Drawn in pencil, a stick figure holds a knife dripping with blood. There's a small hole in the character's head and a large frown on its face.
It's a simple illustration, but it oozes with pain, frustration and anger. What's more moving is the sketch was done by a little boy, not yet a teen.
This is the world Sophie Brunet ventures into; deep in the minds of people's creativity and subconscious. Since attending the Kutenai Art Therapy Institute in Nelson in 2001, Brunet has spent years inviting teenagers and adults to explore their innermost thoughts with pencils, paints and plasticine.
“Very often they are shocked and surprised at what they find,” she says, while sitting in the living room of her Squamish home.
The space is bright and full of Brunet's paintings. Art is one of her first passions. In 1998, Brunet majored in painting at Montreal's Concordia University. But quickly, she discovered the artwork she was drawn to was all about people and their stories. Merging her interest in people and passion in painting came organically. Brunet followed up her time at Kutenai with an art therapy graduate diploma at the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute in North Vancouver.
But you don't have to be an artist to get something out of art therapy, she says. Using creativity, what comes to life on paper is feelings, she notes. Brunet is there to facilitate dialog between the client and the piece.
“I encourage them to explore the meaning,” she says.
Art therapy is relatively new addition to therapeutic disciplines, it still holds a “grass roots feel,” Brunet says. While British painter Adrian Hill was taking easels into the country's mental hospitals in the late 1940s, two women were making waves in North America. US psychologist Margaret Naumberg and Dr. Edith Kramer were exploring the field — Naumburg creating psychodynamic art therapy and Kramer arriving at it through artist practice, according to the 2004 Art as Therapy paper.
In 1978, the British Columbia Art Therapy Association (BCATA) was founded to foster the professional development of the field. Art therapists are now registered under the organization.
When most people think of art therapy they conjure up images of child soldiers or youth dealing with abuse, Brunet says. But the profession can benefit a wide variety of generations and people with varying backgrounds, she says. It can help one deal with everything from envisioning which direction one wants their life to move toward, to the more difficult tasks of untangling relations, Brunet notes.
“It is really all ages,” she says. “Art is like a bridge.”
On Thursday, Feb. 21, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Brackendale Art Gallery, Brunet will join counsellor Adrian Jerkin to host The Art and Nature of Inner Transformation. The workshop will delve into symbolic images of nature and bring them into the art therapy process, Brunet says.