter that none of us could produce the picture that would paint a thousand words? Not at all. In fact Dr. Randy states, "Oftentimes, when I get professional artists, they tend to hide their inner feelings and issues through the expertise of their technique. I encourage them to abandon technique in favor of spontaneity, risk-taking, and self-revelation."

But he was most surprised and delighted when one artist told him, "I always expressed myself in my paintings, but never did I let my paintings speak to me. I never realized that hidden within my artworks were my own secrets for living a more integrated and meaningful life."

Dr. Randy also recalls a young man who silently cried during artwork. "The tears fell on his work, and literally diluted the deep red paint that symbolized his extreme anger toward his father." The man's tears "washed out" the intensity of his anger.


All of us were given an assignment - to put our artwork in a prominent place, and look at it every day to discover new revelations. Net put hers on top of her desk. She says, "I remind myself the Lord has a promise for us and I should really pray for my dad. It's not in my hands, it's God's promise for us."

I have taped my "masterpiece" on the dining room wall. Daily as I eat, I look at it and am surprised at the different insights that emerge over time. My subconscious has depicted a forest of my life with different details and revelations that tell me who I am, what I've been neglecting, and offer a pathway for investigation for this new year. Not a bad start for 2004!

I have also bought an art pad but have no idea where to begin. I may have to attend another of Dr. Randy's sessions. His art therapy workshops follow different themes: Discovering Your Authentic Self; Nurturing Your Spiritual Life; Healing Your Emotional Wounds; Recreating Your Self; and Redesigning Your Life, for example. These one-day workshops are held on weekends from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Interested parties may call 415-6529 or 415-7964.

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