When I was first told that I was going to be sent to an art therapy session, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know if I’d start crying within the first ten minutes, if I was about to create the best painting I’ve done in my life, or where to find the door to One Thoresby Street.
I did know that I was on my way to meet Kathryn Cooper, an art psychotherapist who had recently set up art therapy service, Creative Counsel. I was going to be spending an hour with her, where she would give me a therapy experience and show me what services she has to offer.
Kathryn has worked as an artist and an illustrator since 2003 and has been a keen member of the Nottingham art community, having had her own space at One Thoresby Street since 2011. Knowing this, when I arrived at our session I was slightly nervous as I knew my art skills were not up to scratch, but Kathryn was quick to assure me that skill or talent is not necessary here.
“The important thing about art therapy is that the therapist is never going to judge anything that somebody has made in terms of right and wrong or good and bad art. That’s not the way I’m going to be looking at their work” she said. “I don’t try and diagnose anything from their work either. I would never tell them ‘well what you’ve drawn here clearly shows that you’re angry’. That’s not what it’s like. We talk about what has been made, what they can see and how they feel after creating it.”
After graduating from Nottingham Trent University and running workshops in Children’s Hospitals, galleries and schools, Kathryn decided that she wanted to get involved with something that was a bit more socially engaged. “Workshops are quite one off things – you meet those people for that one time and then they disappear. I’m really interested in working with people directly.” To deepen her understanding, she then enrolled in a two year masters course at Goldsmiths to study art psychotherapy. After a few more jobs and a maternity leave, Kathryn knew this was the perfect time to get her own room.
The space is a small room on the first floor of One Thoresby Street, brimming with different kinds of art materials. There’s acrylic, watercolour and poster paints, charcoal, chalks, oil pastels, crayons, pens, modelling clay, a digital camera – the list goes on. Everything found in the room is what you can use to be creative with throughout the session. It is all about exploring something of interest or playing with a material that you may never have used before.
Before we began to get our hands dirty, Kathryn took some time to explain what a normal session would look like. “It takes a long time to get to know somebody first of all, so you wouldn’t expect somebody to launch in and really get into it straight away” she said. “There is a long warm up, starting with me explaining the boundaries. It’s fifty minutes weekly, unless somebody wants to do more than that, and they can do whatever they want as long as I am here to protect the space and keep the clients safe. There would also be a discussion about what the person wants to get out of therapy and why they’ve come along, so all those things will start to determine how we would proceed. It’s not a one size fits all kind of thing.”
After our chat, it was time to start getting a little creative. As the sessions are usually client led, Kathryn told me to pick any material I liked and for fifteen minutes, just go crazy. Due to my lacking art skills, I decided to go for something that I knew I couldn't mess up too much, so I grabbed some poster paints and a box of oil pastels – two items which took me straight back to primary school art lessons. The cold weather outside was making me reminiscent of my summer holiday, so I decided to try and recreate a photograph I have from a floating market in Thailand.
One Thoresby Street is home to the studios of a few Nottingham artists, and there are plans to convert the downstairs space into a new gallery, so with so much arty stuff around, it seems as though Kathryn has picked the perfect spot. “I think that it's quite exciting to be able to offer an art therapy space with an art studio, because usually they're usually either in the NHS or in a therapist's home” she said. “Perhaps an artist-led studio space and gallery might be more intimidating for new clients, but I think there is a different feel to such a creative space which might make it more appealing.”
I spent around ten minutes flicking the paintbrush up and down the page to create a river and then used my last five minutes to draw something which resembled a man in a brightly coloured hat rowing a boat. Throughout this time, I glanced over at the masterpiece Kathryn was creating, and while at first I was jealous of how easy she made it look, after a while I didn't mind so much as I was having fun doing something completely out of my comfort zone.
When that fifteen minutes was up, we spent the rest of our session discussing what we had created. Kathryn could see that I had enjoyed using all the blues and greens in the room to create my water and it was interesting to see how we both had a different perspective on the image that she had created.
The experience proved that therapy isn't like what you see in the movies – it's not about lying down on a leather sofa and spilling your guts. Art therapy provides a way to communicate feelings in a way that allows for creativity and finding answers.
That is something Kathryn is keen to let everyone know. “I am really passionate about the way that people think about art therapy – it being less about having this deep, dark problem that you have to go to a therapist about, but more about exploring your feelings and doing it in an interesting and exciting way. It can give you some relief and you can gain a new confidence” she said. “If you give a space of freedom for someone to play, they can find a way to communicate it back to themselves. And when you see somebody do that, it is amazing.”
If you are interested in the Creative Counsel, you can contact Kathryn on 07763884091 for a free consultation, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creative Counsel website