As a creative arts therapist, I have been astounded time and time again by the effectiveness of the creative arts to help heal emotional wounds dynamically and enjoyably.
It has been used successfully for decades in treating people with issues ranging from mild anxiety to childhood trauma and various mental illnesses.
I feel we are on the brink of a new time, where more and more Muslims are beginning to see the benefits of therapy and that the negative stigma around counselling and therapy is receding. Too many Muslims struggle with issues such as intergenerational trauma, persecution, enforced migration, FGM, forced marriage as well as sexual abuse.
For many, going to an elder in the community is not an option for fear of rejection by the community. To seek professional help from someone impartial and caring can be the only way to find the healing needed.
Alhumdulillah, more and more Muslims are being trained in the counselling profession with many, like ourselves at Halima Muslima, specialising in creative arts therapy.
Creative arts therapy is clinically proven to be a very effective form of therapy:
“In studies of adults who experienced trauma, art therapy was found to significantly reduce trauma symptoms and decrease levels of depression.”
Even in Saudi Arabia, they are beginning to use art therapy! https://www.arabnews.com/node/1732781/saudi-arabia
How Does it Work and how is it different to talking therapy?
Often our painful experiences are trapped in ourselves, lurking in the recesses of our hearts and minds, affecting our sense of wellbeing and our relationships. Just talking about it often is not enough to truly communicate what happened and arrive at a peaceful resolution.
The creative arts use a rich language, where the experience or feelings can be heard, shared and empathised with.
From a scientific point of view, if we look at studies of how the brain works (neurobiology), we also find that our right brain, which stores our traumatic memories, is closely linked to the creative, symbolic and intuitive parts of our brain. This is why creatively exploring feelings and memories is more effective than using the analytical left side of our brain.
What Happens in a Session?
Sessions may begin with a discussion of the problem being faced or any experiences they had recently that they would like to discuss.
The client can choose which medium they would like to work with, whether it is clay, art, drama or sandtray mini worlds. It is not necessary to be good at art or drama but simply to have a willingness and a curiosity to try something new.
The Power of Metaphor
Metaphor has traditionally been used to describe powerful states and is used often in the Qur’an and other holy books. Dream interpretation is well known in Islam to interpret one’s subconscious inner wishes or problems. Often the dreams contain teachings that are beneficial for the dreamer, if the dream falls in the category of dream guidance.
Through the use of metaphor in therapy, the client can understand themselves and the problem from an objective point of view, understanding the greater meaning and inshaAllah, Allah’s Divine Plan at work. This leads to greater acceptance and shows the path of healing ahead.
This way of working can be so insightful with plenty of lightbulb moments!
Is it safe?
The client has to feel comfortable and safe in the therapy room for any real therapy to begin. The pace of the sessions is led by the client who controls the depth of therapy that they are comfortable with.
For children, play and creative arts therapy is ideal and the only mode of therapy generally used in schools. This is because through play the child (and in fact adults) can much more easily process problems and painful life events and develop themselves as a young person.
Through play and using the creative arts with a trained counsellor, they can reenact painful events, process difficult feelings and get to know themselves in a way that feels safe and nurturing.
In my experience, children delight in the therapeutic process, experiencing deep joy and new confidence in themselves.
Can It Be Done Online?
Creative arts therapy is surprisingly effective online. One reason could be that it is easier to relax in one’s space.
Do You Need a Muslim Counsellor?
Understanding one’s faith is an essential building block to effective therapy for Muslims as the same goals and reference points are shared and understood. While it is possible to have a rewarding therapeutic experience with a non-Muslim, as there are many excellent arts-based therapists out there, having a sister Muslim who understands the greater picture can make the process more enriching and healing.
How does it fit with Islam?
Therapy fits with whatever your intention is.
Knowing oneself is an essential part of our journey to Allah. We may have the intention to have less anxiety, or we may feel the need to face the demons within, build strength in our Deen and develop trust in Allah. We may find that negative aspects of our ego are blocking our path to Allah. Through honestly exploring ourselves in a safe space, we can insha'Allah, remove those blocks, finding our way on the path again. To try and perfect our character and to take part in the Jihad al-Nafs is fard or obligatory in Islam; to establish peace not only within ourselves but in our family and in the greater community as well.
Nafaḥāt al-Uns (‘Breaths of Intimacy’17th century) Many verses in the Qur'an and stories from Islamic teachers are in the form of an allegory or hidden meanings. This painting shows dogs waiting obediently outside, hinting at the taming of our lower desires. The peacock may represent the danger of pride and the tree and gardens behind the door show a possibility of inner Paradise.
What else might you expect?
The somatic or felt experience of the body is very important for therapy as painful memories are usually trapped in the body, mind and heart. Meditation and stillness is an important part of recovery. Stillness allows us to access our essential nature - our Ruh which brings endless peace and joy.
Is it right for me?
It's always best to have a go and see for yourself. Make sure it's the right counsellor for you.
How long does therapy last and how much does it cost?
Depending on the complexity, therapy using the creative arts can be done as a stand alone session, over a few months or as much as a few years.
Therapy usually costs from £40 per 50 min session.
How will I know it worked?
Depending on how much you engage in the process, you can expect your life to become free from overwhelming anxiety, depression, PTSD or other issues that hinder happiness insha’Allah.How can I find counselling for myself, my child or a loved one?
Please visit our counselling page or join us on one of our therapeutic retreats!
There are also Muslim counsellors on MCAPN, a Muslim therapists directory.