Lisa sent this to me and requested I publich it on my blog. I read it over several times and considered it thoughtfully and finally decided to publish it. It is quite different from the usual things I publish, however I thought it bore spreading the word. So here it is, written by Lisa Pollard.
The Serendipity of Art: Art and Healing by Lisa Pollard
Eileen Miller, the author of The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures: Autism Through Art, is quoted as saying “Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.” Art has long been seen as a means of expressing an individual’s emotional state. The Expressionist art movement of the early 20th century was inspired by the subjective experience of the artist, intended to convey mood and emotions. As a method for healing, art has been prevalent throughout history. In the 1940s, the wake of expressionism led to the establishment of art therapy as a profession. From the creation of jewelry through to abstract expressionism, art can provide peace, mindfulness and a creative outlet for internal emotions.
Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition people may experience following trauma such as armed combat, assault, accidents and injuries. American males are likely to experience PTSD at a rate of 3.6% and this rises to 9.7% for women. PTSD often leads to avoidance behaviors in sufferers which can render treatment difficult. Art has been successfully used to help patients with PTSD as it allows for the safe externalization of internal traumas. PTSD is particularly prevalent amongst soldiers, with 10% of soldiers going on to experience PTSD following conflict. This has led to studies by military organizations into the use of art therapy with soldiers and these have shown signs of success.
Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapy seeks to treat sufferers of trauma by combining mindfulness techniques with creative arts therapies, including art, music and movement to assist sufferers with: learning to cope with the sensory aspects of PTSD, increasing personal resilience, and helping patients to move on from their post-traumatic state. The intervention can help to treat individuals, families and children, and can be implemented in conjunction with play therapy.
The use of mindfulness in art therapy allows the client to focus, not on past traumas, but on the current moment. This can help the client to move away from a traumatic state of mind and can then be repeated even when not engaged in artistic activities.
Treating Eating Disorders
There is a strong link between PTSD and eating disorders, and the same treatments can be successfully used as part of a holistic eating disorder treatment plan. People who have suffered from childhood sexual assault are particularly prone to eating disorders; art and play-based therapies are particularly effective in treating children and therefore the creative arts have an important role to play in the early intervention of eating disorders in young people. The link between childhood abuse and art therapy is an important one; those experiencing childhood trauma are often silenced by their ordeals and the opportunity for expression offered by the creative arts can give an important outlet to those who otherwise would not have a voice. Art therapy has a unique role to play which cannot be substituted by traditional therapies. It has more potential for client-led work than traditional therapies, which in turn further empowers survivors.
Art Therapy in a Hospital Setting
Taylor Bradley is an art therapist who practices in a psychiatric hospital in Washington State. On his webpage he has included a gallery of his clients' work. The images demonstrate the unlimited possibilities which can arise from art as a method of healing. Ability is no barrier to expression. The images often take abstract forms, allowing clients to not only express themselves through the final image but also through the process of creation. Frenetic brushstrokes and dark colors are, perhaps, revelatory of a mind in crisis. Although self-portraits are numerous, the proliferation of 3d objects such as cups and plates reveal the healing nature of art as a means of relaxation and as a tactile exercise for soothing those experiencing issues with sensory processing.
Art Therapy and Grief
Art therapy has been successfully implemented in assisting those with terminal illnesses and individuals coping with loss. It has been found that non-verbal therapeutic techniques, such as drawing can be more successful than traditional talking therapies in helping the bereaved recover from their grief. Art therapy therefore helps to counteract risks of depression, low self-esteem and suicidal ideation. When combined with group therapy, art therapy can help grieving individuals to articulate themselves when words are insufficient for the expression of their emotions.
Autism and Creative Expression
Many people with autism are non-verbal or have difficulties voicing their emotions. Art therapy has been shown to have many successes in providing a window into the internal world of children with Autism. As with PTSD, people with autism experience difficulties with sensory processing. The tactile nature of art can have a calming effect on people with autism within the therapeutic setting. The American Art Therapy Association assert that art therapy can improve communication and social skills; help build relationships; assist sensory integration; and develop a sense of individuality. It can be tailored to match the developmental level of an autistic child and altered to meet the particular sensory needs of the individual- whether they have difficulties with over- or under- stimulation.
A Therapy for All
The potential for art therapy to be individualized means that it is a therapeutic tool which can be used in the successful treatment of a variety of disorders, including in assistingthose with dual diagnoses who it may be particularly difficult to treat with traditional therapies. Art as a method of healing does not need to be limited to a therapeutic setting. It can be used as an everyday tool by the individual to tackle stress and assist with coping with the everyday strains of life. The very act of creation can be incredibly soothing. The tactile nature of art, such as when creating paper beads or soft sculpture, is in itself a therapeutic exercise. Removing us from the stresses of every day life and taking us into the present where only calm and creativity exist. Whether you enjoy crafting in front of the television set, or become involved in a more formal art therapy session, art has incredible and unique healing potential.