Processing emotions: A counsellor uses process painting to know herself better

Afrina says process painting helps a person process emotions – positive or negative – so that they understand and handle situations that they go through better. Photos: Humankind

For counsellor Afrina Mohamad, process painting helps her understand her feelings, where she's at and where she wants to go in life.

“It helps me realise and understand myself better. And when you understand yourself better, it helps you to know where to go,” says Afrina.

“Process art is a powerful and significant way to help boost mental health and well-being. Processing emotions by using process art helps one to cope and be in a better state mentally, emotionally, physically,” says the 37-year-old from Selangor.

Afrina first tried process painting in early 2023 through a programme at social enterprise Humankind.

“I've always loved art and felt it was a good opportunity to experience a different type of art,” she says.

She indicates a colourful artwork the length of a banquet table, comprising all kinds of patterns, shapes and designs.

Part of the collaborative painting that Afrina and her colleagues did together.Part of the collaborative painting that Afrina and her colleagues did together.“This is from a teambuilding session with my colleagues some time ago. We painted it bit by bit, and everyone's painting overlaps with one other. For example, my painting is on my teammate's painting, and another person's painting is on another teammate's painting, because we painted as a group,” she describes.

“The key idea from the session was learning how to embrace each other's differences because sometimes, our differences can impact the people around us. Also, we learnt the importance of being ok with imperfections or the fact that we may not always be able to control the situation,” she says.

“It’s about learning to be comfortable with others in your space and with one another’s differences. It was fun exploring everyone's paintings, even the things that are unintended and overlapping,” she adds.

Process art usually uses paint, but it can include other materials to probe or explore further. This team piece, for instance, uses miniatures or figurines to elaborate or signify something, says Afrina, sharing that she chose a panda to represent herself because she loves "how calm it is”.

“I'm attuned to that calm energy and can identify with it because I'm very calm most of the time. That's how I view myself, with my calmness as one of my strengths,” she explains. “It's also a necessary quality for a counsellor to have.”

Fluid and flexible

Afrina says she placed it inside a circle on the painting because she “wants to radiate good energy around her circles and have a positive impact on the people around her”.

“In my profession, I meet many people so I want to give good vibes and have positive energy around me,” she says.

Afrina indicates another painting, one that was done last year. “For that session, I started by painting a nice scenery, first the mountains, then the rivers.

“But halfway, I suddenly messed up. There was a dinosaur and then a car,” she says.

Afrina during a process painting session. Photos: HumankindAfrina during a process painting session. Photos: Humankind

“It was random and not intended. But that’s the nature of process painting. It’s so fluid and flexible. There's no right or wrong. What I want to draw to express myself and being explorative is key. I had so much fun during the session,” she adds.

According to Afrina, process painting is about being open and curious, as well as being conscious of how she feels, thinks and behaves while painting.

She says that it helps her to better process her emotions; to first understand them and then to express them in a good way.

Another process painting that Afrina has done.Another process painting that Afrina has done.Afrina points to a second floral painting.

“This painting shows the shapes and colours that I'm attracted to – bright and cheerful ones. And even though the shapes aren't perfect, they remind me to embrace imperfections,” she explains.

She indicates another painting which has many shapes and swirls.

“This is like painting our bodily sensations. We take a deep breath and paint what we feel, as we inhale and exhale. It makes us more aware of how we feel and our internal processes.”

Wide spectrum

One of the results of Afrina's personal process painting.One of the results of Afrina's personal process painting.One of the things she learnt during the sessions is that there is a wide spectrum within process painting: On one end, it's therapeutic, fun and helps express how one feels. On the other end, it is a part of therapy and can be used to deal with negative emotions such as grief and depression.

“It's useful in processing and digesting any big issues or trauma that we may have, or even little issues, such as processing our current emotions,” she says.

Afrina reveals that she leads a very hectic and fast-paced life and sometimes, it's hard to slow down and take time out.

“Process painting helps me to be more attuned to my emotions, as well as my mental and bodily state. Having that helps me to slow down and appreciate being in the present moment, instead of being stuck in the past or worrying about the future.”

“Juggling a lot of roles, process painting has somehow helped me to understand myself better and to cope with any current distraught that I may have in a healthier way.

"For example, if I feel sad, I can do a lot of things that might not be effective to get rid of that sadness. But I choose to process paint, and release those sad feelings, and tell myself that it's ok to feel sad sometimes.

"It's ok to be present, and process those negative emotions, and then let go of it,” she explains.

Afrina says that process art helps her in her work as a counsellor.

“It has helped me to understand how powerful art is as a tool to connect and understand people better,” she concludes.

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