November 2014

«Art can touch everyone»

Art therapy is a relatively young discipline. Artistic media give patients an outlet to express themselves, strengthening their self-confidence and stimulating the healing process. As a drama and speech therapist, Dietrich von Bonin treats sleep disorders, trauma cases and stomach problems.

Kunsttherapie

Dietrich von Bonin during a dialogue and management exercise. The rods are held loosely, but should not be allowed to fall to the ground. This requires a consistent focus on breathing.

The walls are painted soft pink, the curtains are coloured turquoise, the wooden floor is freshly waxed. In the corner stands a desk, and next to it rests an exercise ball that serves as a stool; otherwise, Dietrich von Bonin's room is completely empty. «I need space for my clients», he says. When his patients come to him, they either stand or are moving around. Dietrich von Bonin, an art therapist, works in a group practice in Berne. He treats people suffering from sleep disorders, anxiety, burn-out and stomach problems. He also helps patients cope with traumatic events – for example, if they have just found out they have cancer. «Art can touch everyone.»

Art therapy has established itself as an effective method of treatment in both clinics and private practices. It encompasses movement and dance therapy, drama and speech therapy, craft and painting therapy, and music therapy – and multimedia therapy, which makes use of all forms of creative expression. Dietrich von Bonin works as a drama and speech therapist. «This is a specialism within art therapy», explains the vibrant 56-year-old. He gained a degree in theatre studies before deciding to continue his training as an art therapist. It was his fascination with combining art with science that ultimately led him to his current profession. Dietrich von Bonin has been conducting research into the benefits of art therapy at the University of Berne for 15 years and is the chief examination officer for the Swiss Federal Diploma in Art Therapy for all specialisations.

During the therapy, Dietrich von Bonin focuses on his patients' breathing, voice, gestures and language. He often works with poems, such as his favourite poem Unendlich by Rose Ausländer, «or simply with consonants – like K-L-S-F-M». To begin with, he sounds out a single sound with his patients, then two, then three, and then goes on to build up the entire sequence. This helps them control and focus their breathing.

Take a former client of his, an administrative assistant suffering from cardiac arrhythmia, for example, whose condition was markedly improved thanks to a breathing technique developed from reciting rhythmic verse. For art therapists, the overriding goal is to get patients to learn to take responsibility for themselves, and not to resign themselves to their fate. «A revelation like this can have a positive impact on how a disease progresses», says Dietrich von Bonin. «This is confirmed by the case of a former patient who was suffering from severe respiratory problems. The daily exercises became a part of me», he recalls, and ultimately helped him get his shortness of breath and the hyperventilation this brought under control.

Text: Sibylle Stillhart