Therapeutic art arrives in Dufferin

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By Adam Martin-Robbins May 3, 2010

Those walking into Rapinder Kaur’s office in the Harmony Health Clinic for the first time might think they’ve accide

ntally stepped into an artist’s studio. After all it’s stocked with paintbrushes, paint, markers and playdough. That’s because, while she’s not an artist, those tools are central to Kaur’s work as a registered art therapist.

“It’s essentially psychotherapy but instead of just relying on vocal means, you’re using art as a medium,” she said. “What it doesn’t require is you to be an artist in the traditional sense.”

Kaur opened her local practice — Art as Therapy — at the clinic inside the ACTS fitness centre last September. Her clients use basic art materials such as clay, collage, paint and markers “in a freer, spontaneous way to express inner thoughts and feelings.”

“It works really well with children because it’s non-threatening,” Kaur said. “It’s a much more friendly way of working with children. … (Because) difficult feelings are often hard to express through words.”

In addition to young children, Kaur also works with teens and their families in a broad range of areas including anger issues, low self-esteem, ADHD, autism or Asperger’s.

She also works with families who are going through a divorce, as well as adults looking for a mental tune-up.

“We all have mental health (issues),” Kaur said. “In the way we think of looking at physical health — exercise, eating better foods — this can be seen as health for your mind.”

Kaur studied psychology in England and worked in a few facilities there before moving to Canada with her parents several years ago. When Kaur arrived in Ontario, she decided to specialize in art therapy.

That’s because when she worked with troubled teens in a psychiatric hospital in England, the kids hated almost all of their doctors, except the art therapist.

“It was a much more friendly way of working with them,” the 31-year-old said.

Kaur enrolled in the Toronto Art Therapy Institute, which was established in 1968 by Dr. Martin Fischer, who is one of the founding fathers of the field in Canada.

“It’s still a fairly new profession (in Canada),” she said. “It’s more established in the United Kingdom and the United States.”

Kaur, who also has a practice in Mississauga, set up shop locally — two days a week — after working with different organizations in Dufferin for about five years.

“I heard there was a real need to have a therapist that has a specialty in working with children and teens,” she said. “I’ve been working with youth and children for 10 years in a number of facilities.”

One of the issues Kaur sees cropping up among local youth is anxiety, which affects about 12 per cent of the younger population.

“People often think it’s ADHD or autism but it’s anxiety,” she said.

Among teens, Kaur said she also notices kids are struggling with a sense of identity.

“They’re thinking about the future and that can be really frightening for them,” she said. Sometimes the solution is to open up the lines of communication between parents and children, she added.

“Often there’s not that dialogue between parents and teens … because of that there’s lots of behaviour, anger, anxiety,” Kaur said. “For teens, their brains are still developing and they need just as much guidance as when they are three, or four or five.”

A typical session begins with a warm-up activity to set the tone and then, depending on what the client is feeling, Kaur will provide some kind of art-based directive.

“After about 20 odd minutes, we will look at the art together and discuss it,” she explained. “What we’re really doing is trying to help the individual come to understand what it means for them. … There’s no judgment here. This isn’t an art class in the traditional sense.”

In addition to working with clients at her office, Kaur also conducts sessions at a number of local agencies including Family Transition Place (FTP) and Dufferin Child and Family Services.

Stephanie Robinson, a community counsellor at FTP, has been working with Kaur for about three years in the shelter’s Peaceful Families program. She says Kaur has been able to connect with some of the children in the program because of her methods and her approach.

“A lot of what she does is with kids who’ve experienced a lot of conflict in their homes,” Robinson said. “(Art therapy) gives them another way of letting out what’s going on and helps to open up some of the barriers.

“It’s Rapinder’s personality. … She’s got a very level-headed approach and she’s very direct. She has a way of asking questions non-judgmentally that opens up so much more. She works really well with kids with difficult issues.”

For more information about her practice, visit www.Artastherapy.ca or call 519-940-3600.