Meditation & Health #20-Art Therapy Creative Healing for Inner Peace
Creative Healing for Inner Peace
BY MELIA MCCLURE
Each of us has an artist within waiting to be called to create. Whether we consider ourselves “artistic” or not is irrelevant —we all have powerful feelings to express. Art is, in part, about physicalizing the experiences and yearnings of the heart and soul. Art therapists recognize these truths, and bring us a healing modality that can facilitate balance, inner growth, self-esteem, stress relief, and the soothing of trauma.
Expressing the Innermost
Art therapy is a recognized therapeutic discipline which focuses on the creation of art as a means of dealing with personal challenges. During the therapy process, people may express their hidden emotions, anxiety, conflicts, and aspirations, even to the extent of releasing early memories that were repressed.
Art therapists are trained in both art and psychotherapy and have knowledge of psychological theories, human development, clinical practice, and artistic, spiritual and cultural traditions. They offer their professional services to clients in various settings: mental health, rehabilitation, medical and forensic institutions; nursing homes; schools; wellness centers; community outreach programs; corporate environments; art studios; and independent practices.
The clients of art therapists are those who are experiencing illness or struggling with emotional hardships, and those seeking inner development. In Foundations of Expressive Arts Therapy, renowned art therapy pioneer Paolo Knill writes that this wellness modality provides “soul nourishment” and can be a “preventative diet as well as medicine to ensure human wellbeing.”
What Does Art Therapy Involve?
Art therapy involves facilitating the creation of visual art such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, or other types of visual expression for the purposes of healing and self-development.
Each of us has intense emotions or deep wounds that lie in a place beyond words. Feelings sometimes go unnoticed. Love, hatred, happiness, anger, sadness, fear or joy, or secrets buried in an inner abyss — all these may be freed by an art therapist. Serious emotional and physical illnesses, addictions, conflict resolution, and personal growth can be addressed.
Who Can Benefit?
In a word: anyone. Art therapy is an inclusive healing modality that offers benefits to people of all ages, backgrounds and belief systems.
In the American Journal of Public Health, Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel write that caregivers who were part of arts interventions at treatment centers for cancer patients reported that patients experienced “significantly reduced stress, decreased anxiety, and increased positive emotions after taking part in the intervention.”
Hidden passions and talents may surface, connections between feelings or events may be uncovered, lost memories about a loved one or a favorite place may reappear. Art therapy has seen patients improve communication and motor skills, increase self-esteem and brain stimulation, heighten concentration, and develop emotional intelligence.
Art Therapy in Motion
A Canadian charity called Veterans Transition Network runs an art therapy initiative to help returning soldiers — a significant number of whom are afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — adjust to civilian life. As reported by Global News in 2015, about a dozen veterans took part in the creation of a mural comprised of 162 panels — one for each Canadian killed in combat.
“Many veterans aren’t too talkative,” said Marvin Westwood, a trauma counselor and professor at the University of British Columbia. “But they’re doers.” Thus, the creative process can help them move toward healing trauma.
A Meditative Activity
Creating art with an open mind is a meditative activity. Artistic expression can help connect you to the tranquility of your soul. Experimenting with some simple methods can assist you in embracing attitudes of nonattachment and nonjudgment, and compassion for self and others. In the words of Picasso, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
Focused interaction with color stimulates hormone production and benefits the health of neurotransmitters. Warm colors stimulate brainwaves and heighten physical responses. Red evokes passion and energy; orange encourages mental activity and oxygenation of the body; and yellow inspires feelings of hope and happiness. In contrast, cool colors slow the pulse and calm the body. Blue and green are soothing hues that encourage a tranquil mood.
Art Therapy at Home
Here are several easy ways to partake in art therapy at home:
A wonderful way to create art without being intimidated by tools and techniques. It can connect one to the primal self and to the world of our ancient ancestors, as cave paintings are among the earliest examples of art.
• Watercolor the state of your body
Lie down, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and relax. Visualize your inhalation as a color and your exhalation as a different color. See your body as being comprised of various hues.
Next, draw an outline of a body on a large piece of paper. Inside the outline, use watercolors to reflect your bodily state. Is your heart purple, blue, yellow? Are your hands green? Why? Where are the colors darkest? Where are they lightest? Contemplate what the colors mean to you.
• Get a pencil, turn out the lights, and draw
Drawing in the dark is a great way to silence the inner critic. Simply feel your way to creating lines, shapes, patterns. When you turn the lights back on, you’ll experience the fun and inspiration of seeing what you created while you were free of self-judgment and self-censure.
• Play with clay
Use it to make figurines, shapes, or anything else your heart wishes. Evidence exists “showing the therapeutic effects of working with clay,” notes the Chicago Children’s Museum.
• Create a painting on paper or cardboard
After the paint has dried, cut up your creation and use the pieces to construct a collage. This exercise encourages the freedom to take risks and embrace change — the destruction of one way of being gives rise to the creation of a new way. It highlights the importance of nonattachment, not just to the creative process but also to life in general.
• Mandala coloring
According to Tibetan monks, mandala represents the achievement of multidimensional spirituality and enlightenment. Through coloring a mandala, people may release pent-up emotions, quell internal chaos, and center their minds on a higher consciousness.
Known as “yoga for the mind,” Zentangle involves drawing simple repeating patterns to bring the artist into a state of relaxed focus.
Art therapy is a revelation of the mind and emotions. A telling image could reveal more than a thousand words of internal strife. Whether art is created at home for pleasure or to relieve stress, or through the guidance of an art therapist, it has the power to heal and help people see the world and their experiences in new ways. The simplest act of artistic creation can open a gateway to peace.