IMH in Chennai ropes in experts to conduct art therapy

An art therapy session conducted for the staff at the Institute of Mental Health. A few patients are also present.

Chennai: On every Monday and Friday forenoons, the premises of Institute of Mental Health (IMH) echoes with drums, tabla, ganjira and tambourine. Inmates can be seen singing, drumming or dancing to their favourite number, breaking away from the monotonous schedule. Thanks to the art therapy session conducted by certified experts under the guidance of hospital doctors.

Raju*, one of the inmates was seen singing, “Ennisai Padi Varum, Ilam Katrukku Uruvam Illai/”

“It is our duty to rehabilitate the inmates back with the society and also develop the skills like verbal communication and improving their cognition. Art therapy is one of the means for them to express their talents and emotions. Further, it aids them to come out of their shell and speak up. It feels nice when the patients are happy,” says IMH Director Dr Poorna Chandrika.

“My house is located in the parallel street. I want to go back,” mutters Raju.

But the moment he realises he would be undergoing art therapy, he forgets his sorrow and quickly plucks flowers with his friends to offer to the Buddha statue. On entering the room, Raju becomes elated and sings his favourite song. As the session progresses, he also dances to the tunes of the instruments signifying expressing without any restriction.

The therapy is conducted by the NGO, Better Chances that works with persons with psycho-social disabilities. The founder, a certified art therapist, Porkodi Palaniappan says, “It is an integrated art therapy where the instruments are used mindfully for bettering themselves. However, it is not just about the different art forms available, but it is also about connecting that with one’s mindful state.”

As part of the therapy, drumming circle is also done. “We enable them to experience the child in them and to express themselves. It is also a cognitive exercise where the listening skill has to be perfected when a rhythm is being repeated and that way we work at the cognitive level. There are a lot of nuances within the usage of drums where you can train the mind, sharpen the senses and build team spirit,” she says.

While this has been happening for three months now, Porkodi also says that the regular stream of 20 students, who attend the therapy, are progressing and express themselves without inhibitions.

Adding about the advantages of it, IMH Psychiatry Department Assistant Professor, Dr Lavanya says, “When a patient has low IQ level, we cannot give him/her tasks that involve things like paper, but they progress when they undergo art therapy.”

(* Name changed to protect identity)

Bhavani Prabhakar