Clinical psychologist Dr. Aruna Broota on arts in psychotherapy

The art world — particularly of Indian classical dance and music — is redolent with words like ‘spiritual', ‘healing' and ‘well being'. Anyone closely involved with dance, music or visual arts would agree that not only does practising them produce a therapeutic effect, but that the rigorous discipline they require is akin to yoga. Despite these qualities, it is not often one comes across the arts in India being used as or in healing therapy. Dr. Aruna Broota, senior Delhi-based clinical psychologist, points out that while it is by no means a new field and is extensively researched and used by practitioners in countries of the West, in India it is not at all widespread.

The former Delhi University professor who speaks both knowledgably and passionately about the value of the arts as tools of psychotherapy, will present a paper “Arts in Physiotherapy” as part of the International Ancient Arts Festival/Symposium – 2012, today at New Delhi's Kamani auditorium. The symposium theme is “Healing with Arts”.

In India, the term psychotherapy still does not have social acceptance. “We have come forward and started recognising the word counselling,” she notes, “and still we are afraid of counselling.”

Dr. Aruna, who has experience with patients of varying ages, explains the significance of arts in analysis. “It's a very serious process, even when a little infant colours.” The length of the lines, the way they zigzag, the colours and other details help the therapist to understand “how his brain structures the thoughts and how his heart structures the emotions,” she says. “But unfortunately our people think these are just co-curricular activities.” Otherwise, they enrol children in art classes during summer vacation “when they don't know what to do with them.”

Enumerating the kinds of conditions in which the arts are recognised to be helpful, the well known clinical psychologist mentions hyperactivity, autism, borderline mental retardation and physical disabilities. “That means any child that is physically challenged in this world,” she remarks, emphasising, “I will say, no, arts are equally important for every child.”

In her work with adolescents, she has numerous case studies of young people whose imbalances, conduct disorders, aggression, negative energy and revolt against discipline are channelized through visual and performing arts.

Every person has a Special Ability Factor, says the doctor. It is often found that children who suffer from low self esteem because of poor academic performance have a special ability factor in the arts, which could be painting, sculpture, drawing, craft, dance, ballet, instrumental music, decoration, or any other creative discipline. “When they get expression of this factor we see a total transformation of their psychic energy,” she says. They become more composed, gain social acceptance and get a good ego strength — which is different from ego, she clarifies.

With children demarcated as bullies or destructive in school, she always gets in touch with school authorities to find out if their special ability factor has been identified and given expression to.

The doctor reiterates that the transformation in attitude this brings about helps them become successful individuals; success does not stem from the prestige of the institution from which they get their degree. People with higher IQs are not necessarily more successful, simply because they have not had the opportunity to creatively express their special ability factor. “Where is an engineer going to go if he has anger management problems? Where is the architect going to go if he is a sexually regressive architect?” she asks, stating, “You cannot do away with the special ability factor bestowed on you by Ishwarji (god).”

Seeming perplexed that “no one else wants to recognise that,” she cites the searing example of a boy who loves to dance but can't dance in his home because his father hurls abuses at him. “He closes his door and dances for an hour, and if his father bangs on the door he dances for two hours.” In this case, despite expressing his special ability, the child is creating negative energy since he cannot express it freely and win approbation.

In a scenario where parents are obsessed with academics and material success and constantly harping on the world being a competitive place, even the confidence children have in their own art gets dissipated. “That's where parenting goes wrong,” she remarks. Then Dr. Aruna relates a heart-warming story from her own family.

Her husband in his youth loved to draw and paint and told his parents he wanted to become an artist. But his parents, believing that artists can never make ends meet, successfully convinced their son to take up a different career. When his younger brother too said he wanted to be a professional painter, their parents were still against the idea. “My husband said, ‘You said the same thing to me. But if he wants to do it, let him. If he has a problem, I am there for him.' And today my brother-in-law is a world renowned painter.” That younger brother is none other than the eminent Rameshwar Broota.

The real need, says Dr. Aruna, is not financial support. “It is to stand by each other.” Had the family not allowed Rameshwar to follow his creativity, he may not have turned out the “wonderful soul” he is, she feels.

It is in this respect she believes the symposium is of great significance, because it is a step towards helping society understand the importance of the arts in growth of maturity and accepting one's weakness through the special ability factor.

Can artists help? “They should,” says Dr. Aruna. “Performing artistes and general artists should all be available to psychologists and should have a special class where they can send children.”