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Everybody has mental health. We need to look after it. - Rapinder Kaur, the only Punjabi art therapist in Canada

Posted on 13 April 2011 by admin

“The Art therapy can be very effective; it really tries to get to the root of what is the concern as opposed to providing a band aid solution.”

Parents are intuitive. They know when something’s up with their kids.

Although we cherish ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada, lately the notion of ‘multiculturalism’ has become a subject of much controversy. Rapinder feels it has become “a contentious word, in the sense that just because a place is multicultural doesn’t mean that there’s equality for everybody.”

Rapinder Kaur, the art therapist with offices in Orangeville and Mississauga

Art as a therapy is not a unique concept but a South Asian practicing it is extraordinary in the sense that a very few South Asian youth choose it as a serious profession.

Rapinder Kaur is probably the only Punjabi Sikh Art Therapist in Canada. She explains  “ Art Therapy is a form of Psychotherapy that relies on using simple art materials like paint, clay, pastels, to explore and resolve unconscious desires, thoughts, issues and conflicts that are unconscious.

“You don’t need to be an artist. The client will go through the process of making the art and then the therapist will help the client to interpret the art. Through the self-exploration process, the client will have a better understanding of themselves and will be given the opportunity to develop skills to deal with their emotions more effectively. It works really well with children because they haven’t developed the verbal means to express their emotions,” says Rapinder who has emigrated from England as an adult.

Rapinder believes that Art Therapy “can be very effective; it really tries to get to the root of what is of concern as opposed to providing a band aid solution.” In her Orangeville location, she works with a naturopathic doctor – somebody who provides natural remedies – to look “at how you support a client emotionally, psychologically and physically,” she explains.

But how do parents know that their kids need help?

“Anything that is out of the ordinary for your child..if your child is having nightmares, has changed sleeping and eating habits,  frequently complains of having a tummy ache or headache, changes in interaction with peers, has difficulties at school. Or if a child is outwardly aggressive in the sense that they are throwing things or hitting, or is unusually withdrawn,” are some of the symptoms parents should look out for notes Rapinder.

She also believes that parents are intuitive and know their kids better than anyone. “I always say to the parents, first ask your child if you think something is wrong, dialogue is important..If you’ve got a nagging sense that something is not right with your child but are not sure, go out and speak to your family doctor, seek support,” she advises.

Although there is help available, in the South Asian community the greater issue is that of stigma around mental health. “Everybody has mental health. We go to the gym to work out to make sure our bodies are healthy, but we don’t often look to see what we can do for our minds..the difference is that most  people have the ability to deal with their emotions..however there are people that aren’t able to do that. It could be because they’re going through a crisis. For children, parents getting divorced can be really tough for them, or a loss of a parent through death, or perhaps a younger sibling has arrived and the child feels ‘my parents don’t love me anymore’,” she says.

Rapinder’s feeling is that with organizations like Punjabi Community Health Centre and India Rainbow Community Services of Peel have been instrumental in changing the perception around mental health but a lot more needs to be done.

“I think it’s about changing the stigma around mental health and saying it’s okay to go through this, and there is nothing wrong in seeking support” she says.

She also notes that Canadian Mental Health Association has many awareness campaigns, but “my concern is how much of that of that information is being accessed by South Asians especially those who are new that information readily available or accessible to them?”

Always fascinated by the human mind and how it works, Rapinder is inspired by the teachings of the Sikh Gurus on how the mind works and how you can uplift yourself from emotional suffering. If you change your perspective you can change you entire world.

Rapinder began her career in the mental health field by working in a Psychiatric hospital in England. This is where she was first introduced to Art Therapy and its benefits. When she moved to Canada she decided to become an Art Therapist. Currently Rapinder is registered with both the Canadian Art Therapy Association and the Ontario Art Therapy Association. Rapinder specializes in working with children and adolescents who are struggling emotionally or behaviorally.

Rapinder was born and raised in England. However in spite of almost no language barriers, there were cultural barriers to be encountered. “The Queen is the monarch for both [Canada and England];but it still was a big adjustment, even though the countries have similarities. There is a huge cultural difference,” she tells us as we sit in a Downtown Brampton coffee shop.

Rapinder is one of those immigrants who feels she sits on the border between two cultures. She explains “In England I was always asked where I was really from” and “when I travelled to India I was always labeled as a foreigner”. I have often felt a level of disconnect however as I am getting older I feel more at ease with my identity.”

Although we cherish ‘multiculturalism’ in Canada, lately the notion of ‘multiculturalism’ has become a subject of much controversy. Rapinder feels it has become “a contentious word, in the sense that just because a place is multicultural doesn’t mean that there’s equality for everybody.”

She also makes a distinction between religion and culture. “Culturally, I would say I am different than somebody who was born in the Punjab because I was exposed to British culture growing up. Culture for me evolves itself..The principles [of religion] do not go through the same process.”

Rapinder is also the President of Sexual Assault/Rape Crisis Centre of Peel. She was appalled when a Toronto police officer at York University said women shouldn’t dress up like ‘sluts’ to avoid sexual assaults. “We need to challenge these perceptions,” she laments. The Centre is the only one in Peel Region to provide support to anybody – men and women – who are survivors of sexual violence.

So what’s next on the mind of this young professional?

“I’m really interested in neuroscience and brain plasticity, so how Art Therapy affects the brain..I’d like to see how effective Art Therapy is in physically changing the neural pathways in the brain[to] allow the client to feel better,” says Rapinder Kaur. There is some really exciting research taking place in this field. When a child is struggling emotionally their brains does not develop optimally, new research is suggesting that our brains are not static. This means that any damage that has occurred in the brain because of emotional trauma can be reversed through treatment modalities like Art Therapy.

Rapinder can be reached at 905 783 5939. For more information, please log on to

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