Exploring art therapy as a means of stress reduction in Myanmar’s turbulent environment

 

Introduction

In the midst of tough times in Myanmar, especially since the military took over in February 2021, stress has been on the rise. Life has become harder for many people. But there is something surprising and powerful comes in—art. Yes, drawing, painting, and being creative have become like a helping hand, a way to feel better during these tough days. This following exploration will take you on a journey to understand how art, often underestimated, is like a magic brush that brings comfort and strength to people dealing with the challenges in Myanmar.

Participant artworks at Aung clinic (Community Art Therapy Centre), Yangon
Limited but Growing Presence of the Art Therapy Centres

Myanmar’s community art therapy centres are still in their early stages of growth. But people are becoming more aware of the possible benefits of art therapy, especially in light of recent social and political unrest of post-2021. A number of various organisations and projects are trying to make these services available to more people.

There are two main types of art therapy centres in Myanmar.

  • Community art therapy centres: Volunteers and experts in the community also help set up and run art therapy places. These centers often provide services to specific groups like internally displaced persons or survivors of violence.
  • Art Studios: Some of the private art studios offer art therapy services with the integration of their pre-existing programmes.

Transformative Experience

Aung Clinic is one of Myanmar’s leading community art therapy centres, and it provides community psychotherapy as well as art therapy sessions. Dr. Aung, the centre’s founder, provides art therapy sessions, enhancing awareness and promoting social inclusion, for those in need, including survivors of violence. Volunteer groups helped to ensure the center’s sustainability.

For instance, Mr. Nyo, who had experienced traumatic events that had left him terrified and anxious, attended the art therapy session at the Aung clinic. Eventually, he found comfort in painting, as it brought him greater peace. At the moment, he is contributing to the support groups as a volunteer at the clinic where he discovered solace.

Challenges and Opportunities

One of the most significant problems for art therapy centres in Myanmar is a lack of funding and resources. Materials, qualified staff, and infrastructure are required to develop and manage art therapy centres. Currently, there is no regulating authority for the psychotherapy and art therapy in Myanmar, whereas most of the community art therapy centres, such as Aung clinic, are self-funded and funded by volunteer groups. Consequently, it becomes imperative to engage in advocacy efforts and secure financial resources for the sustainability of the centres.

Another issue is a lack of awareness and acceptance of art therapy among the general public and the healthcare industry. More than seventy-two percent of adults in Myanmar, according to one of U-report pools, do not know where or how to seek mental health assistance when they require it. Awareness, education, and advocacy are all necessary to combat the stigma associated with mental health in Myanmar.

Because of the problems caused by recent political events, it is also important to encourage collaboration and networking with various stakeholders, like healthcare providers, government agencies, and local communities. This collaborative effort is crucial for not only expanding access but also enhancing the overall quality of art therapy programs.

Conclusion

In general, the art therapy centers in Myanmar are still in infancy, but, represent a promising avenue for addressing mental health concerns and enhancing overall well-being, particularly in challenging circumstances despite constraints in resources, training, and limited awareness. Regardless of the existing challenges, there is a noticeable acceleration in the sector, showcasing significant potential for positively impacting individuals and communities throughout the nation.

 

About the Author: Dr. Tay Zar LIN, MBBS, DipROM (RCSEd), MSc, GMBPsS, a member of the British Psychological Society, is an autonomous healthcare consultant, practicing in Myanmar (Linkedin)

Competing interests: None

Handling Editor: Neha Faruqui

 

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