Health: How Kim drew back from the brink: A suicidal patient goes to an art therapist. Here they talk about his pictures, which chart where they got to in 18 months. Celia Hall reports

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The number of young men who commit suicide has nearly doubled over 10 years. Kim Terry came as close as any: depressed, alienated and suicidal, at 27, he sought medical help.

Despite gaining eight O-levels, he had made little progress in finding a satisfying career, and rejection for a college course compounded his misery. Through his teenage years and into his twenties he had become obsessed by two pop stars - Marc Bolan and a rock star he will still not name.

He copied the clothes, hair and habits of his idols as closely as he could. During this time he developed ulcerative colitis, from which he recovered. Recognising Kim's desperation, his family doctor referred him for counselling.

'I didn't want to tell the first counsellor all my problems - my pride was at stake. Even though you want help, you still play games with them,' Kim says. The counsellor thought art therapy might suit Kim better and he was referred to Gabrielle Rifkind, an art therapist and group analyst in the NHS.

'Language is very sophisticated and not necessarily the best tool for getting people to express themselves,' says Gabrielle. 'People can be too skilful with words. If you use some other medium - music, clay, art - in therapy, their lack of familiarity with it may make it easier for things to surface.

'Art can help people to understand those things that are hidden. You can think of art therapy as the triangle formed by the client, the picture and the therapist.'

Kim was in therapy for 18 months, usually working on his pictures at home in order to have the full 40-minute sessions for talking. During this time he re-applied for art school and was accepted. Today, at 33, he is in full-time work as a graphic artist. He says he is closer to his parents and to the rest of his family and more confident and at ease with himself.

'Three voices of art therapy; image, client, therapist'; by Tessa Dalley, Gabrielle Rifkind and Kim Terry; Routledge; pounds 35 hardback, pounds 14.99 paperback.

1. Early image

Kim: I drew myself how I was 10 years before. It was such a poor quality drawing that I was truly embarrassed to put it forward for discussion.

Gabrielle: The image mirrored a genuine part of himself he had kept well hidden. He seemed to relax towards the end of the session, perhaps relieved to show himself and me this hidden part.

2. Trap

Kim: I moved back home and it felt like imprisonment. My brothers had escaped. One I represented as a bird shape (blue, top), the other by a heavy square block (top right). I am the (blue) ghost-like shape in the centre of it all. I am trying to protect my sister (orange heart) from the verbal stabs my mother (spear shape) would make at her. My father is represented by the rounded shape (right). He was neither soft nor chubby. He was not at home often.

Gabrielle: His parents had attempted a divorce but were unable to separate. Each member of the family seems to have found a different way of handling the tension and unhappiness. He described his father as passive and his mother as angry and frustrated. She would look to Kim for consolation. His sister had an eating disorder. Kims depression and suicidal thoughts would seem to be connected to his feeling of being unable to communicate and be understood.

3. Bending under the strain

Kim: It was difficult for me to accept the strength that was evident in my drawings. I told Gabrielle that these were just drawings and I really didnt have the strength that was in them. I said I would remember what she told me about them.

Gabrielle: It looks as if the smaller of the two images has the ability to spring and push away. The foundations on which the sculptured boulders are placed look sturdy enough to tolerate the separation.

4. Harlequin

Kim: Gabrielle suggested I try making a picture with colour. I was prepared for criticism of its childish naivety and use of coloured pencils - not real artists' materials - and expressed my disappointment at being unable to finish the drawing.

Gabrielle: It was a tightly cocooned figure, the arms held very tightly by its side. The head was only a faint pencil mark. There was a beautiful burst of colour from the centre. The first image that came into my head was of a mummy figure that had been embalmed.

5. Breaking out

Kim: I am tearing open the shell or cocoon with my bare hands. This cocoon was more like a suit of armour. This armour was the various images of other people I had pretended to be.

Gabrielle: It may be seen to represent Kims struggle to keep everything in place that was known and familiar to him and his desire to break this fragile shell. Left behind, discarded, are two muscular-looking suits of armour with two unknown heads and bodies.

I wondered, with him, whether the fire would melt the suit of armour or burn the figure inside.

6. Self-portrait

Kim: The portrait was done on the evening I moved into my lodgings near the college I was to start that Monday. It was a good likeness. This is also the only picture I have drawn of myself with my glasses on.

He selected black paper but a wide range of colours. It communicated a sensitivity, a humanity, a vulnerability. Although he had allowed me to see the melancholic side of himself, he had not found a way of communicating this to anyone else.

7. Under the skin

Kim: I had been having some very strange dreams that year. My legs were naked and these people were removing the skin from my legs and feet with their bare hands; ripping and peeling it back with their fingers. I observed the process, unflinching and not bothering or wanting to struggle or get away. I felt no pain.

Gabrielle: I felt there to be a passion in both his picture and in his commitment to change. At this point he expressed his anxiety that the feared move to art college would mean that the sessions had to come to an end. I suggested that one of the people may be him - moving into the role of helping in the work.

8. Barrier

Kim: In one dream, home was communal and squalid and two aliens had been erecting a fence of some sort of metallic hose. When I got close, the hose swung to meet me. Where it made contact with my arms it left raised red marks like burns or acid.

Gabrielle: The dream took place while he was staying with his parents for the weekend. It seemed to be about alienation from his peer group at college. He described thoughts of his illness to me. The prospect of surgery for his earlier illness still seemed to be around. I wondered whose hands they were: mine, his mother's, the surgeon's?

9. Leaving the maze

Neither Kim nor Gabrielle comment on the final picture in the book, its strong images being unambiguous. Gabrielle has told Kim that the watcher may indicate that depression can return but that he will come through.

(Photographs omitted)

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