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Paint, mould or scribble — explore grief through expressive art in New West

New West Hospice Society launches a new free expressive art therapy series — offering community a different way to heal
New West Hospice Society's Expressive Art Therapy sessions aim to provide a safe space for people to explore their grief through art Photo: master1305/iStock/Getty Images Plus

You can do more with crayons and clay than just doodle — you can use them to explore your pain.

In its pursuit to normalize conversations around death and help the community grieve well, New West Hospice Society is launching a free new monthly expressive art therapy series on Sunday, May 7.

At the two-and-a-half-hour event, participants will have a chance to explore their grief and loss through a bunch of mediums including oil colours, pastels, markers, brushes, magazines for collage cuttings, musical instruments, pieces of fabric and more.

The event is open to anyone — even those who may feel they are no good at art.

As per expressive art therapist and session facilitator, Catherine Lamb, there is zero pressure to churn out beautiful art.

"It’s about taking the art mediums, and using them as tools for your own self-discovery,” she said.

Art as therapy

Expressive art therapy is an "inter-modal therapeutic practice," said Lamb.

"What we do is we move through sound, some art, maybe some creative writing and/or back to art. An image or metaphor may come up from that art piece which in turn may create a poem or a certain word that might be very meaningful,” said Lamb, whose background is in mental health and addictions.

There are no rules — “I don’t tell people what to do, I just set up a very safe creative space for them to explore grief and loss.”

The program aligns with the hospice society’s objectives: to offer support to those who want to identify their grief and loss in different ways, give them the opportunity to share with others, help them heal and learn different coping skills, said Rani MacInnes, volunteer program manager at New West Hospice Society.

The society offers Walk & Talk grief support walking group, a monthly Compassionate Cafe program, an annual four-day Dialogue on Death and Dying and their biggest fundraiser, Riverwalk for Hospice.

Express Art Therapy session is their latest offering.

How does expressive art therapy work?

The research on expressive art therapy to treat trauma is becoming “phenomenal,” said Lamb.

“When the body shuts down and words are just not present, then being able to move through a feeling or an emotion, or being able to just write it down, splash paint or take that clay and just mould it offers a different way to process trauma.”

In her sessions, Lamb has seen people scribble, add some colour and texture and call it done.

“Then they were able to take that and explore the deeper meaning. Sometimes, a metaphor will come up. And they’re like, 'Oh my gosh, this is my experience. This is what’s happening to me…' Then, they go back to the art again," she said.

"And because it is inter-modal, what they find is that moving back from the art to the writing, then back to the art really gives the person some opportunity to dig deep,” added Lamb. 

“The grief process is complex; everybody’s at a different stage. But it (the event) can give people a sense of being in a safe space…” she said.

“And knowing that they’re not alone.”

Join New West Hospice Society’s expressive art therapy session on Sunday, May 7 between 1 and 3:30 p.m. at Arrieta Art Studio, 707 Front St. Following the May session, the free monthly series is scheduled for June 11, July 9, Aug. 13 and Sept. 10.