These are my ethics, values and methods of working. I am committed to being anti-oppression, decolonial and anti-supremacist. I am also committed to dismantling and reconstructing ways of engaging that honour the humans I work with. I am responsible and accountable for my actions.
Supremacism is the belief that a certain group of people is superior to all others. This belief could be unconscious and perpetuated without you even realising it. The supposed superior people can be defined by:
Physical and mental ability
Any other part of a particular population
All our current systems of governance, education and care are based on this model (yes, ALL of them) – where one person or group of people is believed to be superior to another. The groups believed to be most superior have more power and privilege than the other groups. This gives them greater access to resources, higher priority when considered by those in roles of leadership and decision-making, and more opportunities to enter those roles themselves. The way supremacism forms our thinking is for those with power and privilege to feel entitled to it, centering only themselves. Meanwhile, the marginalised feel obligated to hand their power over to the privileged and centre them instead.
Supremacism would have you believe that there is ‘one perfect way’ of being human. According to the current systems in place, if you are a white, heterosexual, cisgender, wealthy, neurotypical, able-bodied male from an English-speaking country, you are considered ‘the norm.’ Every culture has its own version of ‘the norm’. In the South Asian culture, if you are a cisgender, upper caste, heterosexual, fair-skinned, wealthy male, you are ‘the norm’. Each culture’s supremacist system is influenced by the global supremacist norms (the global norm being a white, heterosexual, cisgender, wealthy, neurotypical, able-bodied male from an English-speaking country). Any deviation from these ‘norms’ is considered ‘incorrect’ and is shamed or oppressed. Living in this system harms our well-being in drastic, diverse and insidious ways.
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Within this context, art is not used as a diagnostic tool but as a medium to address emotional issues which may be confusing and distressing.
Art therapists work with clients of all ages who may have a wide range of difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses. These may be emotional, behavioural or mental health problems, learning or physical disabilities, life-limiting conditions, neurological conditions and physical illnesses. Art therapy is provided in groups or individually, depending on clients’ needs. It is not a recreational activity or an art lesson, although the sessions can be enjoyable. Clients do not need to have any previous experience or expertise in art.
The creation of art in the presence of a trained art therapist can have a profoundly positive effect on people with emotional, behavioural, mental health or physical problems. The Art therapist and the person they are working with will jointly explore the meaning of the process and image/art object in the light of personal experiences and/or interpersonal relationships that may sometimes be distressing or troubling. The aim is to facilitate the intrapersonal and interpersonal communication of experiences that the client may initially have difficulty in discussing verbally. The art therapist’s task is to support processes of emotional integration by providing a safe, reliable and containing therapeutic environment within which the client can create and use art making to develop insight and promote change.
What is Decolonial & Anti-supremacist Art Therapy?
Decolonisation is the dismantling and unlearning of colonialism in all the ways it impacts our lives. Colonialism affects the way we work, rest, feel, eat, shop, create, consume content, relate to one another and move through the world. Similarly, anti-supremacism is the dismantling and unlearning of supremacism in all the ways it affects our lives and relationships. There are numerous intersections between colonialism and supremacism – they both perpetuate each other.
What we know so far about Art Therapy is that it originated in the 1940s and 1950s in the West and Global North – mainly America and England. Both these countries have a long history of colonialism and perpetuating supremacism – this would have definitely informed the way Art Therapy was formed. Simply put, Decolonial and Anti-Supremacist Art Therapy critically examines the theory and practice and ensures it is culturally relevant for the client, therapist and their relationship. It also involves dismantling and reconstructing practices to make certain that they are devoid of any kind of supremacism, colonialism or oppression. Any therapeutic practice that centers and refuses to be aware of and dismantle supremacism, colonialism and oppression is unethical. Doing this work is my responsibility as a mental health practitioner.
Relationships take time and consistent attention to nurture and build. The current systems of mental healthcare condense all therapeutic relationship building to a weekly one hour time slot, with minimal to no support in between. For most people, the therapy room is one of the few places where they are wholeheartedly listened to, supported and can learn relational skills. I believe we deserve more than just one hour a week of feeling this way. Furthermore, for the relational skills to develop well, ongoing support/mentorship and modelling needs to take place between sessions. Most mental healthcare systems are inherently capitalist and cannot/will not support added layers of support that are so necessary.
What I offer is ongoing support between sessions in any way that suits the clients – texts, WhatsApp messages, voice notes, emails, phone calls etc. This way of working is closer to how non-therapeutic human relationships are and helps with rewiring/rewriting relational blueprints. If the wounds are relational, then the healing needs to be relational.