Imagine being handed a leaflet of dense text that explains your anxiety but you are unable to read it.
Imagine being so lost in depression you are unable to focus on complex – or, indeed, any – medical messaging.
How – at a time when the medical profession is underfunded, understaffed and under pressure, and when mental health problems are on the increase* – do patients quickly and easily understand their condition?
How do therapists, finally face-to-face with these patients, best reach into the suppressed and inaccessible parts of their mind?
One innovative tool gaining currency in psychotherapy is animation.
Animation mirrors and enables us to understand our internal worlds.
“The creative process and healing are two aspects of the same mystery, and both depend on the same psychic energy. The healing of the psyche requires the same kind of animation and imagination that the creative process requires.”
Telling stories with pictures is an ancient human activity. From cave paintings through Tom & Jerry to TikTok, humans have always been, and remain, a visual animal.
And humans can’t help but create stories – we project stories onto the world and see the world through our stories – but while language is commonly used to share these stories, those who struggle to read or write (such as children or people with dyslexia) are prohibited from doing so.
Animation has the power to convey meaning through images in creative and dynamic ways, describing and explaining concepts that seem at first too big, too small, too complex or too abstract.
Used as a mental health tool, therefore, animation can be extremely potent.
“Animation provides a non-threatening medium that allows clients to explore difficult emotions and experiences in a symbolic and metaphorical way.”
Dr Lorraine McSweeney
And animation works in ways that video, a more literal medium, does not. Video engages the viewer at a cognitive level, whereas animation is seductive. As it’s not ‘real’, we the audience (especially children) suspend our cognitive engagement, even our unconscious bias, and are lulled into simply watching. We grant the animator unrestricted emotional access.
“Animation works within psychotherapy because it bypasses the conscious mind and speaks directly to the subconscious mind where deep-rooted emotions are stored.”
Even better is the democratic nature of animation – with rapidly falling costs and ease of creation, animation can be produced quickly, easily and affordably, and made immediately accessible via social media, informing and educating – for free – before patients even reach a therapist.
Animation is therefore an agile and effective therapeutic tool, both in its own right and as an adjunct to existing psychotherapeutic approaches.
“Animation can be used to externalize and explore the inner workings of the psyche, providing a visual representation of the internal world and facilitating insight and awareness.”
Dr Eric S Rosen
Benefits of animation
- Animation is accessible, especially via social media, and completely free to air for people who require it (via mobile phones).
- Animation can reach cohorts who struggle to read and write, eg those with a neurodivergence (20% of the population) and/or SEND (15% of the population).
- Animation can be translated to reach people for whom English is not the first language.
- Waiting times for CAMHS and community mental health services is typically months – from script to screen, an animation can be created in two weeks, making it ideal for ‘disaster’ work.
- Animation voiceovers can be quickly translated and revoiced in any language at a rough cost of only £1000.
- While the initial animation can cost about £10k, subsequent digital copies are completely free (unlike print). Small amendments to ‘end slates’ to, for example, localise helpline numbers cost very little, so one trauma video can be used 10,000 times nationally at pretty much no extra cost.
• Animation works brilliantly across all social media channels so it’s instantly and freely accessible and provides a ‘language’ for the person and their caregivers to understand what’s going on.
- Still images can be taken from the animation and used within other collateral. For example, a dozen still images can be laid out in front of a child, enabling them to choose which image from the animation spoke to them (a good way to introduce tricky subjects, eg sexual abuse).