Art Therapy: Is It Effective? Essay
Art Therapy: Is It Effective?
Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way. Things I had no words for. ” The actual creation of art triggers an unconscious process helping a person connect with his emotions (Kotwas). The process is said to enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages and backgrounds. The expressive arts do not discriminate and is an effective alternative to traditional psychotherapy and certain prescribed medications. The production and reflection of art helps people cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences.
Creation is an essential part of life, much like eating, sleeping, and breathing, and we all possess unique artistic and creative tendencies and needs. Many people do not know what art therapy actually is, and it is not to be confused with an art class. Art therapy is unlike art education, where the focus is on teaching the use of artistic tools and techniques as well as the quality of the finished product. Expressive arts therapy combines visual arts, music, writing and other creative processes to help a person express and visualize emotions, and to aid growth and healing (Artful).
Art class consists of being criticized, graded by others, and can even become a stressful environment. Opposite of that is art therapy, where no judgment exists, therefore no pressure exists, and the focus is on self-growth and awareness. Adding the therapeutic aspect to art creates a calmer environment and encourages a positive setting for allowing an individual to be more focused and to create distinctive and sometimes eye opening products. Visualizing and expressing emotions is the language of the unconscious mind. Serving as a more primitive and direct mode of personal expression than words.
Art therapy is successfully filling the gaps where general clinical psychology may not be able to reach. The expressive arts offer an alternative insight into the workings of the psyche, and it is an area of study that adds further depth to the field of child psychology (Kotwas). Instead of diagnosing children with ADD or ADHD and prescribing those 2. 7 million children medication to take every day for the rest of their life, they could create. Art therapy is an effective alternative to the medications that are being prescribed to children, and making those children act like zombies, which is no way any
human should ever act. Parents are too busy to spend time with a child and it seems as if they are afraid of parenting these days. Hyperactive children should not be drugged to the point of acting like a different person all together; instead they should be worked with patiently. Art naturally opens up a person’s mind and creates a euphoric and relaxed feeling. Also the creation of art lowers stress, eliminates negative thinking, and improves confidence. Expressing more than a child could possibly express by simply talking.
Children tend to have a hard time articulating the way they feel, because they do not know what it is they are feeling or why they are feeling this particular way. When children cannot verbalize the effect that violence has on them, they sometimes express it by drawing says Dr. Spencer Eth. He says that when children too traumatized to talk are told, “Just draw about anything you want,” their pictures reveal much about what is on their minds. Enabling therapists to ask children to tell a story, which usually has some connection with the trauma they have suffered.
Eth continues by saying, “Drawing is one of the most effective techniques we have for getting a child to open up and confront difficult feelings – the first step in healing. ” (Timnick). The idea of getting a child to open up seems pretty difficult, but the adolescent child is a whole new level of difficulty which can be done with the use of art. Teenagers have a preconceived view of talking psychotherapies that has been shaped by movies and television. They often think that these therapies are only for serious mental cases or people that are dying.
In contrast, they come to art therapy without such preconceived ideas, and this form of therapy has proved effective with adolescents. The greatest difficulty for an adult seeking to establish a relationship with an adolescent is the teen’s resistance to authority and lack of trust in the adult world. These stages of adolescent development are normal, but they work against the traditional forms of verbal therapy. This casual approach is a surprise to the teen and counteracts the fears of exposure and pain that may have been expected.
The teens feel that they lucked out by having a therapist who is not interested in verbal cross-examination. Instead, their therapist is interested in their opinions of their world as expressed through imagery. Using art in therapy provides a pleasure factor that is not what teens expect to encounter, and it stimulates their desire to be expressive. Drawing is in tune with adolescents’ development, as evidenced by the tagging and graffiti that is abundant in many cities. It is hard to restrain an adolescent’s urge to make their mark (Riley).
Art can reach into certain depths of the mind revealing underlying feelings that even an adult may not know he has. Not only can children and adolescences benefit from art therapy, but adults can as well. Creating art gives adults a sense of empowerment and control. This empowerment often influences individuals to reflect if they have performed well at something they had not realized they could master, perhaps they could similarly master other activities that had previously seemed impossible.
A sense of control and empowerment in one area increases the level of comfort with exploring new challenges in general outside of the class. Arts provide some of the best opportunities to experience a new sense of control or mastery. In the arts, the opportunities to create something new and beautiful are endless and offer an enormous sense of satisfaction and empowerment (Cohen). Giving a person the self-esteem they need to openly express his inner thoughts and buried feelings. Art therapy is based on the idea that the verbal, rational mind often throws a wall between the wounded unconscious and the outside world.
Drawing is a way for the unconscious to break down the wall says Dr. McGrath, “You can communicate and express feelings that can’t come out in words. Things come out that you may not expect. ” Once those pictures break out, the therapist and patient can discuss them, and the healing can begin. Local art therapists empathize that the method can help people of all ages (Lemley). Not only all ages but, all mindsets as well. Art therapy is sometimes found in the school setting, but more prominently it is found in the clinical setting.
Creative arts can have an equally secure place in the hospital setting if we expand that psychosocial need component, by recognizing that we are all artistic. The creative arts serve as a form of therapeutic intervention intended to increase and improve the quality of life for both clients and their families thereby, reducing the impact of the crisis caused by the illness. The arts serve as a tool and means for creative expression and communication, especially during the final stages of life (Orser). When pain becomes overpowering, a patient’s creative impulses may be an important ally.
ABC News wrote an article on art therapy saying that for some time now scientists have known that a wide range of creative activities, ranging from listening to or performing music, to engaging in an energetic dance routine, may reduce pain felt by persons who are ill. And more recently researchers have shown that creating a piece of art can do the same thing, even if the art is not all that great. In the latest study, 50 cancer patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago lowered eight out of nine symptoms associated with pain and anxiety after spending one hour painting, or drawing, or trying to make a piece of pottery or jewelry.
Even though a person may not have control over their medical condition, they do have control over the artwork they create. In the hospice setting, dying patients are not the only people to undergo art treatment. Art therapy also has a program that aims to help the recovering service members find a creative haven where their buried post-war thoughts and emotions can come to the surface through art and therapy. By working on their art projects in a personal manner, they confront the circumstances of their injuries and begin to overcome the uncertainty they might feel.
Creating art slows down the brain so people can focus and improve their cognitive skills and hand-eye coordination. Sharing and discussing artwork establishes a sense of community and bonding with one another, which is particularly helpful to those with post-traumatic stress disorder who tend to isolate themselves and do not trust others (Cronk). Art therapy is especially beneficial to active service members, because a patient’s picture is worth a thousand words and a psychotherapy patient does not always effectively produce any words at all.
Art therapy is a much more effective form of traditional therapy. Expressive arts benefits children, adolescents, adults, and elders. Very few disadvantages if any are found in the creation of art. Verbalizing an emotion is sometimes very difficult to do, yet can easily be expressed through images. People tend to bury traumatic events causing a shift in personality and a barrier between communications. Art therapy is a new and upcoming form of therapy that will become more prevalent as the years progress.
It is an effective alternative to traditional therapy and prescribed medications for all sorts of disorders ranging from ADHD to patients that are dying, to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The Artful Life – Counseling Center and Studio. ” Expressive Art Therapy. Artfullifecenter. org. , 2012. Web. 30 Jan. 2013. Cohen, Gene D. “Research on Creativity and Aging: The Positive Impact of the Arts…” Generations Vol. 30, No. 1. Spring 2006: 7-15. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. Cronk, Terri. “Therapist Uses Art to Help Troops Heal. ” US Department of Defense. 08 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2013