Art, Art Therapy, and Illness (Researched)

Art is a way of relaxation for many people, so why not use it as a form of therapy?

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is overlooked by a licensed art therapist, and uses various forms of media and its processes, as well as the finished masterpiece to further explore emotions and managing said emotions, help make one self aware, help with behavior and addiction management, help encourage positive social skills, improve “reality orientation”, decrease anxiety, and promote self esteem. You don’t need to have artistic talent to be involved in art therapy. It can be used in multiple facilities such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, rehab, and doctor’s offices, just to name a few.

Mental illnesses are too often overlooked in society, getting little recognition, not to mention the stigma around mental illnesses and people living with them. One popular way to cope with mental illness is through art. Art therapy provides freedom of expression and empowerment, as well as improving perception. In my own experiences, sometimes it is very hard to explain how one feels through words, and it is often much easier to express one’s feelings through imagery. Art provides the artist with an experience that frees the brain and relaxes them, allowing them to “escape” the real world and focus on nothing but the movement of the art materials. One way which art can be used as a coping tool for people with bipolar disorder. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), “Art is an incredibly emancipating activity that helps with the release of pent-up emotions and may help someone to better understand these emotions. During manic episodes, art may be both a therapeutic tool and a tool to document certain activities.”

Art therapy has also been noted to help soldiers and veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. Melissa Walker, an art therapist, specializes in helping these soldiers create their own masks. Walker works with active-duty soldiers with with combinations of blast injury and mental health issues. When asked why she thinks her work is effective, she replies with “Someone who has experienced trauma has a block that keeps them from verbalizing what they’ve been through. There is a shutdown in the [convolution of] Broca-the part of the brain responsible for speech and language. The mask gives them a way to explain themselves. The concrete image of the mask unleashes words. It reintegrates the left and right hemispheres. Now they can discuss their feelings with their social worker or psychiatrist.” The class does not include art critique and scoring, and focuses solely on emotions and healing.

Art therapy has also been used with cancer patients. Art therapy allows cancer patients to cope with fear, grief, anxiety, depression, and the change of their body images, as well as unlocking hidden emotions and allowing them to feel free and confident. A survey was taken in 2013 among adult patients who had engaged in art therapy, and 92% claimed that it had a positive effect. They stated that the therapy helped them cope with cancer, improved their communication skills, allowed them to express their emotions, gain new perspectives, and provided them with a healthy distraction.

Overall, art therapy is a wonderful form of therapy that can be used for many different people, no matter what it is that they are struggling with.




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