Nestled somewhere in the greenery of Dairy Farm Road, is the clinical practice of a UK-trained Art Psychotherapist, Tomo Aoshima-Williams. Her office houses an array of crayons, paintbrushes, plasticine clay, ropes as well as natural materials such as leaves and seeds – all placed neatly on shelves. This is Tomo's story on how art therapy helps with mental wellness.
Her story started in the UK, where she originally studied to be a graphic designer. It was only after she had started work as a graphic designer that Tomo discovered art as a form of therapy. During a deeply personal sojourn through Spain, while volunteering at a center for people with learning disabilities, she had a chance encounter with a man called José. José had minimum verbal communication and looked very much resigned about life, perhaps due to high doses of medication to keep his behavioural issues under control.
However, he astounded Tomo with an amazing colour drawing. She felt as though she got to know the true José for the first time through his drawing. This inspired Tomo to proceed with her Masters degree in Art Psychoherapy when she went back to the U.K.
There, the British Association of Art Therapists had worked very hard to differentiate art therapy from just ‘therapeutic art’. As a form of psychotherapy, art therapy uses art as a main form of communication between the therapist and their client, and the client with themselves. It becomes useful when verbal communication becomes insufficient because feelings can be hard to express in words at times. This is not just for children, but also for adults because as adults our feelings are more complex and sometimes abstract. And adults are masters at using words to disguise their true emotions. In Tomo's experience, many people present themselves in a certain way, but their art ends up telling a very different story. This is because art has the power to bring the unconscious part of ourselves (the part of us that we are unaware of) to a visible form. Therefore, art therapy is essentially a second channel of expression, which allows the client to connect with their true-self and bring out insights into their personal development.
Today, Tomo specialises in behavioural and emotional difficulties as well as self-development sessions. Some of these problems are due to hindrances in a person’s psychological development in the early years of his life. Behavioural and emotional problems are also attributed to traumatic experiences causing an individual to mistrust others or the inability to regulate their emotions.
She applies her specialisation to a broad spectrum of work. First, she conducts ordinary therapy for her clients, who in Singapore are both adults and children. Next, she also provides personal therapy for therapists in training, where they themselves receive therapy as part of their coursework. Finally, she provides clinical supervision for qualified therapists who are already seeing a client, as a measure of mentoring and as a safeguard for both client and therapist. She also undertakes outreach work, such as at a children’s home.
Typical patient entry points include the state-run Family Services Centres which have art therapy trainees doing placements there. Places with children with Special Educational Needs, also have full time art therapists. Sometimes, Tomo gets referrals by social workers and psychologists. All this is over and above voluntary clients.
However, it isn’t just people with behavioral and emotional difficulties who seek help. Sometimes, Tomo gets clients who are seeking ways to remove an obstacle to further improve their lives. For example, a mid-career individual might have trouble coming to realise that the job they worked so hard for, was not one they ever truly wanted. “In Singapore, there are a lot of parental-dictated career choices,"observed Tomo with deadly accuracy. But it is not the therapist who provides an answer to your problem – it’s your journey to gain an insight into positive changes. Tomo explained: “The therapist walks next to you. Not pulling, not pushing. The therapist will catch you when you fall, and hold your hands, until you see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Tomo is a member of the Health Professional Council (UK), British Association of Art Therapists, and the Professional Association of Arts Therapy in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. If you would like to book Art Therapist Tomo, click on the link below!
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