For artist Anne-Marie Diaz and her family, 2004’s Hurricane Ivan ravaged not only their home but their sense of safety and understanding of life in the Cayman Islands.

She witnessed her brother, who has Down Syndrome, fall silent, unable to describe the pain and terror of his experience.

“His way of processing and coping with it was to actually become selectively mute, which really means he began to choose not to speak most of the time. It wasn’t a case that he couldn’t but it’s what his brain told him to do,” she said Wednesday during an informational session on art psychotherapy at George Town’s Art Nest Creative Studio.

Where traditional talk therapy failed, she saw art help her brother open up and eventually regain his voice. The experience inspired Diaz to become certified as a registered art psychotherapist in the U.K. and bring the alternative therapy to Cayman.

She hoped Wednesday’s luncheon would spread awareness about the therapy, which has only been practiced professionally in the islands for a limited time.

While Ms. Diaz meets with clients one-on-one at the Wellness Centre, a blossoming partnership with Art Nest has allowed her to expand into group work, including an ongoing class for young girls called “Art of Confidence.”

She said art therapy programs can often help clients process experiences and emotions that may be too complex or difficult to put into words.

“Often, it’s when we put something down on paper, even if it’s not an image and it’s us writing it down, we can look back and reflect on our thoughts, feelings and experiences more than if we just talked to someone about it,” she said.

Art therapy programs can be adapted for both adults and children who suffer from an array of health problems, including the effects of trauma, depression, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Ms. Diaz also described art as a way to overcome the stigma of attending traditional talk therapy.

“I think the arts provide this platform, this opportunity that allows the client to feel a bit more at ease about talking. They’re not talking; they’re talking through the art, pictorially expressing their emotions and there’s something very strong, very important about that,” she said.

She made a distinction between therapeutic activities, such as yoga or art classes, and art psychotherapy, which sets cognitive goals and implements a practice plan between the client and practitioner. Like the sessions recorded in talk therapy, the art created remains confidential and is used as a means to evaluate the client’s feelings and progress.

Art Nest creative director Christina Pineda said she hopes to see the partnership with the Wellness Centre grow and lead to more creative group therapy opportunities.

“We created Art Nest to be a hub for all creativity and it takes a holistic look at lifestyle and art and how art can actually help you in your lifestyle. That’s where the synergy became evident between Anne-Marie and what she does at Wellness Centre and what we do here,” Ms. Pineda said.

“People are very interested in it because they want to know how it’s different from regular therapy, what it is and what it isn’t. That’s another reason I encouraged her to do this luncheon.”

Ms. Diaz added that art skills are not a prerequisite to art therapy. Clients only need a willingness to participate.

Those interested in learning more about art therapy services can contact Ms. Diaz at [email protected]

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