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Monday, April 15, 2024
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    Art Truck Delivering Outreach Therapy to Chulalongkorn Students and Staff

    Delivery trucks, food trucks … and now, art therapy trucks?

    In 2022, a study jointly conducted by Chulalongkorn University and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation of 9,000 students from 15 universities nationwide indicated that 40% of university students suffered from stress, while 30% are often or always depressed and around 4% thought of committing suicide.

    In 2023, The Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA) at Chulalongkorn University launched the CU Mobile Arts 4U project. Lecturer in Expressive Arts Dr. Nisara Jaroenkajornkij or as she is better known, ‘Dr Alex’, explained the background, “Statistics showed that there is a rising trend in rates of depression and suicide at the university. The then-Dean, Professor Bussakorn Binson wanted to help alleviate these mental issues and improve the quality of life for students and staff.”

    Professor Rachel Lev-Wiesel of the Emili Sagol Research Center at the University of Haifa, a driving force behind the introduction of creative art therapy at the faculty, which now has its own Emili Sagol Research and Wellness Center, was consulted on how to reach out to those suffering from depression. Previously, she had jointly led a team of art therapists with Professor Binson to Korat to provide art therapy to survivors of the Terminal 21 shooting incident on 8 February 2020. “Professor Bussakorn said that we already have a wellness center and art therapy at the faculty, so we should go out and meet students”, noted Dr Alex.

    A small truck was ordered and then brightly decorated in Chula’s colors – lots of pinks and pastels. The truck opens out, with plenty of space for the therapists to display the artworks of those staff and students who participate in the therapeutic sessions.

    Dr Alex, who has a master’s in clinical psychology from Kingston University in the UK and teaches on the FAA’s newly launched international master’s program in Expressive Arts, said that expressive art therapy includes a wide range of activities, from music, dance, and movement to painting, sculpting and psychodrama, “expressive art therapy includes every form of art.”

    The CU Mobile Art Truck parks up at various places around the university, most recently, at the CU Central Library. Staff and students joining in are given a questionnaire with 9 questions and are asked to draw a self-portrait. Dr Alex is able to interpret each self-portrait. “It’s a kind of assessment as I can analyze the drawing”, she said. “Some students show severe symptoms [of depression] and for them I can refer them to their faculties for further mental health support.”

    The activities at the CU Central Library session, which was conducted by Professor Binson and Dr Alex, included ‘self-figure drawings’, watercolor, oil and pastel drawing and painting. The program also uses ‘ambient music’ to create a calm, supportive environment.

    The session was held in a very relaxing atmosphere that made the activities enjoyable and low key. The standard of some of the artwork was very good, too. Some students just really enjoyed the process of making artworks, which took their minds off some of the more stressful aspects of their lives.

    For Dr Alex, the reward for this kind of interdisciplinary, expressive art-based therapy comes when participants make tangible progress. “When you’re working with people who are depressed and you see the improvement in their face, that’s the ‘fall-in-love’ moment”, she said. “You can see their face ‘glow’ – they are no longer under a cloud.”

    The CU Mobile Arts 4 U Truck has recently completed its pilot year, and has secured funding for 2024, so the art truck will be appearing around the campus over the next year.