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

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
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 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 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 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.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid