(This story is sponsored by Vancouver Art Studio Therapy Center.)
Pablo Picasso once famously said that “art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” Mehri Imani, founder and director of Vancouver Art Studio Therapy Center (VASTC), believes that creativity is an essential characteristic of being human, and engaging with any art-making has a great impact on reframing the interaction between mind and body.
After years as a successful artist in the U.K., Imani, an Iranian Canadian, returned to Vancouver and opened her own studio. But she still yearned to find deeper meaning to what art-making is about beyond its aesthetic value as a conventional commodity.
“Through art-making I have been able to deal with many emotional, physical, spiritual, and cultural challenges, in order to ground my identity and echo my voice as a woman, mother, and artist,” Imani says. “I felt that there must be a way of applying these experiential insights to be useful and functional—and that’s when I found art therapy.”
Art therapy is a professionally guided creative process that can be used to enhance a person’s emotional, spiritual, social, cognitive, and physical well-being.
There is increasing scientific evidence suggesting that art-making enhances brain function. It also has an impact on the nervous system and can raise levels of serotonin. According to an American Art Therapy Association publication, the links between neuroscience and art therapy are becoming stronger and more evidence-based.
Imani has a number of qualifications in the field, including a certified advanced graduate studies (CAGS) certificate from the European Graduate School in Switzerland where she is presently a PhD. candidate in expressive art therapy. She also holds a certified diploma in advanced art therapy from the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute. In 2018, she decided to make her studio an art therapy centre.
“People confuse it with art school but this is not about teaching art,” she says. “Art therapy is about the process of making art and seeing what the end product, the artwork, will reveal of someone’s life experiences. It's about self-inquiry and practical self-knowledge. Art therapy has emerged from the practices of two disciplines: psychotherapy and art. It builds on a triangular relationship between the client, the therapist, and the artwork itself.”
The key concept of art therapy is that it allows people to externalize and organize their thoughts and feelings that may otherwise be difficult to articulate. At VASTC, Imani provides a safe, comfortable, and confidential environment for her clients to work in.
“We don’t judge the art,” Imani explains. “There’s no good or bad. It’s all expression. Lots of people have a hard time verbally expressing themselves and so art-making is a kind of language. There is no room for the interpretation of the artwork, rather, with the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, clients can unveil the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in these art forms, which allows them to better understand their feelings and behaviours that then facilitates resolution of deep issues.”
Clients are given the freedom to choose whichever media they are drawn to, without any sort of expectation.
“Going into a session I don’t have any preconceptions about what’s going to happen,” Imani says. “We just go with the moment. It’s about being spontaneous but present in the process.”