Arts Based Therapy Course By Bapu Trust: Healing Through Art Forms

On June 3rd 2018, a graduation ceremony was held for the first batch of students completing the Arts Based Therapy course launched by Bapu Trust, one of our partner NGOs from Pune. The use of art in and as a therapeutic practice has been on a rise in the mental health sector in India in recent years. Some organisations have embraced art therapy as a compelling approach to establishing individual and organisational wellness. The reasons include the pivotal role art plays in combating stress and creating self-awareness. 

Art has long been a space of respite and shade, and one of the ways of coping with distress. Faced with a harsh world, and social constraints and discrimination, art is used to release and connect, and to thus better understand the self and others. The goal of art therapy, from its inception till date, has been to sustain and use all that one gain from art and integrate it into the workings of daily life. 

Art therapy is concerned with not just the creative expression of our inner workings, but it actively substitutes art for all the failings of language in addressing, understanding and communicating our stories. It brings to the table that which can’t be reduced to words anymore, and allows one to form an agreement between one’s inner life and the demands of the external world, and thereby facilitates our healing. The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as : an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families and communities through active art-making, creative processes, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a therapeutic relationship. In the field of mental health, the diversity of applications that art therapies provide is a boon. It can be used for clinical and non-clinical settings. The most important aspect of art therapy is that it can be designed to suit a specific client's need. It can be used with a child in a school setting, a person with schizophrenia in an institutional setting or even in family therapy.

It is no wonder then that art therapy has been gaining prominence and hence, an education in these forms of therapy has become relevant. The initiative launched by Bapu Trust holds this end in sight and trains participants to use arts based therapy through their course. But what sets Bapu Trust apart is their unique vision and philosophy, which as a fact was increasingly apparent in the graduation ceremony.

Bapu Trust's Arts Based Therapy Course 
The Bapu Trust for Research on Mind and Discourse works with many stakeholders in the development sector to include people with mental health issues and psychosocial disabilities. In 2017, Bapu Trust launched their certificate course on Arts Based Therapy with a focus on improving psychosocial and mental health under the ambit of development. According to Bapu, ABT is a safe and effective way to approach habitual behaviours to build insight, empathy and connection among individuals and families. Furthermore, it empowers a person to be independent and to exercise their agency in life. 

Bapu's ABT course draws heavily from Indian psychology and ethics, and is rooted in  cognitive sciences, social justice, and disability inclusive development. This is because western forms of therapy do not always provide a cultural fit for the South Asian context. Highly verbal and individualised forms of therapy can be intimidating and medicalising towards people. According to Bapu Trust, ABT that is rooted in Eastern philosophy and which integrates all forms of art, provides a non-violent, non-medical and playful form of therapy in our context. This form of therapy is culturally appropriate and allows people to explore their inner selves and heal. It provides a safe release for painful and difficult emotions through a gentle application of highly capable forms of expression.

The participants are organisations and individuals working in the development sector and the social services, and fields addressing important problems related to disability, mental health, physical health, human rights and education. The graduating batch also included two international students, both from South Asian countries, namely Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Kavita Pillai, a faculty in the programme, said that the course had ample focus on the healing of the practitioner. The course was a challenging route towards growth for many students who had faced mental health issues and trauma in their own lives.

Bapu Trust truly celebrated the graduation of their first batch of students to reward them for enduring and withstanding what had turned out to be a challenging journey of personal transformation. The graduation ceremony, held for all the students who completed their challenging and deeply benefiting course, was mindful of the impact their students would hold in their respective fields, and the obligations they share in. The ceremony demonstrated an awareness of this social responsibility and epitomised the organisation's spirit and holistic approach towards well-being. Bhargavi Davar, founder and director of Bapu Trust, and Kavita Pillai, project leader and faculty at the ABT course,  saw it as paramount to step down from their positions of power as instructors into the role of peers with their former students. To mark this change and validate their students’ challenges, they took turns in washing the feet of their students. The students responded to the symbolic ritual with joy, disbelief, gratitude and relief.

The graduating students, along with their former instructors, took a vow which emphasised the values of compassion, humility, and mutual respect while practising the profession. This includes vowing not to teach ABT unless trained to do so, and not forcing one’s views upon others through force or education. It highlighted the importance of empathy and compassion in dialogue.

Bapu’s vision serves the purpose of creating a space for healing through expression, therapy and community. They have launched a movement towards this end and have marked its beginning with this beautiful course.  MHI is proud to have partnered with Bapu Trust for this relevant and successful initiative, which has at its focus the healing of individuals and communities. 

Art therapy is concerned with not just the creative expression of our inner workings, but it actively substitutes art for all the failings of language in addressing, understanding and communicating our stories.