Program helps Islanders with brain injuries find relaxation through art

It turns out doodling can be good for your mental health. A unique program is bringing together students at UPEI and Islanders with brain injuries to find relaxation through art.

'Just be creative and let go and try to relax through the process of creating art'

Katelynn Clow explains the second of three art activities planned for the two-hour class. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

A unique program is bringing together students at UPEI and Islanders with brain injuries to find relaxation through art.

The class was developed by the Brain Injury Association of Prince Edward Island after seeing how art was being used with brain injury survivors elsewhere in Canada.

It gives you an outlet to express how you're feeling inside— Katelynn Clow

"We've taken it upon ourselves to create services," said Kenneth Murnaghan of the Brain Injury Association.

"And watching other groups across Canada, I thought it was about time that we looked at creating an art therapy group here on the Island."

Katelynn Clow, a fourth year psychology student at UPEI who has applied to study art therapy in the fall, was identified as a potential instructor by the UPEI Student Union, which also provides a free space for the program.

"It's basically just a group of people getting together to play with art, different materials and be very non-structured," she said.

"We do have a curriculum that we follow but we really encourage people to just be creative and let go and try to relax through the process of creating art."

Because Clow is not a certified art therapist, they're calling the sessions art relaxation.

Activities have included a feeling mandala, relaxation doodles and drawing their breath. 

"It gives you an outlet to express how you're feeling inside," added Clow.

"Sometimes we don't like to admit to ourselves how we're feeling and when you see it in your art, it can be really helpful in dealing with it and identifying it."

The art relaxation class has brought together students at UPEI with members of the brain injury community. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Anxiety about art

The art relaxation classes are supposed to lower anxiety levels, but Clow admits sometimes the thought of art itself can make people anxious.

"We've experienced that a lot and basically we try to come together as a group and be very supportive and let people know that there is no right or wrong," Clow said.

"As long as you're happy with it and you make a connection and you're enjoying yourself, that's all that really matters."

The sessions started in August, with financial support from the P.E.I. Department of Health and Wellness.

The classes draw between three and seven participants. It's not as many as Murnaghan would like to see, but he understands why people may be hesitant.

"In the brain injury community, one of the biggest problems is people getting out to it. A lot of them rely on their family, and their family just gets home from work and they don't want to have to go out again at night time," said Murnaghan.

"There are a couple of members that do come ... And the good thing about it is the students are getting a feel for brain injury survivors.

The participants in the art relaxation class do some deep breathing then draw their breath. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

More art relaxation in the future

But Murnaghan hopes the program grows.

"I would like to see it evolve into maybe a weekly program," he said.

"I think there are people out there — students, people in the general community, or more brain injury survivors."

Clow is waiting to hear if she has been accepted to study art therapy in Ontario or B.C.

She hopes to return to P.E.I. in a few years after getting her certification to work with whatever groups are looking for her help.

The participants have done activities such as a feeling mandala and relaxation doodles. (Nancy Russell/CBC)


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