One of the most important goals of any mental health treatment program is to create a safe space where thoughts, feelings, and memories can be expressed and examined. By articulating and revisiting the unspoken assumptions that control our perceptions and behavior, therapy can be a life changing process for many people. However, sometimes putting all our feelings or thoughts into words can be difficult.
Not everything we feel can easily be expressed verbally, and this is why many people are finding that art therapy can be a good supplement to conventional talk therapy. By using creative activities to express, expose, and sort through hidden emotions and thoughts, art therapy can be an important part of the healing process. Even if you don’t consider yourself “creative” or “artistic,” using an artistic medium to sort through your understanding of yourself can be an important part of your healing.
What Art Therapy Is:
Art therapy makes use of a creative visual or performing art form, co-creating a work with a trained therapist, who may use several methods to talk through the making of or interpreting the art piece to sort through deeper feelings and issues. Together you will form a relationship using your creations to work through your deepest issues.
Creativity is all about igniting the imagination. Imagination allows you to see yourself and the world around you differently, which can be the starting point for change. You may feel lost, stuck and helpless, or find your problems too big to handle, but you can still visualize change or imagine that things are different. This new way of imaging can give you a burst of hopefulness which can enable you to make a real change.
Art provides a mirror to what is truly inside you. Trauma, depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental illnesses often lead the sufferer to put up walls, hiding their true selves to both others and themselves. Painful emotions and thoughts get burried down so deeply that you even lose the ability to recognize them, but they keep influencing your behavior in unseen ways.
The path to healing involves bringing these emotions to the surface and speak comforting, encouraging truths to them and learning how to move on from the past. Trying to face everything directly and put it into words doesn’t always work, because some hard feelings are buried so deep that only art can reach them. By creating an artwork about and through your feelings, you break through the wall and discover that it’s safe to dig to new layers in your healing, and creatively search for new ways to heal.
The process of art making itself also offers benefits in and of itself. Art making offers a pleasurable and enjoyable way to spend your time and work through your emotions. It can be a powerful outlet and coping mechanism, that can help you deal with, manage, and transform stress in a positive way. When your pain or anxiety makes it way onto a canvas, a poem, or a dance, those feelings are absorbed and dampened in a way that can make them easy to handle.
The process of creating something often involves work, and learning something new. You may have to concentrate intensely, practice many times to get something right, or work through failures before getting the look you want. With a gentle, safe, guiding hand, you can slowly find yourself picking up a new skill and able to do things you previously didn’t think possible. You also discover your inner creativity, and learn that what is inside you, and the story you have experienced, is valuable to other people and is something worth being heard. In this way, you learn how to love yourself and recognize your abilities.