The emphasis is on the process
Art enhances self-knowledge and self-expression. Not only are we tuning in to ourselves when we create art we are expressing ourselves by making an external representation of our internal world. Art inherently connects us: when we share our art with others we are showing them ourselves.
It is also another form of self-care. Draw something without looking at the paper: this will help you let go of outcomes, become less attached, and practice compassion for yourself. There are also the physical benefits of creating art. These include but are not limited to the following: lowers blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels, reduces agitation, can improve mobility and hand-eye coordination, and provides sensory stimulation.
Creating artwork is cathartic, creates a safe place to contain emotions, and prevents survivors from being re-traumatized. Creating art is safer than verbally telling the story of your trauma. Often times survivors are told, “do not tell.” This does not mean they cannot draw a picture of it.
Art can be a great tool for helping patients define and express their identity. Self-knowledge is especially important for people living with chronic mental illness as it changes a person’s identity. Art takes us outside of our bodily limitations. When we are ill it is difficult to be mindful of anything but our pain, discomfort, etc. Making art turns our attention outward. It helps induce a flow state as we lose track of time, let go of worries, and forget about bodily aches. Creating art practices mindfulness, which can help us feel more in control of our thinking and our bodies. Artwork is just like our ever-evolving journey; we are always learning, growing, and surprised by life. Visual and symbolic expression gives voice to experience and empowers individual, communal, and societal transformation.
How is art therapy different from taking an art class?
Art class is focused on creating a specific product. Art therapy focuses on the process. Many people come to art therapy saying, “I’m not an artist.” Art therapy is about silencing that inner critic, focusing more on the process, and how you feel during that process. The end product becomes a symbol of the relationship between therapist and client. Anyone can do art therapy.
Art is the precursor to language and dates back to the earliest known cave paintings. Children create art far before they learn to talk. Through integrative methods, art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit in ways that are distinct from verbal articulation alone. Kinesthetic, sensory, perceptual, and symbolic opportunities invite alternative modes of receptive and expressive communication, which circumvent the limitations of language. If a patient cannot verbally communicate their feelings they can always make art about it. Unlike traditional talk therapy, art in this framework makes the unconscious, conscious with the use of metaphor, symbols, visions, and dreams.
Alessandra Macca is a Registered Mental Health Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. In her therapeutic work, she uses the art process as a unique vessel of expression. Approaching each session with kindness, curiosity, compassion, and playfulness; recognizing each client and their individual experiences. She specializes in trauma and PTSD, anxiety, and seeing children and adolescents.