What Are The Benefits of Art Therapy?
August 6, 2012
One soggy winter’s eve, a year ago, I was traveling home on the route 86 tram, enjoying the onboard human spectacle that is almost guaranteed on a Friday night after Happy Hour is over. Two animated youngish women initiated a conversation with me and I was so caught up in it that I missed my stop. We had been creating personalities and life stories for our fellow travellers: a look, a gesture, an article of clothing; these women had a sharp eye for detail and an uncanny ability to invent a seemly human context for it all. As I said a hurried good-bye, one of the women squeezed my arm and said, “Hope you understand, we can’t help ourselves; we’re art therapists”.
What is art therapy?
Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication. Most commonly, art therapy involves drawing or painting, but the artistic expression can also take place through photography, sculpture or ceramics. All forms of art can embody ideas so the list of arts therapies available includes music therapy, dance movement therapy, poetry therapy and many more. Professionals, trained in art and psychotherapy, develop interactive scenarios that connect with various aspects of the client’s whole person (mind, body, spirit) and using the creative process of art-making, work to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.
Clients may have a wide range of difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses including emotional, behavioral or mental health problems, learning or physical disabilities, life-limiting conditions, brain-injury or neurological conditions and physical illness. Equally, clients may be on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth, wanting to reveal and revel in the unconscious realms of their being. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences, enhance cognitive abilities, and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.
How did that chance encounter on the 86 tram last year lead me to explore this topic? As I am a person who seems to forget the random events that others remember, recalling this one so clearly is remarkable (especially as I had been having a rather Happy Hour myself). My explanation is that this incident is a marker along a route I had unknowingly been on for some time, one that brought me to a With One Voice choir, not at all aware that I was seeking solace but most definitely finding it.
Within each choir member, I can now see an art therapist, administering to his and her deeper needs and those of acquaintances, bridging gaps, constructing meaning and coherence, hope, acceptance, ambition and self-trust. It happens individually and on a subconscious level but after an hour’s singing, the beneficial effects are clearly visible; cheeks and eyes are glowing and it’s an unbroken chain of happy faces traveling in a semi-circle, from the sopranos to the basses, just like a smile.
Written by Miriam Potter.