It was almost 10 years ago when an artist she was working with put these two words together: “art” and “therapy”. In that moment, recalled Loh Wan Ting, she knew she had found her calling.
Wan Ting, 31, was at the time working as a designer. Cut to the present, she’s now the founder of Red Balloon Therapy, a new company that provides art therapy services. She has a Master of Arts in Art Therapy from LASALLE College of the Arts and has been working full-time in the field for the past five years.
“To be honest back then, I didn’t really think about how easy or difficult it would be to be an art therapist in Singapore,” she said. “I just really wanted to use art as a way to help people.”
In April this year, Wan Ting held her first workshop, Introduction to Art Therapy, at the Enabling Village, an integrated community space managed by SG Enable where people with different abilities can come together.
To the uninitiated, art therapy basically encourages individuals to express themselves using art – it could be painting, drawing, or sculpturing – when it may be difficult to use words.
Through art, they experience a greater understanding of oneself, and their relationship with others. In many cases, it can facilitate self-insight and emotional healing, said Wan Ting. Individuals keen on art therapy typically include children, persons with disabilities, or anyone for whom creative expression can help bridge gaps in communication and understanding.
For the workshop in April, 25 people showed up. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. More than 90 per cent of participants said they found the experience therapeutic and would recommend it to others.
The art of healing
Wan Ting is among a growing number of art therapists here. The Art Therapists’ Association Singapore was formed only a little over a decade ago – in 2008, with about 10 registered therapists. Currently, about 45 are registered – though Wan Ting believes there are more who perhaps chose not to be registered with the organisation.
Most therapists work with a vast range of people – as was the case in April at Wan Ting’s first workshop. In attendance were other therapists, caregivers, special needs teachers, and people with various disabilities. Though the three-hour event was pitched to the general public, many who were drawn to participate were those who are working with persons with different abilities, or persons with disabilities themselves.
The participants were given an introduction to art therapy before being provided art supplies to begin their personal art-making. The supplies were varied – from paints to crayons and magazine tear-outs. This was designed so that the participants could gravitate to their preferred sensory and tactile needs, said Wan Ting.
She added: “Through creating art, people often feel better because they’ve put down their feelings on paper. We ask them: ‘What do you think the artwork is trying to tell you?’ – and hopefully, that self-inquiry begins a process or reflection and self-awareness.”
But what if you can’t write or draw? That’s not important, said Wan Ting.
“It’s not about making it look nice. It’s about being honest with how you’re feeling, and expressing those feelings on a blank canvas.”
To find out more about the Enabling Village, or to explore possible collaborations that build inclusivity in Singapore, click here.