KAREN Hall has bipolar disorder the condition formerly
known as manic depression and no one was more surprised than
her when she enrolled in an art therapy course and started painting
She's interested in computers and architecture, not flowers.
She's not a flower person at all. But that's what she painted.
"It's not the sort of thing I expected to paint," she said.
"Never in a million years."
Ms Hall, 28, of Coburg, enjoyed the experience so much, and
gained from it in ways that traditional therapy hadn't reached,
that she bought paints and brushes to use at home.
For fellow course member Christine Myhre the stakes are higher.
She said the art therapy course had saved her life. "I have been
suicidal," she said, "but this course keeps me going."
Ms Myhre, 55, of Geelong, suffers from acute depression, but she
finds it is softened and sometimes even cured by turning up once a
week to Prahran's Victoria Clinic, where the course is held.
Organisers believe the Creative Solutions day program is the
only hospital-based art therapy course of its kind in
Those involved produce art paintings, drawings, poems,
sculptures, masks but these aren't analysed for meaning.
Rather, the therapy comes from joining in and doing it.
"We give their creativity a totally free rein," said course
facilitator Carol Hamilton. "They can dress up crazy, wear purple,
wear odd shoes, role -play, whatever. It's about coming to a safe
place. I think of this as an art class with mental illness factored
Around a dozen people have enrolled, all women (although this is
coincidental), aged from their 20s to 60s. They have bipolar
disorder, various kinds of depression, schizophrenia and anxiety
All have been patients of Victoria Clinic, a private psychiatric
hospital. And all have found they have less need for the hospital
now that they are visiting it informally to make art.
"Most have said if they didn't have this they don't know what
they would do," said Mrs Hamilton, a former psychiatric nurse who
is completing a masters degree in creative art therapy. "They'd do
what we call the 'Doona-dive' they'd stay in bed all day,
brooding on the negatives. These people are on a tightrope between
being dead and being alive and the way we see it, creativity is the
opposite of depressive illnesses.
"Creativity," she said, "is about being open, while depression
closes you down."
Ms Myhre said she often found it hard to get from Geelong once a
week for the course. But she felt she had to. "It's much harder to
get better than it is to get sick," she said. "This can hopefully
help mend me."
Ms Hall, meanwhile, said finding the course in a society
which harshly judged mentally ill people was like a
"You can be yourself here," she said. "You can remove yourself
from your problems. It's safe. And it's fun."