Everyone experiences trauma differently and everyone needs to heal in their own way. Since the counselors at Family Resources work with local youth and families who need healing, they often seek out unique ways to help patients express themselves. One method that is often popular with both therapists and participants is art therapy. The idea that art can be used to heal has been around for decades, but researchers are starting to see just how beneficial this concept is. Let’s explore how art therapy helps people heal through various examples of organizations using it.
Why is Art Therapy Effective?
The goal of art therapy is to allow people to use creative expression to foster mental well-being. According to The American Art Therapy Association, the practice “is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.”
Art therapy is effective because it can benefit patients in a variety of ways. It can be used as a communication tool or it can help people confront and resolve conflicts.
Art therapy is particularly popular with kids, who might see art therapy as a fun activity, not necessarily work. However, this doesn’t make it less effective. The team at Psychology Today listed a few reasons why art therapy is effective for young children:
- Art therapy is a form of nonverbal communication, allowing kids to express their views or ideas when they can’t form words or describe their experiences.
- Counselors can better understand a child’s cognitive development through their drawing ability. This points to how much a child understands personal relationships or experiences.
- Art therapy provides a calming, self-regulating experience for kids. They can calm down and focus on the task, which is healing for kids who are trying to work through trauma.
That being said, you are never too old to connect with art and communicate through art therapy. It benefits people of all ages.
Inspiring Examples of Art Therapy
One of the best ways to understand art therapy is to see it in action. Below are a few incredibly moving examples of how art therapy is helping people overcome trauma and communication issues blocking their way.
Art Therapy After Parkland
One of the best examples of art therapy as a healing tool is how the Coral Springs Museum of Art jumped into action in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in 2017. Located just three miles from the school, this museum has offered weekly art therapy classes for kids and educators who need a place to heal. In early 2019, during a series of suicides from survivors, the art museum doubled its efforts and welcomed more people into its halls.
A year to the date after the shooting, the museum welcomed people for a day of “Art, Play, Love,” where people were able to participate in art therapy activities while petting mini-goats, pot-bellied pigs, and rabbits.
Their art therapy program was already in place for military veterans but opened up to the public in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Many people prefer art therapy because it seems less intimidating than more traditional options.
Art Therapy Helping Veterans
Art therapy is also a popular tool because it can be used to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford or access traditional treatment. Jessica Rambo in Greensboro, North Carolina served as an active Marine for 10 years. After a sexual assault while she was in the Corps and a tragic car accident, she was left with severe PTSD. She fought an opioid addiction through art therapy and is now trying to offer the service to others.
Rambo is renovating an old school bus to provide art therapy around the community. Her goal is to reach vulnerable veterans who otherwise, could not reach her. She plans to bring her bus to hospitals, homeless shelters, and retirement homes to provide art therapy to those who need it.
Art Therapy Provides Support for the Deaf
The benefits of art therapy extend beyond people who have experienced trauma in their lives. Many people use it as a tool to express themselves or connect with others in ways they otherwise couldn’t.
One organization, called Silent Voice Canada, works with deaf children and their families to learn American Sign Language. Children are able to communicate with their parents and siblings again. This organization also uses art therapy to help deaf kids better express themselves. The art therapy is built to help parents and kids express themselves to each other in non-verbal ways. With art, the communication mode is on a level playing field.
Art Therapy Also Helps Physical Ailments
While most of our focus is on the mental aspects of art therapy, there are physical benefits to experiencing and creating art.
Late last year, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts started a pilot program where doctors were able to prescribe visits to the museum as part of patient care. Dr. Hélène Boyer, vice-president of Médecins francophones du Canada, says art increases our levels of cortisol and serotonin, which can benefit our immune systems, emotions, and various other parts of the body. Interestingly, these prescriptions aren’t just for emotional healing. Doctors are allowed to prescribe art visits to help with physical healing as well.
“People tend to think this is only good for mental-health issues. But that’s not the case. It’s good for patients with diabetes, for patients in palliative care, for people with chronic illness,” Dr. Hélène Boyer says.
She notes that we have been prescribing physical exercise to patients for decades because they release the exact same hormones.
There are other ways that art can help physical pain. Art therapy has been used as a pain management tool because it gives patients something to focus on other than what is bothering them. The brain is taught to focus on the art, not on the pain. Art therapy can better help people recover from surgery and even calm people who are going through stressful medical treatments. Spending 50 minutes per day on art therapy has been proven to lower pain, stress and anxiety levels in patients.
At Family Resources, we encounter kids, teens, and families who have experienced significant hardship. We try to help where we can and look for unique ways of connecting with the people we meet. Through art therapy and counseling, we can help program participants face their demons, work through difficult family situations, or confront their pasts.