By Ms. Sue Newton, MN, RN
At HUM, we have incorporated art therapy into our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) as another modality for gaining self-awareness by exploring thoughts and feelings. All therapies by their very nature and purpose encourage individuals to engage in self-exploration and incorporating art can act as a catalyst and actually speed up this process. Some of the benefits of art therapy include:
- It strengthens creativity, helping a person attain positive change, including personal growth, healing, insight and problem resolution
- Art can be a gateway to the unconscious, often revealing underlying issues, conflicts and concerns which can then be addressed in therapy
- The art serves as a powerful record of the person’s therapeutic progress and may be useful for review at pivotal points throughout treatment
- Art therapy helps to foster self-expression through verbal and visual communication
- The creative activity can lower stress as focused concentration on a single activity can diminish intrusive, negative thoughts as well as increase confidence, concentration and positive feelings. This can transfer readily to other aspects of life.
In the western world, most individuals navigate through their everyday life in a fashion dominated by left-brain thinking. Missing out on right brain activity results in too much thinking, too much frantic doing and not enough time being.
The right side of your brain is associated with creative thinking and understanding new ideas. The right brain also processes interpersonal tasks, such as expressing and interpreting emotions. We can all benefit from spending time on specific right-brain exercises such as music and art to stimulate our imagination and creativity and maximizing productivity as we enhance brainpower. By engaging our right brain, we also activate the parasympathetic nervous system (as opposed to the adrenaline releasing sympathetic system). More parasympathetic activity means less stress and therefore better health.
Even for those who think they don’t have any artistic ability, sketching or even tracing a picture can encourage the right brain to become more active. As well, the creative process promotes healing when the art is considered in terms of its therapeutic significance rather than artistic merit. Healing restores the balance and harmony to the body, mind and spirit. Healing activities are essential when the negative influences of illness, loss or life changes encompass one’s life.