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South Vancouver art studio aims to help those with mental illness

The Art Studios offers free classes to those diagnosed with mental illness in hopes of aiding in recovery

Sample of the art made at The Art Studios. Photo: Natalia Buendia Calvillo
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Reported by Natalia Buendia Calvillo

Occupational therapists working at a South Vancouver studio teach free art classes in the belief that it helps people recover from serious mental illnesses when in a group setting.

Dr. Ingrid Söchting a psychology clinic director at UBC said art can help to relax and expose a different understanding of oneself.

“There are so many things that words cannot fully express, so having means of artistic expression can be extremely powerful and helpful,” Söchting said

The Art Studios have offered art skills classes since 1994 and are supported by the Vancouver Recovery Through Art Society, a non-profit society formed in 2012.

Participants must be diagnosed with severe addictions or mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis or other concurrent disorders. Over a period of 10 weeks, students over 16-years-old are taught art skills like painting, pottery, drawing and printmaking.

Allows participants to open up

Ann Weborn, vice chair of VRTAS and occupational therapist, is one of the printmaking teachers. She says a five-minute mindfulness meditation session before class “allows members to slow down” and “learn to be in the moment.”

The group helps build social skills and artistic skills, according to Weborn.

“They feel safe here, they open up about their challenges and are willing to work on them in the program,” Weborn said. “I love being surrounded by their great art.”

Colleen McNeil, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, PTSD and anxiety when she was 22-years-old. After being a student, she became a dedicated instructor and is passionate about seeing her students’ improvement.

McNeil said art lead her to self-discovery “and while the meds keep you ‘comfortably numb’, creating art helps you remember who you are.”

“When you’re ill, it’s very difficult to reach your soul,” McNeil said. “That’s where The Art Studios comes in.”

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