A picture speaks a thousand words. We’ve all heard it a million times, but have we ever actually thought about it? Art can be something symbolic to one person or another’s bread and butter. But for some, art can be a therapeutic path to recovery. Every day, we meet people who unexpectedly turn out to be artists of some sort, and derive comfort and peace from their hobby.
Apart from the obvious satisfaction we get from performing arts like music, theatre or opera, the fine arts bring a new kind of therapeutic value, waiting to be unlocked. It has been discovered that painting and drawing can elevate one’s mood immensely, but it isn’t just that! Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” If anybody would know about it, it’s definitely Picasso, a man who radically transformed the art of his age.
Art therapy is a form of psychological therapy used to combat mental illnesses through the medium of art. Art is used as a means to communicate and heal. Therapists in this field have highly specific training. By definition, art is expressive, but need not be limited to just “artists”. Whether you’ve painted once or a hundred times, this activity is open to all.
In art therapy, your creations are not judged or analysed by the therapist. Primarily, the process enables the patient to communicate, and is basically a self-help tool. This form of psychotherapy is not just a two-way street (patient and therapist), but also includes the piece of art, making it a three way interaction. Often, people do not feel completely at ease talking to a therapist. But in this environment, the patient is given an opportunity to express themselves through their creations.
There are many people who have difficulty expressing themselves through words, and language can actually be a barrier to effective communication. For these people, language can be extremely limiting, and art offers a release. Don’t you often find yourself at a loss for words?
Eileen Miller, who has written a book about how art can help those with autism to communicate, says, “Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.” There are many groups that support this method to treat a variety of disorders, including learning disabilities. Though it was once a field that was considered with scepticism, art therapy is gaining popularity and acceptance. Several international organisations support this line of work, which encompasses both art and psychology.
Art therapy is not limited to treating mental ailments, but can also include treatments for a wide range of physical disabilities, disorders, and diseases. Art can be therapeutic for people who are in foster care, autistic children and adults, those who have suffered brain injuries, and even people with eating disorders.
We often talk about the freedom of expression. Art gives people a platform to be creative and express themselves freely, with no constraints. Art therapy can be conducted on a one-on-one basis, but may also offered in groups. Art therapy is not the only form of creative therapy. Apart from treatments relating to visual art, there is also the world of drama, dance and music therapy.
It can even be effective in reducing stress and providing relief from pain. Frequently, it helps a reserved or shy person gain more confidence and become more comfortable in social situations. Creative psychotherapy improves quality of life, and helps people understand themselves better. Since the first step towards recovery is acceptance, patients becoming more self-aware, learning to accept their limitations and striving to be better.
We have all made our fridge masterpieces as children, or doodled in our notebooks as college-goers. Though we may not consider ourselves artists in the conventional sense of the word, art therapy allows anyone and everyone a chance for free expression. We can’t all be Van Goghs! In fact, art therapy is most effective with children; at such a young age, vocabulary is limited and words are often not enough. This doesn’t mean that adults don’t benefit from art therapy; regardless of age, it can open up a world inside that participants never knew about.
For those not accustomed to painting/drawing/sketching, the process of art therapy may seem strange at first. But once you begin, the more you give, the more you get! Keep in mind that your goal isn’t to be the best or decorate a house, but to have a means of sound communication – a form of catharsis. And it isn’t only a way to better oneself, but can also be used to improve family relations, and can be helpful in couples’ counseling. As we mentioned earlier, the art therapist does not judge the patient’s paintings, but is trained to pick up subtle signals that are communicated through the art.
Still, you do not necessarily need an art therapist to benefit from this form of expression. If you think of art as a form of therapy, and approach it that way, then you can use the art to free your mind and express yourself positively. Chances are you’ll feel better, and before you know it… you’ll create something that’s uniquely you!