Hanoi Grapevine joined artist Nguyen Thuy Trang – co-founder of Tí Toáy Atelier – a pioneering creative education model in Hanoi, in a discussion to understand ‘Art therapy’ – an art course providing help with mental health. This is a subject that is getting more and more more attention in Vietnam lately.
How did you come up with the idea of Tí Toáy art therapy course?
In reality, the more modern our life gets, the more pressure it brings us. In 2016-2017, around 30% of Vietnamese population has certain mental health issues, most of them are office workers, middle-age people, post-natal mothers. In addition, it is awkward for Vietnamese people to go to a doctor when they encounter these psychological issues. So instead of looking for a cure when it has already worsened, using art as a therapy providing them an escape to sort out their own problems. Art can help them in healing and finding relieve.
Before opening this course, since 2015 we have already started a class called “Drawing Memory” for middle-aged people and some others over the age of 30. After a while, I realized that they were so focused on creating a perfect artwork, relying too much on techniques. In fact in our daily life, we encounter many problems and face many pressure from family, work, relationships…
At first the participants came to the art class to relax. But then they had even more pressure from trying to create a beautiful painting that they lost their joy – the very thing that made them want to attend the class. So my objective is to help them find back that joy and that innate need. That is the reason why I started research more about using art to mentally relax and about art therapy. Then I joined a 1-week training course on Art therapy with experts in Singapore. When I came back to Vietnam, I decided to collaborate with a psychology expert to design a program on Art therapy.
How long does one course last? What was the role of the psychology expert in designing your therapy program?
Our first course has 8 sessions, with a duration of 8 weeks. Most of the participants were young people, some were post-natal mothers who have a strong need to enrich their mental health. Each session would teach the participants different techniques to explore various psychological aspects, using different art techniques.
The expert helped us in recognizing the common issues that the participants had, and then we provided them with appropriate art methods and activities. They have the chance to express their feelings through art, thus finding relieve from their mental issues.
Were their any stories or changes from the participants after joining the course that impressed you?
Among our participants, one is a woman born to a rich family, from her childhood to adulthood, everything was decided by her parents, even her job was arranged by them, she is married and has one child… At first glance, you would think that she had everything, a peaceful, comfortable life, without worries. Yet in fact, she had a strong internal conflict, especially after having her first child. Her family opposed her idea of quitting a stable, high-paid job for what she really wanted to do. These conflicts were worsening day by day, and she could not have a solution for them. Since joining this course, she confided to me that she had found ways to talk to her family and relieve her stress.
Art therapy is very diverse, so in Tí Toáy’s course, what art therapy techniques do you use and what are its benefits?
As a visual artist, I focus on using visual arts in art therapy, such as painting, sculpturing, printing with various media. Through this the course provide the participants a different mean to express their own feelings.
What lesson do you take for yourself after this first course to set the development direction for the ones after that?
After the first course, we realized that art and mental issues need time and a process to absorb. In the next courses, we helped the participants to understand psychology more deeply. We posed the questions and found solutions for a particular psychological topic in each part of the course, not in each session. Each part was composed of 12 sessions. This method would help the participants to explore themselves profoundly and thoroughly handle the problems they encountered.
In the upcoming time, together with developing in depth courses, we will also sending teachers abroad where art therapy is well-developed to better our programs.
Tí Toáy was, at first, an “art atelier for children” and now it has courses for adults as well, what advantages and challenges do you have?
When opening this completely new courses, I knew that there will be more challenges than advantages. It was much like how our children art classes started: for a long time we didn’t achieve what we expected, as our teaching methods were too new then when Tí Toáy was just established. Everyone thought we were just playing around and that this would get nowhere. But today we have passed our 5th year, we have 3 locations and become one of the biggest and most reliable art center for children in Hanoi.
The challenge we have is that many people seem interested in the course but shy away from participating because first, this is a new and strange notion to them, and second is that the word “therapy” makes them hesitate. People often think that “therapy” is only for those with problems. When they first join, the participants are very shy at sharing and expressing their own thoughts. We want them to know that art is the best way to express themselves freely without using words.
Thank you very much.
Tí Toáy Atelier was founded in 2013 by artist Nguyen Thuy Trang with the aim to educate and spread the love for art to children. Tí Toáy’s method based on the principle of respecting the children’s ideas and let them do things their way, with various media to practice. The spirit and philosophy of Tí Toáy’s courses are: aim for Aesthetics – Respect differences – Understand art history. Tí Toáy is fast growing and starting to open adult courses, and most recently, the new Art therapy course.
Translated by Hanoi Grapevine