Art therapy gains popularity as way to help patients deal with disabilities

Mr Patrick Yee, 49, is a part-time art instructor with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore. He works with clients such as Ms Xiu Zhan, 29, to express their thoughts through non-verbal means with various materials. The organisation held an art exhib
Mr Patrick Yee, 49, is a part-time art instructor with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore. He works with clients such as Ms Xiu Zhan, 29, to express their thoughts through non-verbal means with various materials. The organisation held an art exhibition at the National Library last Saturday. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

More organisations are enlisting the help of art therapists to assist patients in dealing with their mental and physical disabilities.

The number of therapists registered under the Art Therapists' Association Singapore (Atas) has tripled to 30 since it first began five years ago.

Local hospitals such as Singapore General Hospital have also started to use art therapy, said Atas president Yesmin Chan, who is in her 40s.

"We have many of our practitioners working at hospitals on a part-time basis," she said.

This year, KK Women's and Children's Hospital piloted an art therapy programme for children.

This form of therapy involves patients using art - from painting to sculpting - to express themselves, helping therapists to understand and assess their moods.

"Aesthetic results are secondary," said Ms Yen Chua, 42, an artist and art therapist.

This form of therapy can benefit individuals with disabilities, allowing them to express distress or anxiety without necessarily having to speak.

"Positive changes can then become possible," said art therapist Jeanette Chan.

Private art therapy sessions can range from $100 to $150 an hour, but art therapists at the hospitals charge around $50 to $70 a session, similar to counsellors, said Ms Yesmin Chan.

Some also work on a voluntary basis at voluntary welfare organisations or nursing homes.

It was not until the last two to three years that art therapy entered the mainstream. "Therapy has a negative connotation in Asia - like it's only for mental illnesses. It's not always that way," said Mr Xin Li, 46, an art therapist who works with children.

In May, The Red Pencil - Singapore, an art therapy organisation focused on children, was registered as a charity in Singapore.

Its founder, Mr Laurence Vandenborre, is now in the Philippines helping trauma victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan express themselves through art.

"There are no words that can describe such a catastrophe. Art can provide a channel of relief for difficult feelings," said Ms Anna Wong, 50, an independent art therapist.

The Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore also conducts art workshops for its physically challenged clients, who could at times have trouble with verbal expression. Their art exhibition at the National Library last Saturday marked their first show.

"Art makes me more focused," said Ms Xiu Zhan, 29, who has attended the workshop for 11 years and is hard of hearing.

Their art teacher, Mr Patrick Yee, 49, who is studying at Lasalle College of the Arts to become a formal art therapist, said: "When you look at a painting, you can tell when they're furious, when they're sad."

rmytan@sph.com.sg