The Healing Power of Art
by Grace Chiu, Art Therapist
The history of human civilization bears witness to the human impulse to create art. An innate creative need led the earliest ancient people to express themselves intuitively in cave paintings, giving meaning to their surroundings and communicating meaning with others. Within community and globally, art is a way to express and share ideas about the human experience.
Art is an important and vital expression of the human condition. Recently, we have recognized the desire to connect to our primal need to express our creativity. The popularity of adult colouring books speaks to our condition as creative creatures. We now know that participating in creative activities such as music, sculpting, painting, writing and making visual images on paper — or the use of any type of art medium — can produce remarkable physical and emotional benefits to both the creator and the viewer of the artwork.
The term “mind-body medicine” is used to describe an approach that sees the mind (our thoughts and emotions) as having a central impact on the health of the body. This, however, is not a new idea — formal mind-body techniques, such as meditation and yoga, have been practiced for thousands of years. For over two decades, Art Therapy has been recognized as an effective mind-body intervention. While until now, it has mainly been used as a form of psychotherapy, studies have shown that art making complements other treatments and assists individuals in coping with many physical and psychological symptoms, including stress (this is also known as Medical Art Therapy). As new data and research continues to emerge in the fields of neuropsychology and the mind-body paradigms, we will learn more about why images and art making are key to improving health and well-being.
How Does Art Therapy Help?
Art Therapy, a form of expressive therapy, has been used in many different settings, including children’s hospitals, drug rehabilitation centres, veterans’ hospitals, prisons, oncology hospitals, mental health agencies, eating-disorder clinics, and senior long-term residential care facilities. Often, the presenting emotional and physical problems prevent individuals from being able to express their feelings verbally. Self-expression through artistic media offers a way to bridge what feels like the inexpressible, acting as a balance to verbal expression. The verbal expression finds wholeness and complements the created image, aiding the individual in working through personal thoughts, perceptions and attitudes that may hinder communication. The Art Therapist asks open-ended questions to help the individual process and reflect on the created image, and this facilitates making the connections between the individual’s inner and outer worlds. The gaining of this self-knowledge is empowering and allows the individual to move forward in the healing journey.
Research in spilt-brain functioning informs us that verbal communication is only one way to express our deeper feelings and thoughts. Traditionally, Art Therapy has been regarded as more strongly related to the nonverbal artistic right-brain functions than to the left-brain functions of analysis and logic. Now, in fact, researchers have demonstrated that both hemispheres of the brain are required for art expression. Split-brain research also shows us that a balance of right and left cognitive functions of the brain are necessary for optimal well-being. In addition to its ability to engage the creative, right hemisphere of the brain, Art Therapy also engages the left-brain functions (language). Integrating creative prompts to assist with writing activities such as poetry or narrative story telling, it enables a response to the artwork or the exploration of limiting thoughts or feelings. The process of analyzing and reflecting on one’s artwork helps develop problem solving skills as one develops newly found insights in a process of reflection and reframing. Creative writing complements the art making, offering an additional opportunity to develop new perspectives. It also offers a way to build resilience through the healing power of words.
Who Benefits from Art Therapy?
The powerful healing tool of art making can be used by anyone to create positive changes and activate healing at a deep core level. And anyone can be benefited by it — even those without any artistic experience. In guided Art Therapy practice, feelings of depression, fear, guilt, grief, and worry, when expressed as an image, can release these negative thoughts and feelings from the unconscious mind.
Guided Art Therapy can involve the creation of an image by using suggestions or can entail creating spontaneous artwork (draw what comes to mind), in order to release suppressed feelings. Work with a professionally trained Art Therapist can complement other therapies and augment healing while creating an awareness of the self. Talk therapy is the traditional method of exchange in counselling and therapy and it stands as a very effective approach. Art Therapy represents another approach to healing and well-being that can be a powerful resource for many patients. Practitioners in expressive therapies, such as Art Therapy, recognize that people have different expressive styles—one may be more visual, more musical, more tactile or expressive in movement. Art Therapy can incorporate these various capacities when working with individuals, enhancing each person’s unique abilities to communicate authentically. The act of creative expression through art making supports individuals with emotional distress or physical illness and the assistance of an Art Therapist creates a safe environment to explore sometimes difficult emotions, facilitating personal growth, healing and well-being.
Grace Chiu is an Art Therapist in private practice working as part of the community of holistic practitioners at Yuri’s Village near Danforth area of Toronto. Grace uses a multimedia approach to therapy, incorporating a variety of modalities, such as play therapy, music, poetry and narrative therapy, as a way to acknowledge that each individual’s process and expression is unique. She has successfully worked with children, young adults, adults and seniors, helping individuals to unlock their innate creative potential, building on bringing joy and self-confidence with compassion and grace. Her empirical research was recently published in the Canadian Art Therapy Journal (December 2015): Expressive Arts Therapy Group Helps Improve Mood State in an Acute Care Psychiatric Setting. For more information visit her website: www.gracechiu.ca or Grace Biography
Contact Grace to book the FREE initial consultation: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org , Telephone: (647) 281-1705.
- Art and Healing: Using Expressive Art to Heal Your Body, Mind, and Spirit by Barbara Ganim
- Handbook of Art Therapy Edited by Cathy Malchiodi
- Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being by Brian Luke Seaward