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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 M by 2015

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide 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.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid