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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid