Wordless wonder | Daily News


Wordless wonder

Knowledge does not always come in the form of words. Sometimes it is a silent knowledge. An awareness that cannot be expressed in words. An understanding when words are not enough. Daily News speaks to Registered Art Therapist Shimali Perera on her calling which is Art Therapy.

According to Perera, Art Therapy is an amazing field to be in and in Sri Lanka, there are not many Art Therapists. For so many Art can be used as a tool for healing – it can be children or adults. It is amazing to see the power of art. It has a huge impact on people. The minimum qualification to be an Art Therapist is a Masters in Art Therapy which she did in Singapore.

“Art Therapy is a field where you cannot express yourself through words. If you take someone who has been abused or take for examples the terrifying Easter Attacks, you cannot express in words what it was like. It is too emotional and sometimes you cannot even remember. That is when the creative therapies really step in. Sri Lanka has suffered so many tragedies like the war and the Tsunami. There are so many children who have experienced abuse as well as adults. Art Therapy helps you to express yourself through another means – through art when you can’t talk about it or you don’t want to talk about it,” pointed out Perera.

Perera says that there are very few Art Therapists in Sri Lanka and only recently did she get to know that there is another Art Therapist in Jaffna. They are a handful and the field of Art Therapy is slowly getting popularized in Sri Lanka. But there are many other creative arts therapists like drama therapists and play therapists. So, when you cannot talk about what you are going through, they use different mediums as a form of expression. For some people maybe Art is what works. For another person, it might be through drama. For another person, it could be dance and movement. For each of these fields, you need to be qualified. The minimum qualification for all of that is a Masters.

“There is a lot of potential in the field of Art Therapy. The need is so much in Sri Lanka. A few of us cannot handle the amount of work that is out there really. And after the Easter bombings last year we felt that a certain vacuum needed to be filled. Then we really stepped into the field when it came to reaching out to people. There were many psychologists and counsellors but there weren’t many creative art therapists. My colleague and I really experienced this need, because it was just a few of us going out there helping and supporting. Because through Art, Movement and Dance we could have been able to do a lot like giving them relief and help them come out of the trauma. Some of them could not talk about it because it was too much. If there are more of us there is a lot more that can be done,” added Perera.

There are many benefits of Art Therapy. It is a huge stress relief. In the long term, it gives you insight into what you are going through. Because as they see it, Art is an extension of yourself. If you are open to the process of painting, drawing and colouring, it really brings out whatever it is you are going through. It gives you an insight into your situation. Some clients who come in for therapy figure things out for themselves. As a therapist, Perera is just there by their side. They realize what they need to do or what they should not do. The artwork itself speaks for them. They also learn coping mechanisms. It also helps them manage what they are going through. Perera gets clients who are going through a lot.

“I tell them during the week whenever they feel stress, to do some art. My clients have told me that it has helped them at that time. For children, art comes easily because art is something they like. However, for some adults, there is a little restriction.

As adults, we think whatever art we make needs to look good. For some of them, art is something they have not done in a long time. But with time they experience healing. They can come out of their situation,” said Perera.

Perera uses the art materials accordingly and says she uses a very non-directive approach.

She uses paint and clay in situations where she is working with a lot of trauma and when the client might seem a little inhibited. Those are materials help them express themselves and address the emotions that are bothering them. You need to work side by side with psychologists and psychiatrists.

“We always stick to a team. There are many psychologists and psychiatrists I work with. It is always better to work as a team rather than doing one thing alone. I have worked with troubled teenagers and people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders. Art therapy helps, bring about some relief and comfort. When it comes to Schizophrenia you have to work alongside a psychiatrist with medication,” stated Perera.

Shimali Perera shared with the Daily News something about her past. She has a bachelors in psychology and earlier on in her career she had the choice of choosing a placement- anywhere she wanted to work at. But things did not work out for Perera at her chosen place and nothing seemed to be working out for her. Therefore, she resorted to prayer – the divine. Time was running out for her and she had tried every possible option.

After praying she received an idea. The divine intervention you could call it. It just came out of nowhere- the thought Creative Therapy. At that time, she was not even aware there was such a field in Sri Lanka. She realized that it was a message from her heavenly father – God.

After that, she needed to talk to someone. That was the next stage. It was then that she remembered one of her friends. There is a saying that when the student is ready the master appears. Perera faced a similar situation. This friend had many contacts. Perera asked this friend if she knew anyone in this field in Sri Lanka and the answer was yes!

Perera got the number and name of a person she could talk to. She spoke to her supervisor at her placement and the supervisor also knew that such and such a person existed. Another miracle happened- he, the supervisor was meeting this person that very day! So Perera realized that all this was no accident and that everything was falling into place. Subsequently, Perera got in touch with this counsellor who uses Art in her work.

“At that time, this counsellor was doing some work in Mulleriyawa with patients and so I joined her. And I got interested in the field of Art Therapy, which this lady spoke about a lot. So, I asked her what qualifications you need. She told me that there was a University that offers the course overseas, but I felt that it was not the right choice for me.

So, I decided to give it some time. And again, I started to pray about it. Then again very randomly I got this thought – Singapore. I was extremely sceptical since I did not know anyone in Singapore except for one cousin. So, I googled Art Therapy Singapore and I came across this college in Singapore that offered the course. So, I asked my cousin about this college in Singapore and he then put me in touch with some people who advised me on what to do. So, all of this came together and I ventured out into Singapore and did this course in Art Therapy,” explained Perera.

Beyond the shores of Sri Lanka, Art Therapy is very popular. Perera is linked to the – Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapy Association.

This is an association for all forms of creative therapists. These therapists are governed by ethics and they are monitored. In England, you get the British Association of Art Therapists and in the States, you get the American Association of Art Therapists.


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Shimali it was a fantastic discovery.You a genius well done . Wish you all the best in your endeavors.

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