Medicine is….Art: Anwar Nasr

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Medicine is….Art: Anwar Nasr

In this blog, I am happy to interview Anwar Nasr, who is an Expressive Arts Therapist in Vancouver, Canada.  I found Anwar and his work on IG and was immediately drawn to his inviting, healing and playful style. You can see it for yourself in these pictures. And here’s our exploration of Art as Medicine 

How do you see art as a Medicine for people in recovery?

I view addiction as an adaptation to deal with some sort of suffering. Suffering,  on the other hand, comes from disconnecting from or avoiding a certain truth because it is painful. So there is a painful truth that one tries to avoid, in doing that we suffer and as an adaption to that state of suffering one might pick up an addiction.

Recovery on the other hand is the process of finding or reconnecting with something that is lost or that is being avoided. If one can reconnect with the disconnected part of him/herself and connect with that painful truth instead of avoiding it, that takes care of the suffering part and in turn ends the need for an adaptation to deal with that suffering, an addiction. Now what is needed is a way to connect with that painful truth and this where art comes into the picture.

Art is a unique language, a language of images, symbols and metaphors. It is the language of the imagination, a language that has no restrictions, a language where everything is possible. Because it comes from the imagination it is not restricted or limited by one’s suffering and adaptations. It bypaths the story and the defenses of the conscious mind that mind that tries to protect us by avoiding, disconnecting from, and numbing our pain. 

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Can you briefly describe how the art therapy process works in recovery?

Coming from the non-restricted imagination, art can play a major role in the recovery process by accessing that painful truth and providing an alternative language to express it, process it, and in time heal it or find closure to it. Art is the best medium I know that facilitates what might be referred to as the separation and integration process, a process that is essential to healing. 

The imagination will communicate images, symbols and metaphors that are unique to the person, art will be the medium or language to bring those images to life. 

I feel it is important to clarify at this point that art is not by any means limited to visual arts like drawing or painting. Art encompasses all forms of expression including visual art, movement, dance, voice, masks, drama, music and many many other forms. 

Back to the separation and integration process; so everyone can get access to their imagination and will have a form of art that they can use to express. Now one will be working with their own unique images, yet it is a separate entity from themselves and hence less triggering, more bearable, and more flexible to process and change as needed. The images along with the feelings and insights that come with them are being felt, processed and hence internalized by the person which is the integration part of the process. 

This process is natural to the human psyche, the closest natural occurrence of it is dreaming.  The process is best facilitated though the presence of an empathetic witness, someone to be there to witness and validate the feelings and pain from the past that might also surface and get re-experienced in the process.

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It seems to me that art then can be a “universal language” which the client can perceive as working in any realm of the whole person: mental, spiritual, emotional or physical. That said, do some of your clients use art therapy to reconnect with the spiritual parts of themselves? Can you give an example? 

Indeed, art can be a “universal language” that facilitates working with the whole being. In my experience when it comes to spirituality, the person usually does not intentionally address his/her spirituality separately. However, elements of spirituality show themselves symbolically as part of the artwork. The symbols could be a clear representation of religious/spiritual elements or they could metaphorically represent some higher power or wisdom. Spiritual elements can also appear in movement and embodiment as a felt energy or sense of protection.

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You’ve listed quite a wide variety of arts that one can work with for the connection of recovery. What are your favorites? And do you collaborate with other specialists who do other forms of art? 

I always use an intermodal approach where I facilitate the transitioning of an image from one modality or medium to another. One of my favorites is visual art that transitions to writing. The writing could be a poem, a dialogue or simply a few words that comes to mind when looking at the image created.  I find that this transition from visual art to writing connects the imagination’s images and symbols with cognition through words that describe or react to the those images and symbols. 

Another favorite is visual art that transitions into movement, body shapes, or embodiment. Our body has an intelligence of its own; it is also where our different emotions, memories, and traumas are stored. In that transition the imagination through its images is communicating to the body and its intelligence. It is worth mentioning that an intermodal approach does not have a specific direction. This means that one can start with movement, for instance, and transition to visual art or writing. In such a case, the body is communicating through word or through the images and symbols of the imagination. 

Sometimes there would be situations where I do collaborate with other professionals especially ones who specialize and have extensive expertise in a certain art form or modality.  My most recent collaboration was with a specialist who works with voice. The recovering person needed extensive voice work and a voice specialist was crucial for the healing process.

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Find out more

You can find out more about Anwar Nasr and his expressive art therapy through his website: www.anwarnasr.com  

or on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/anwarnasr81/  

and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vancouverexpressivearts/

Medicine is….

I’d like to thank Anwar for his contribution to my blog, Medicine is…, where we connect with people who have experience with different types of Medicine for recovery. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and if you have some type of Medicine that you use and would like to share, please contact me and we’ll explore the possibilities. We’ve embraced everything from food, movement, spiritual practice, art, work, farming, to tattoos, and much more!

Email me here

or FaceBook here


Randy LyonsmedicineComment