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Patient shares story of hope, healing

Thursday, March 28, 2024

​Editor's note: This special feature is thanks to Gavin, an OSH patient, who reached out to Recovery Times with a written submission about how art therapy and his art therapist have impacted his recovery journey. With his permission, we're sharing Gavin's submission and his interview with OSH art therapist, Matt Eveleigh, whom he credits with helping him create a symbol – a yellow triangle – that helps ground him in times that he needs it most. Art therapy is one of many therapeutic practices offered to OSH patients as part of their comprehensive treatment care plan. Recovery Times staff collaborated with Gavin and Matt to edit the content for brevity and clarity.

I used to believe that everyone and everything was controlled by a secret technology. Both staff and patients were used by it in order to communicate with me, and I lived in fear for my life every day because of it.

I came to the hospital and met many people who became those who would lead me out of darkness. One man in particular has altered my course of destiny. He is an art therapist. He helped me recover by giving me hope. He helped me feel safe and I owe him a debt of gratitude for rescuing me from the boiling waters of schizophrenia.

In the beginning I thought the technology controlled the man. He just didn't know it controlled him. That was something I secretly knew. Everything everyone said secretly to me was not real, but yet, it was what I perceived to be real, and all of it enforced the secret technologies' will. Little did I know that there would be this man who I thought was controlled by a secret technology that would give me hope.

This man said to me, “draw a shape," so I drew a triangle. He then said, “fill it in with color that represents safety." So, I filled it in with yellow. He then put his hand on my shoulder and said, “you are already safe." It didn't matter if he was communicating this message because of the technology or from his own free will, I was safe, and the meaning of the yellow triangle began.

I found out later that this was a grounding technique. One where looking at a yellow triangle reminded me (while my illness was active) of those words he spoke in a moment where I was most vulnerable. Without his words, I would still be shaking in my bed in fear. Without him, I would not have had a triangle to remind me during one of my most recently triggered moments. Without him, I would be alone in the dark, afraid and delusional.

So does the treatment here at OSH work … I believe it does, but it is only because of the unique and individualized treatment I received. Not all residents have had the same positive experiences as myself. Honesty, I can only be used to highlight the good in OSH, the hope I feel, the safety of those who are mental health warriors, the kindness of those who work tirelessly for 40-60 hours a week, and the truth that all staff have the potential to be great. As someone I once knew said, “it doesn't matter what y'all are doin,' as long as you're all on the same page." This goes for both residents and staff.

Gavin: Why did you become an art therapist?  
Matt: I was at a crossroads and needed to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Art therapy brought together threads that had been a part of my life. The answer was right in front of me. I wanted to do something useful and there was a local art therapy program where I lived in Portland.  

Gavin: How many art therapists are at the hospital?  
Matt: In Salem, there are five and two in Junction City. We are understaffed.

​Gavin: How do you guide patients to a place I've gotten to?  

Matt: Well, it's a relationship. I see it as two people working together. Obviously, the training is important, but it's not a recipe book. The relationship is foundational. A lot depends on what the person wants and what they need because the two things may not be the same. You and I have been working together for a while – which allows us to explore different things.  

Gavin: I feel you've provided an atmosphere to explore – to find meaning in shapes and art on my own and guided me to cope with something that's torture. It's not easy to deal with what I have to deal with on a daily basis. You say patients get out of it what they put into it. It's not just doing art. It's about creating an atmosphere where people discover their mental illness on their own.  
Matt: That's a big part of it.  Art is an expression of the mind that made it. The triangle came from within you. So did the color. They needed to be brought together, and that's what the art did.  And you're right- the atmosphere is important because someone has to feel safe enough and empowered enough in order to do that. Many folks here are having experiences which in our culture, are often seen as 'symptoms of a mental illness.' Looking at them this way can sometimes mask the fact that they might well contain significant meaning for the person having them. Art can be a way to express and explore that safely. Especially when it's hard to express through words. 

Gavin: It took me years to realize I had a mental illness and art therapy helped me come through those barriers. I don't know how to express how far I feel I've come.  
Matt: You express yourself very well.  

Gavin: Art therapy has helped me find a perception of my current state. It's about the meaning you imbue into what you're doing. For me, it became a yellow triangle. It's more about finding meaning in art, rather than making art. Can you share more about how art therapy is more than making art?  
Matt: It's often said that art therapy operates on a continuum. On one end is art as therapy, the actual therapeutic value of making art- which human beings have known about for millennia and which should not be underestimated. At the other end is what could be called art psychotherapy- which is where art is integrated with talk therapy. Here, the client and therapist are really working together, like in any other form of therapy, to address specific goals. It is often, mistakenly, assumed that art therapy is just about making art, but there is a lot more to it than that. Art therapists are fully trained mental health counselors, as well as being familiar with the therapeutic use of art media- which is a whole world in itself. When working with someone, it depends entirely where on that continuum they happen to be. That is where you have to start. From there, we will be addressing the treatment care plan goals that have led to the art therapy referral- emotional regulation, organizing thoughts, trauma treatment, building insight, self-esteem, managing psychosis, to name a few examples. Sometimes the emphasis will be on result- the actual artwork that is produced. But, in addition to product, art therapy also deals with process: there are certain media- clay comes to mind- which can be used in a purely sensory way to address trauma, attachment issues, and developmental delay, for example.  

Gavin: What is the message you're trying to impart upon those you help?  
Matt: That the power of expression is something that no on or nothing can take away from them. It's what makes us humans and we carry it with us. It's like a light, so when things get dark, light is inside. It's not dependent on the outside. ​

Art therapist, Matt Eveleigh

Matt Eveleigh, OSH art therapist



Gavin shows a triangle sculpture he made in his art therapy sessions.

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