Well, we often have new trends thrown at us and art therapy is one that has emerged, but can it really fix you? It is clear that with our busy, stressful lives that we do need a new way to escape to a place of emotional stability and calm. Art could just be the answer, from simply viewing art paintings in a gallery, to actually indulging in creative painting.
Art, both for the artist and the person appreciating it, is known to provide many therapeutic benefits. As well as offering a stimulating perspective on life, art can also ease us from the pain and stress of a traumatic past. Indeed, art can help deliver us from an uncertain future, to a place where we feel comfortable and equipped to deal with challenges.
As modern society inherits an ageing population, the scourge of dementia is affecting ever more of the population. The threat of degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, hovers over all as we approach that final phase of our life.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s begin as episodes of mild memory loss, progressing over several years to severe brain damage and death. There is still no known cure. One consolation is that emotional and creative responses to a large extent go unaffected. This is good for those practising art.
Used in combination with reminiscence exercises, art as therapy has been shown to help dementia sufferers in many ways. Whilst it will never provide a cure, therapeutic art can help restore to some degree what the patient has lost through cognitive decline.
As most sufferers are over 60 when diagnosed, a key aim is helping them to preserve their sense of self through their life stories. Therapeutic art, especially painting and music, achieves this by bypassing the need for language. Painting on canvas stimulates the brain and stirs memories which might otherwise be forgotten forever. Even humming a song from the past can trigger key memories which help return a sense of dignity, control and confidence. Language-based art, such as creative writing and poetry, helps the patient recover their vocabulary. It also encourages conversation and sociability.
Many nursing homes now employ staff to adopt a creative role, providing a timetable of activities to be offered to residents. Art is always deployed in some or several means from actual painting, to physically creating items. It may provide purpose and respite from regular routines, which will overall benefit the wellbeing of residents.
Children who have suffered from long term abuse by adults can also benefit from art therapy. It wasn't so long ago that abused children in care were encouraged to try to forget their long years of violent, sexual or verbal abuse. Today the medical world accepts it's far better for the child to bring out memories of traumatic events buried in their subconscious. This is to avoid them carrying such memories over into adulthood. When this happens they become susceptible to behavioural, mood and attachment problems.
Abused children often lose their connection with society. They withdraw to a place where they feel they are safe from adults who they may no longer trust. They may feel isolated and anxious. Their developmental growth is stunted.
Many small children don’t yet have the vocabulary to tell a carer or social worker how they feel deep inside. Fortunately visual or sensory based art, like painting and music, comes easily to children. They will often enjoy creating art more than talking. Traumatic memories can also be expressed more directly through a child’s visual art than by language. Therapeutic art expression heals emotional pain, reduces stress and helps abused children reconnect. Just completing a piece of art improves their confidence and self-worth.
Many children imprisoned in German World War 2 concentration camps coped by drawing and painting on boxes and old newspapers. Food would even be traded for painting materials under risk of death.
Creativity in the form of therapeutic art has been shown to promote general well-being as well as improve mental health. For those suffering from depression, anxiety or stress, whether short or long-term, there are many types of art therapy which can help.
The four most common are dance movement therapy, drama therapy, music therapy and visual art therapy. These are available as '1 on 1' or group sessions in hospitals, therapy centres, as well as residential care and day centres.
While the evidence is anecdotal, there are many records of mental health patients benefitting from art therapy. It can be used on its own or as part of a range of therapies. An increase in motivation and social engagement has been noted in many patients. They can also feel more relaxed and confident in their surroundings, and enjoy better concentration.
Visual art and the use of symbolic images can reveal vital metaphors from the past which have been buried by illness. Creating visual art helps a mentally ill patient redefine their identity, and improves self-esteem.
It’s long been acknowledged that a happy worker is a better worker. Artistic pursuits relieve stress and anxiety. Drawing, painting, journaling and music are activities that release endorphins, making us happier.
A 2014 study from the San Francisco State University looked at the effect of artistic pursuits on job performance. The researchers found that the more someone engaged in creative activities after work, the better they performed at their job. Often the improvement was as much as 15-30%. The creative hobbyists also identified a greater feeling of relaxation and control over their lives. They felt they were giving themselves a real break from their jobs during downtime, reducing their risk of burnout.
Firms like Zappos Inc., integrate employees’ personal artwork into the office decor. It’s a way of giving a sense of control back to the employee. They are then less likely to feel owned by their employer, or lost and isolated within a large organisation.
Google goes one step further, allowing its workers to engage in creative activities during work times. The technology company offers employees classes in painting, drawing and learning musical instruments. They even employ a chief happiness officer to monitor employees’ happiness. Google believes offering such leisure perks boosts worker productivity and promotes well-being. Art can be inspirational and can spur on creativity which is embedded in the more intuitive and spontaneous right-brain. Clearly, triggering this side of the brain is highly assistive to the logical left-brain, so having both sides working cohesively can 'birth' genius in our projects and daily work activities.
Art in therapy is becoming more important to our increasingly stressful lifestyles. It allows us to take a break from the stressful rigours of work and bringing up a family. It provides a transitional space for us to thrive untouched by the inexorable grind of daily life. Painting a picture or writing a poem slows down time in our minds, giving us the opportunity to realise our inner selves. By learning new skills, we also improve our problem-solving - which can help at work - and feel a greater sense of control over our lives.
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