An Rx Based on Artistic Expression
The term “art therapy” may still sound foreign in Indonesia, but it’s already well known in the United States, Europe and Japan.
The method uses art techniques as tools to analyze and heal.
Monty Satiadarma is among the first psychologists in the country to offer therapy via art. His patients range from children to adults. One of his recent clients was an athlete on the national tennis team.
Monty believes art is beneficial to all, but says it is especially helpful for children in their first five years because they can’t easily speak or express themselves. In an art therapy workshop in Jakarta on Saturday, Monty showed parents how to use art to build emotional ties with their children.
“Art therapy is about changing the situation from uncomfortable to comfortable,” he said. “It’s not about making a beautiful result, but it gives people a chance to express themselves.”
Monty said the technique was first applied in hospitals during World War II to help the wounded recover faster. Later, it was used as a way to nurture children’s art abilities and develop their emotions.
Monty suggests parents take their children to art museums or galleries and engage in creative art activities such as drawing, painting, clay sculpting, scrap-booking or flower arrangement.
These activities require imagination and should help children develop concentration and memory. Monty also said it was important for children to recognize colors; not just basic hues, but as many variations as possible, as it will enrich their emotional range.
“It doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t have skills or experience in art, it’s the least parents can do,” he said.
Monty asks parents to be open-minded when it comes to their children’s art. “If your child draws a picture of a banana and they color it red, you shouldn’t protest,” he said. “It will limit their creativity.”
Through art, parents can actually see their child’s development. Monty said at 1 or 2 years old, children prefer clay activities because they are just learning to hold and squeeze. At age 2 or 3, they develop the tendency to scribble everywhere.
Monty advised parents to give children big-sized art supplies because at this age, they are not able to hold items properly between their fingers. A 2- or 3-year-old is likely to hold a crayon in his or her palm. And by age 4 or 5, they begin to recognize basic shapes.
“If your child is 4 or 5, but they still can’t draw basic shapes, it may be a sign that they suffer emotional problems, which will limit their growth,” Monty said.
In that case, he suggests that parents consult a child therapist.
One of the common causes of a child’s slow development is a fear of their parents. “Once, I had a patient who couldn’t draw a straight line — he was 4 years old,” Monty said.
It turned out that the boy’s parents had a habit of snapping at the child, which caused him to withdraw.
Under Monty’s treatment, the boy’s condition improved after just three months. Monty said he always had the child draw during their sessions. At first, it took the boy a long time to follow Monty’s example in drawing a straight line, but after a few weeks, he was able to do so quickly.
“It’s very important for parents not to constantly yell, speak rudely or snap at their children,” he said.
Monty earned a degree in psychology at the University of Indonesia in 1982, then went on to pursue his master’s degree in art therapy at Emporia State University in the US state of Kansas.
In 1990, he returned to Indonesia to help national athletes through psychotherapy. Today he heads up the department of psychology at Tarumanagara University in Jakarta, where he mainly teaches psychotherapy, counseling, art therapy and music therapy, and occasionally accepts patients.
As a therapist, Monty has dealt with a variety of cases and has used art therapy to treat different problems.
The psychologist says he has been interested in art and music since he was a child. “I like to draw, I really took to it,” he said.
For Monty, one of his most memorable experiences as an art therapist was helping traumatized child victims of the 2004 Aceh tsunami. He saw their emotional scars through the pictures they drew.
“In Indonesia, art is the same as performances, but in Japan, they use it as part of their education system,” he said.
So when Japan was hit by a tsunami last year, Monty had the chance to witness how the Japanese government was trying to heal its people with art. National television stations in Japan did not beam out images of the devastation and suffering wrought. Instead, included in the post-disaster broadcasts were constant reminders for the survivors of the tragedy to involve themselves in artistic activities.
“It’s very different from our national TV stations, which wouldn’t stop playing Sherina’s sad song for months [after the Aceh disaster] and asking, ‘God, what did we do wrong?’ ”