Just like most eight-year-old kids, Brie* loved to paint and create. She loved to climb trees, play in the park, and do ‘zoomies’ with the family dog. She’d occasionally complain of pains in her back and legs when running, but every doctor or physiotherapist the family tried said it was growing pains and sent them on their way.
But when Brie tripped over one Sunday morning and was unable to move for the pain, the family’s world turned upside-down.
Due to a rare form of childhood osteomyelitis, Brie’s bones had become so brittle that this tiny fall had fractured a vertebrae in her spine.
With Brie no longer able to run and be active, and facing an incredibly uncertain future, Mum Zoey looked for something to help her daughter process the trauma. And a friend suggested that Brie try art therapy.
“I’d never really heard of art therapy, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But Brie was facing a year of gruelling infusions, whilst also recovering from the spinal fracture, so we were eager to give her as much support as possible. And Lighthouse Art Therapy in Noosa was highly recommended,” says Zoey.
Little did she know that this holistic therapy would become the lifeline that Brie needed.
What is art therapy?
Art has been a form of communication for thousands of years. But in more recent times, art has become an important part of the therapeutic field as a medium of assessment and treatment.
“Art is a form of expression, so psychology and art work beautifully together,” says Tam of Lighthouse Art Therapy. “The difference is that most other therapies use language as the main focus of communication, whereas art therapy uses creative expression.”
This difference means that art therapy can be incredibly helpful for children and adults, particularly for those who cannot verbalise their feelings.
“Children don’t have to talk as the primary form of emotional exploration,” says Tam. “It’s often far more effective for them to communicate visually than verbally.”
As an intuitive professional artist, Tam has spent many years guiding children and adults through various methods of art therapy—from drawing, painting, puppet making, dream exploration, self reflection, collage and more.
“I work with individuals using a variety of arts processes to create meaning. It doesn’t matter what the artwork looks like, but the thoughts, feeling and emotions behind the creation. The purpose is always for healing, not the end result,” says Tam.
What art therapy can do
Zoey was surprised by how quickly the art therapy sessions began to bring Brie out from under her cloud.
“There was something about expressing herself visually that really worked for Brie,” says Zoey.
“She was so confused and frustrated by the sudden change in her life. Verbalising that volume of emotion was impossible for an eight-year old.”
Zoey believes that what made such an immediate difference was the connection that Brie made with Tam.
“From her first session with Tam, they just connected,” says Zoey.
“Tam is one of those magical people that brings calm, comfort and understanding. You know those magical people that make the world a better place? And her positive energy really flows into the children.”
Over the weeks, Brie found her spark again. Her fracture healed, her infusions were gradually ticked off.
“Weekly art with Tam was the one thing she looked forward to during those difficult months. She had something safe and secure to hold onto during those many days in hospital. When so much else in her future was uncertain,” says Zoey.
As Tam got to know Brie, they would chat in their sessions. Tam would give her techniques to get through each monthly infusion.
“Tam helped her find a calm place to manage the needles and the pain, and simple meditations to cope with the side effects—as the infusions could make her feel very nauseous,” says Zoey.
“She carried a dark cloud with her and Tam managed to turn it into a rainbow.”
Who can art therapy help?
“People come to me for all sorts of reasons, no two children or adults are the same,” says Tam.
Honouring individual values and beliefs, Tam works with people who are challenged with medical and mental health problems, trauma, grief, ASD with varying features, including behavioural and/or social problems at home or school, and need help with self regulation. As well as individuals seeking emotional, creative and spiritual growth.
“With children, although each case is different, when the child starts to heal from their issues you can always see a shift in their behaviour. They come back to being in the world, to being joyful, and that’s what all parents hope for. It’s wonderful to bring joy and fun back into their lives.”
For Brie, her osteomyelitis is under control and she can live a relatively normal life for a while.
“Brie still sees Tam each week. Her sessions are more of an art class now, as she is at peace with the life she has. But I’m sure they have a good chat whilst they paint!” Zoey says.
“And you never know what she will come home with. Every wall of our house has a painting on it, and she has turned her old cubby house into a little art studio!”
“It’s been healing for me too,” adds Zoey. “To see Brie express herself, to see her creativity grow, and to see the happiness shine in her eyes once more, I’m just so eternally grateful.”
*Names have been changed