With | Saher Ali Photographs | Totums Art Studio

In the winter of 2017, when the winter nip had started enveloping Hyderabad, Saher Ali – a holistic psychologist opened doors to Totums Art Studio – a vibrant and safe sanctuary for those who are looking for expressing themselves through art.  A trained holistic counsellor, Saher didn’t realize she had an artist in her till a few years ago. And since then she has helped several clients – both children and adults alike – understand their feelings better and recommit to their mental wellness. 

Saher graciously agreed for an interview with WE MAG so people could understand the world of art therapy better.

WE MAG (WM): As a counsellor, which approach do you use?

The setting at Totums Art Studio

Saher Ali (SA): My orientation as a counsellor is towards Gestalt Therapy. ‘Gestalt’ is the German word for “wholeness”, where the whole is perceived as greater than the sum of its parts. It also refers to awareness of the here and now. Art for me is like that – where one does not have to worry about being perfect but paint for the experience of gestalt.

WM: How is art therapeutic?

SA: The principles of psychology can be used in art. If someone is going through a difficult situation, just to paint that can put them at ease. Certain emotions can be identified with a colour. Simply put, art can help you connect with words that you cannot verbalise.

WM: What sort of emotions and experiences does art therapy make one undergo?

A Work created in one of the sessions

SA: Art is very therapeutic in extremely stressful conditions. Usually when one paints, they always think about the way their artwork is looking or how others will react to it. But art therapy is about going with your own flow and painting the way you like. The experience itself is very relaxing. Using different surfaces like canvas, wood and stone helps you relax your breathing and connect with these surfaces. Painting is a medium like singing and dancing.

A work created in one of the sessions

WM: Are individual sessions or group sessions preferred for art therapy?

SA: Art therapy can be practiced individually, or in family and group sessions. It mostly depends on the issue the client is dealing with. Those with troubled past, abuse, conflict usually opt for a one-on-one session. Group therapy sessions work well for those who are working towards self-exploration and enhancing creativity. These sessions help develop a great deal of camaraderie as well.

An ongoing group session with children

WM: How does art therapy help children and their parents?

SA: Art therapy helps the parents destress, foster creativity in the child and also helps create bonding through a wind-down time for both of them. Art therapy can be a family session unlike other therapies. This also gives the child an environment to blossom as compared to other therapies which might be quite exhausting. In my experience, art therapy is quite complementary to the child’s growth.

Art therapy plays a greater role in children with special needs and their parents. The challenges these parents experience are unique to them because of the nature of the child’s issues. After taking the child to various specialists and therapists, the parents and child both get exhausted and many a time frustrated. Art helps them rejuvenate and helps reduce their anxieties.

WM: Is art therapy useful for corporates as well? How?

SA: Art therapy can help corporate setups in understanding their role and ambition. It is a non-intrusive, non-threatening way to help people express their feelings – and is extremely impactful.

WM: Give us an insight into how a typical art therapy session would unfold?

SA: Ideally a session starts off with an introduction and then we tune in by using water and a brush. The upward stroke is the intake and the downward stroke is the exhalation. Soothing music helps complement this process. Then the client is asked to control their breathing and make sure that the brush is coming down slowly. Eventually, one gets the feeling of being in a meditative zone.

A group session at NALSAR University of law

After that the main session progresses which guides the client, whatever be the situation. Post this they share their experience. Towards the end there is a freestyle painting session and lastly through journaling the client jots down his or her feelings.

The ‘breath’ work is the main thing in art therapy as controlling the breath helps people calm down. There isn’t any other way as effective as art to deal with negative feelings.

WM: Would you consider art therapy as a therapy without borders – one which cuts across demographics, age groups and social settings?

Art session for delegates from State Council of Educational Research and Training

SA: Absolutely! Art therapy is very culture-free. There are no barriers. Even very religious people can find this a benefit. For the elderly people, the existential therapy is very useful because they come to a stage in life where they need support. As it is the last stage of their life, art therapy can be used for helping them get in touch with their inner self. I have seen great results of art with caregivers as well. It helps those who help others, so that their stress levels can go down.

Art therapy can be used as a tool for self-work and not everyone is able to do that on their own, which is why they need a proper counsellor to guide them. It is useful to the population which is looking for stress relief and self-awareness. By art therapy, one gets in touch with their intuition, where the creativity lies.

WM: How can we leverage art therapy on a larger scale so that more people can benefit from it?

SA: Along with all the mental health initiatives, there should be an event in which all the people around the country just paint something. This would bring out the creativity in the people and it should address issues such as self-harm – something which the youth of our country is struggling with.

About Saher Ali:

Saher Ali M.Sc. (Holistic psychological Counselling), B.A. (Psychology)  is a holistic psychological counsellor. She has conducted individual, family and group therapy sessions with children, adolescents, and adults experiencing emotional difficulties in different settings over the last 16 years. She conducts counsellor training programs and is the Director of Life Compass and official counsellor for NALSAR (National Academy of Legal Studies and Research) University of Law, Hyderabad. She runs a quaint studio called Totums Art Studio. You can find her on Instagram as @sahertote and on Facebook as @totumous. She lives in Hyderabad, India.

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