News / Africa

Art Therapy Helps Mentally Ill Patients in Dakar

Art therapist Felicity Kodjo watches over a patient during the art therapy workshop.
Art therapist Felicity Kodjo watches over a patient during the art therapy workshop.
Amanda Fortier

In Dakar, psychiatric patients attend regular art therapy classes to help treat mental disorders ranging from addiction to schizophrenia. The therapy can be a useful technique to complement traditional forms of psychotherapy.  Psychiatrists in the Senegalese capital's main hospital see it as an essential part of the healing process.

Inside the psychiatric wing at Dakar’s main hospital, Hôpital Principal de Dakar, Atta, a young Togolese, is standing in front of a blank canvas.  He picks up a brush, dips it into indigo blue paint and begins sketching the contour of two doves.  

Across the table from Atta is a tall, Senegalese man, very carefully painting in the helmet on the head of a commando figure.  Souleyman is a soldier who has been stationed in Senegal’s conflict-ridden Casamance for the last 19 years.

Souleyman says he is here because he has had to kill people in his job, and has been suffering terrible nightmares.  Every few months he comes to the hospital to see the doctor and to attend art-therapy classes.  Souleyman says he feels good here because he does not need to think.  He can relax and completely de-stress.

Art as psychotherapy is still relatively new in Senegal.  Dr. Tabara Sylla, the hospital's chief psychiatrist, has been an advocate of art therapy since 2004, when the program began with the help of a local group known in the Wolof language as "Man Is the Helper of Man."  

Dr. Sylla uses art therapy, medication and classical forms of psychotherapy in her practice, treating everything from chronic depression and autism to alcohol abuse and schizophrenia.

At first the project started as a way to keep patients busy in the afternoon, Dr. Sylla says, rather than have them sitting around smoking.  It soon became clear that art was creating a communication bridge between patient and doctor.  More and more now, she says, art workshops have become essential therapy - so much that she cannot imagine this psychiatric unit without them.

Traditionally, in Senegal - as in many other parts of Africa - ceremonial dances or chanting have been used as forms of therapeutic release.  Felicity Kodjo, a Togolese artist, is one of five leaders of art-therapy workshops at the hospital.  She believes there are important parallels between traditional forms of therapeutic expression and the art workshops.

Kodjo says the many traditional types of "soft medicine" in Africa can help relieve mental distress.  In Senegal this includes forms of hypnotism and ceremonial events such as the “ndeup”, which puts participants in a type of trance.  Kodjo says the traditional techniques work like art therapy, because they are emotive, pushing people to confront powerful feelings and to move beyond obstacles.

So how does art therapy work?  Some therapists say the creative act itself is what aids healing, by releasing hidden emotions.  Others emphasize the interpretive side of art, where images provide valuable clues to a patient’s deeper psychological issues.   At the Dakar hospital, Kodjo explains:

She says art therapy is a type of mental comfort that brings relief; the interpretive elements are visible in a patient's work through repetition of images, colors and actions.  A first drawing of a bird, for example, can be fairly banal.  But, she says, if a patient continues to paint birds, then we can start asking key questions. This is especially useful with patients who do not speak but only communicate through images.

Dr. Sylla explains that she rarely attends the workshops herself, because it is important that patients have a neutral space to create, without doctors present.

The chief psychiatrist looks through patients’ dossiers regularly, to gauge the workshops' progress.  Dr. Sylla says this can help during later personal interviews, particularly with those suffering from illnesses that inhibit verbal expression such as autism, or some forms of depression.

Dr. Sylla says the patients' artwork shows how their emotions are evolving.  In interviews, she adds, the most importanrt thing is to let patients interpret their own images and tell doctors verbally what they have drawn.  

Artwork by the patients in Dakar is sold at local craft fairs.  There also are plans to exhibit their work at a biennial art festival beginning in May called Biennale des Arts de Dakar, known as Dak'Art 2012, scheduled May 11-June 12.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid