Art therapy in Barcelona | MumAbroad

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Art therapy in Barcelona

Can you tell us something about your background?

I am originally from Brooklyn, New York. I moved to Madrid in 2009 to teach English and learn Spanish.  In 2011 I moved to Barcelona where I continued to teach young learners and returned to school to study art therapy at Metáfora and Pompeu Fabra University.  I developed a keen interest in mental health and I am currently doing a master at the University of Barcelona in clinical psychoanalysis and psychopathology.

Upon my graduation in 2015 from the masters in art therapy program I have begun to work and develop my career as a therapist.  Last year, working along with a psychologist, I used art therapy techniques with a four-year-old boy with some behavioral issues he was having in school.  Currently I work as a volunteer at a psychiatric institution providing art therapy to patients who suffer from various mental disorders.

My artistic passion is in photography.  I learned how to use a darkroom when I was 11 years old and ever since then have continued to utilize analogue photography.  Currently use an old Polaroid camera to develop my artistic pursuits.

What brought you to Barcelona?

I had been living in Madrid for a couple of years and decided I wanted to go back to school to study art therapy.  I had been planning to go to Goldsmiths in London because they have a well-recognized art therapy program.  I needed some time to get a portfolio together and write my application.  I had decided to come to Barcelona for the year of preparation because I had always liked it and thought of it as a fun city so wanted to give it a go for a year.  When I discovered the art therapy program here I ended up staying and studying in Barcelona.

Can you explain what art therapy is and how you became interested in it?

Art therapy is a therapeutic process that uses art as a tool for a means of expression.  Often art therapy is helpful for people who have trouble expressing themselves verbally. Emphasis is placed on process rather than product so the goal is not to create a beautiful piece of art.  The goal is to concentrate on how the art is made so that this can lead to self-discovery.

In a psychodynamic approach the therapist and client use the artistic expression, principally created by the client, as a way of discovering and uncovering who the person truly is.  This path to self- discovery is key to helping the individual deal and resolve inner conflicts with oneself and the world.

What are the positive impacts and benefits of art therapy?

I believe that when someone makes something, anything, and they can see it and look at, such as a piece of art work, it can make them feel good and productive about themselves.  Sometimes people make a piece of artwork that they are not happy with or wish to get rid of.  In art therapy the person learns to accept these feelings of failure and embrace them.  I think it’s a really good way to get unconscious thought processes out into the open and a way to discover ones internal reality.

Can children as well as adults benefit from art therapy? 

Both children and adults benefit from art therapy. For most children art making is a very natural process.  We may start drawing before we even start talking.  For children art making is play and in observing their process many symbolic messages about what they are going through can be conveyed.

With adults art making can be an opportunity to return to this feeling of play by making art.  We are educated to put a value on art and art therapy can help break this understanding of how art can really be used.  As children we are more comfortable with process-oriented actions.  Art therapy for adults can help them to return to a process-oriented action rather than an emphasis put on the product.

What kind of children benefit?

I think all children could benefit really.  I think change and learning can be quite difficult for kids.  They go through so many growth phases that art therapy can help in so many ways.

It seems that now a days children have such busy schedules with so many different after school activities that they don’t get any chance to relax and be at one with their emotional self.  This constant over stimulation results in competitive behavior, bullying, self-demanding behaviors, and a lot of insecurity.  I think art therapy provides a space of open exploration and discovery that can help in children developing their creative resources and is a source for understanding their emotions.

How might children with behavioral issues benefit?

I once worked with a boy who was having behavioral issues in a school here.  I think through his play and art work I was able to understand him better.  At the time that I arrived at the school he seemed to be an outcast and his self-esteem was really low.  I think because through art, I was there trying to understand him and give him some of the attention he wasn’t receiving, it really helped him to feel better about himself.  He was having difficulty following the rules and he got used to being scolded which diminished the effects of disciplinary action.  In the end because I helped him with his self-esteem he started to want to do well rather than just “abiding by the rules”.   He felt good about himself therefore he strived to do the right thing.

Can schools benefit from art therapy?

I think schools could definitely benefit from art therapy.  The teachers in schools can sometimes get overwhelmed with their role to educate and are unable to control the social dynamic of their classes.  They get focused on the skills that they need to teach their students and cannot manage with social education.

There are so many social dynamics between the children that art therapy can help with.  I think especially with group art therapy it can really help children to learn to empathize with one another and deal with any conflicts that arise.  This breaking down of the idea of a finished product and learning to openly express themselves in a group can help provide an emotional support to be developed among them.

 What is the situation here in Spain?

I have worked in several public schools here teaching English and I currently work in a public mental health facility for adults.  I have found in my experience that these facilities had a very rigid hierarchy.  Even in the private school with the boy that I worked with, I observed this type of hierarchy as well.  The rules are quite indoctrinated.  I observed that the way in which the students were educated and the mental patients “controlled” was  very systemized.  As in many countries this is the way for big institutions that serve many people.  But what I find here is that there is not any encouragement to “think outside the box”.  For example, in the schools that I taught English there were very young kids learning from books rather than making art or singing songs. In the private school they were looking to expel the boy with behavioral problems as a solution (and he was only 4 years old!!)  In the hospital everything is done in groups I am the only person conducting a regularly scheduled activity that is one on one. They are only provided with pharmaceutical treatment and don’t have access to any kind of talk therapy.

What challenges do you have working in Barcelona?

Here in Spain art therapy is not a recognized profession so I cannot apply for a job I have to create it.  Since people are also not aware of what it is I have to spend a lot of time explaining to people and educating people about it.  The other problem is that the economy is not so great here so many places do not want to risk funding a program they do not really know about.  I am working hard as a volunteer and I am forming groups with other art therapists to try and spread the word.  There very high fees to be autonomo, working for yourself.  As a way to support myself I started a crowd funding campaign, which has recently ended. I am also collaborating with other people who have spaces to provide free workshops to also educate people.  Despite the economic challenges that I face here I try my hardest to focus on how much I believe in the positive outcomes of art therapy.

To find out more or to contact Jenna visit her website:

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