Can art heal? And is it possible to measure how effective art as therapy really is? Let me take these two questions one at a time…
1) Can art heal?
I have believed in the power of art and art as therapy for many years – as (no doubt) have many of you. Art as therapy is not a new concept. It has been practiced for centuries, both consciously and unconsciously, by artists and hobbyists and a small number of clients and patients fortunate enough to have doctors and therapists of foresight.
So why do they do it and what led them to it in the beginning?
Artists draw and paint to discover, to uncover, to make sense of, to unearth and to extract. They treat their minds like gardens and know that they need to be maintained and watched. They plant. They watch grow. They weed. And they pull out. All the while understanding that there is a wealth of potential there, lying just beneath the surface, waiting for them to find it.
Simultaneously, they also understand that this is a place of demons and monsters, holding within it considerable harm and, while some are successful in their attempts to keep it clear and to make it beautiful, others (sadly) are not. Which is why there are as many victories out there as there are tragedies.
Hobbyists, on the other hand, dabble: knitting, stitching, quilting, sketching and carding, etc. Turning their attention to the process of craft, they escape into a world of silence, entering into a meditative state where time passes without recognition and stress and anxiety are (if not permanently, then at least temporarily) alleviated.
Clients and patients, participating in a structured and guided atmosphere, a space that is contained, channel their energies into their underlying problems, first uncovering and then exploring what comes to light.
Art therapy in the professional sense, however, is a relatively novel concept and, as such, still considered alternative and experimental when compared to other more familiar forms of treatment.
It is much more likely, for example, that when visiting your doctor for depression you will be handed a prescription for a course of antidepressants as opposed to receiving the golden ticket of a referral for therapy.
Even more unlikely that, were you referred, that therapy would be one specialising in creative expression.
Therapy is expensive compared to pills and saving money trumps the nation’s health on the annual budget.
Despite the evidence in journals and books and on the internet. And despite the testimonials of practitioners and artists and clients, art as therapy is still very much in its infancy and viewed with more scepticism than belief. So even though art can heal, both profoundly and powerfully, it is rarely given the credit it deserves and very few of the people who could really benefit from using and exploring it are given the chance.
Those of us who are lucky happen upon it, discovering it by chance. We find our own way by listening to our inner selves and by following that self’s guidance. If we are closed to this or not yet fortunate enough to hear the cries as they are ushered from within, we may overlook them or pass them by in their entirety.
So what is art therapy and what are its aims?
According to BAAT (British Association of Art Therapists) Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication. Art therapy, sometimes called creative arts therapy or expressive arts therapy, encourages people to express and understand emotions through artistic expression and through the creative process.
Art therapy aims to help people express themselves unconsciously and to process the meaning afterwards. Group sessions typically begin with the therapist giving a one or two word brief to inspire creativity before those attending are given a selection of materials for painting, modelling or writing. After 45 minutes of quick work, the group will then get together to talk about and describe what they’ve just created. After sessions, participants are encouraged to develop their initial artwork into fuller, finished pieces to further interpret and explore their feelings.
For more information, see: Medical Dictionary
2) That’s all very well in theory, but is it possible to measure how effective art therapy really is?
Thanks to scientists, it appears it now is. New technology is making it possible for scientists to measure how the brain responds to art and could potentially open up new and more effective ways to harness its medical benefits.
The American military has also long embraced art therapy, using it as a core treatment to help veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder. And it has been used experimentally with patients in a small number of hospitals, in particular in mental health and on terminal wards. But up until now it has lacked sufficient evidence to back this work and its findings up.
Now, as Jane O’Brien reports in the second part of the BBC’s Power of Art series, mounting clinical evidence of art’s medical benefits could bring new and exciting ways to harness its power and research is being backed by top brass from leading institutions.
This short clip illustrates just how: The Power of Art: Can Creativity Cure the Sick?
What does this say?
This is good news and it excites me. It is about time and long overdue. Yet again, however, science is celebrating a discovery that others have known about for a number of years. So, while we celebrate the scientists and their recently discovered light bulb (hip, hip, hurray!) we should also take note there are many more brilliant therapies out there just waiting to be discovered and utilised by each and everyone of us.
I urge all of you who are currently suffering – from any form of life discomfort, whether large or small – to take advantage of the internet and to search until you find something that speaks to you in a way that you understand. We are all different and what works for one person may not be right for someone else. Which is why is it wonderful that the world of therapy and alternative therapies is steadily opening up and becoming increasingly mainstream.
- Art Therapy: No more “proof” needed! (creativityfromwithin.wordpress.com)