In Trinidad and Tobago, physicians are acknowledging the efforts of art therapists and are directing their patients to these creative specialists. Two such specialists are Jamal Glynn, a music therapist, and Sian MacLean, a visual arts therapist. Both therapists returned to Trinidad in 2011 after earning their master’s degrees in the UK and the US, respectively.
Glynn studied at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and uses mainly pan for his therapy sessions. He also incorporates other instruments like the guitar, djembe African drum and keyboard. Glynn has played pan for over 30 years. While at St Augustine Senior Secondary School, Glynn had the opportunity to tour parts of Europe as a pan ambassador.
In Europe, he played pan with the Ebony Steelband Trust, a group working at that time with the Council for Music in Hospitals. Glynn found himself performing at medical centres. He explains that this was a different experience from playing pan at block parties. His eyes opened to the therapeutic potential of music. Glynn would eventually pursue a bachelor’s degree in music at UWI and then attain a MA degree in music therapy in England. He is registered with the Health Professions Council in the UK and he is a member of the British Association for Music Therapy.
Glynn works at the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital, the Arima Rehabilitation Centre, the Chaguanas Psychiatric Clinic, the Barataria Mental Health and Wellness Centre and the Caribbean Kids and Families Therapy Organisation in St James.
Among his strategies, he uses improvisation and what he calls holding and matching. Clients are encouraged to engage with instruments in a spontaneous way, freely expressing themselves. Glynn will then hold or support the client musically by accompanying that client on another instrument. “I might hold you musically with four or five notes or with chords,” says Glynn. This kind of support helps create a safe environment for the client.
Glynn may also choose to match or mirror how the client plays the instrument. Matching helps the client become aware of his or her own actions. In this process, Glynn makes close observations. “Music therapy is not just playing music. It is non-verbal communication and we the therapists learn to analyse that music clinically, which is different from analysing someone playing on a stage.
“Music therapy is important. Doctors realise that words are not often enough, but with music, I might say, ‘That sounds so angry. What is going on there?’” Glynn says. “While playing I might interject and change the rhythm which can cause the client to make a change in how he or she is interacting with the instrument. In this way the client can become unstuck. Autistic people for example can be very repetitive,” he adds. For Jamal Glynn, therapy constitutes making small, incremental changes for each client.
For Sian MacLean, therapy is also about personal growth and change for each of her clients. A few years ago, MacLean moved from a career in accounting and managing an art gallery to teaching young children. She had an interest in children with special needs and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in special education at the University of Miami. Her programme of study included a mandatory fine art elective and she soon found herself captivated by the expressive power of making marks on paper or canvas. During that time she experienced what she calls a period of loss and transition with the death of her mother. “Art helped me through that period,” she says.
She discovered that there was a field called art therapy and changed her area of study to psychology. She graduated from the University of Miami with a major in psychology and a minor in art. She later earned a master’s degree in mental health counselling with a focus in art from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
MacLean has her private art therapy practice in Woodbrook with adult clients as well as some as young as six. She explains that art materials have different qualities and therefore can have different psychological effects. “Clay is good for kids with an aggression problem. It is a resistive material. It is good for discharge. They can stretch it and knead it. Paint is very freeing. So if you have someone who is very closed you can offer him or her paints. The thing with art is there is no right or wrong, good or bad so I will ask someone to create something and give it a name and have a dialogue with it,” MacLean shares.
She uses a wide range of creative methods including ‘Zen doodles’, which are small squares in which the client is asked to draw. This can have a positive impact on someone who suffers from anxiety. “Instead of being caught up in worries, it gives you a moment where you are in the present doing something with intent and that break can be good for your system,” says MacLean. Her dream is to have an art mobile with which she can go into communities and offer creative means of help. As an art therapist she is aware of the key role the creative arts can play in moving individuals, communities and societies towards healing.
What is art therapy?
Art therapy is a growing practice around the world. It is a form of psychotherapy that uses art-making processes as channels for growth and change. Where the administering of drugs and the use of verbal counselling are deemed insufficient to address such matters as grief and loss, depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sexual abuse, neglect and suicidal ideation, various creative arts serve as treatment strategies for improving health and well-being. An art therapist is trained in one or more of the arts, including the visual arts, music and drama. Practitioners must also be knowledgeable in areas of psychology—human mental functions, emotions and behaviours—and human development. Art therapists work with individual patients or groups and provide services in several different areas of care, such as adult mental health, prison inmate treatment, attending to the disabled, child and family relationships and palliative care.