FROM her striking flame-red dyed hair to her chunky silver key-pendant necklace, Mrs Glennery Besson looks every bit like a flamboyant artist.

In fact, she is much more than an artist — she is an art therapist, an occupation whose number is growing here.

Stepping into her studio — a room housed in Simei Care Centre, a psychiatric rehabilitation centre — one is immediately drawn to a large, square table, on which lie colourful paintings and drawings surrounded by crayons and pencils.

The Singaporean, who is married to an American IT consultant, is quick to dispel the misconceptions about her job.

 “Many people think that art therapists teach art, but they don’t,” says the mother of two adult sons.

She explains that an art therapist typically guides clients during the art creation process.

Release through art

In art therapy, clients are free to express their inner world through visual art, like a drawing or sculpture.

During this time, she works on building her relationship with them. Mrs Besson, who holds a master’s degree in art therapy, says this is a delicate process that calls for the art therapist to be sensitive to their clients’ needs.

For example, some clients may shy away from water colours. Their fear of the paint’s runny texture may reflect an inward fear of losing control of themselves, she says.

In such cases, the clients are not forced to use the water colours. Instead, pencils or crayons may be provided.

A safe environment must be provided so that clients are able to share their thoughts and feelings freely, she adds.

During the creation process, “I may ask a person drawing a blue bird: ‘What does the blue mean to you?’ or ‘Why did you pick a bird to draw?’

“I don’t just ask: ‘So what’s wrong with you?’ That’s too threatening,” says Mrs Besson, who holds a graduate diploma in social psychology and counselling.

The aim of such questions is to, over time, help clients gain a better understanding of themselves through the feelings and thoughts expressed through their art. This can, in turn, help them to resolve their inner conflict and manage stress better.

She does not try to analyse their artwork to tell her clients what they might be feeling.

“My personal experience can colour how I see the painting,” she says.

Neither does the former art gallery owner critique their art pieces.

“I cannot use an artist’s eye to look at their work. The art is done by those looking for therapeutic release. Any piece they create, no matter how simple it is, is their work and they have put effort into it,” she says.

“Art therapy is a combination of three factors – art, psychology and counselling,” she adds.

Touching lives

However, art may not be involved all the time.

“Some clients may not want to draw. Instead, they just want to talk,” she says.

When that happens, she devotes the session to listening to them.

Since her foray into the world of art therapy four years ago — she used to be a diamond buyer and grader in the United States and a graphic artist — Mrs Besson has touched many lives using her skills.

In fact, it was this desire of helping others, ignited during her days as a rape crisis volunteer counsellor in the United States, that prompted her to pursue this career path.

“However, there are times when I feel like giving up when I am not making any progress with my clients,” she says. But she never abandons them.

She relieves stress through kick-boxing, running or playing the guzheng (Chinese stringed instrument).

The best part of her job, she says, is when she is able to reach out to her clients and help them overcome their psychological challenges.

“That’s what keeps me going.”