Eighteen-year-old Kate Fenner, from Los Angeles, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a severe, long-term mental condition described as a type of psychosis. She was diagnosed having this disease when she was 17 years of age.
Art therapy links the realities of the mind and the external world. For schizophrenic artist Kate, it manages her symptoms and helps her defy the stigmas of mental illness that are shown in movies like Benny and Joon and A Beautiful Mind. She is one of the 3.2 million people in the U.S. documented with schizophrenia.
Kate told mediapersons,"I wanted to turn them (hallucinations) into art so people could see the benefit of creative expression, and how it can be therapeutic. I started drawing my hallucinations when I felt trapped and suffocated by them. It often feels like everything is fake, and the world around me is a big conspiracy. So drawing started to become comforting."
Let's look at what she does!
Hallucinations can affect all the senses. One of the most commonly reported is hearing voices either from within or outside the mind. Various visual hallucinations are typical as well, along with generally paranoid delusions that might affect decision-making.
Kate sometimes experiences strong emotions and auditory hallucinations in which voices tell her to set things on fire. Commanding 'voices' can exaggerate insomnia that accompanies schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia and its symptoms can be treated, but the myth that it is incurable discourages many people from seeking help. Another common misconception is that schizophrenics are dangerous and unfit for society. These stereotypes are perpetuated by the media that would rather exploit the "crazy homeless guy" than the functioning schizophrenic.
Kate's experiences vary in type and severity. Sometimes they reach a level of severity that leaves her debilitated, especially when paired with her depression and paranoia. When one must question every internal and external experience, it becomes easier to stick to familiar places.
A mild hallucination of this type might appear like the walls of the room "breathing," but for Kate, she sees mounds of eyes that grow and move along the floor or wall.
Ever feel like you've got bugs under your skin? Kate often has visual hallucinations of various insects and sometimes portrays her illness as creepy bugs.
Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness can be exaggerated by depression and other mental illnesses. Kate's low self-esteem is illustrated as a fly in some of her art because she feels insignificant.
She also sees disembodied faces and/or eyes. Other times, it might be an alternative view of herself or another person. For example, the person appears completely "normal" except maybe there is "electricity" around them, their mouth appears disfigured, or for a split second, they look like two people instead of one.
Tactile hallucinations are common in schizophrenics as well: the hand of a person that "isn't really there" grabbing your shoulder, a dog licking your leg, a sourceless breeze blowing on the back of your neck, the presence of someone walking closely behind you on the sidewalk. How does one illustrate the sensation of a tactile hallucination?
Naumburg spent the later half of her life researching and working in art therapy, allowing doctors to explore the minds of patients that do not respond well to verbal therapy. Utilizing art therapy allows patients to find a healthy connection to the world and with the help of a professional, evaluate their own mind based on what it is projected on paper. Patients can search for the missing puzzle pieces in their own art.
Margaret Naumburg was an American psychologist, educator, artist, author and among the first major theoreticians of art therapy.