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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Art Therapy

Art therapy is not rocket's more important than that.
Several years ago I was invited by a local assisted living facility to conduct art classes for several of the residents. They were all women well into their eighties. I dubbed the group my "Ladies in their Eighties." The group ranged in number from about six or seven at the beginning then dwindled to only two after a few years (they kept dying off). None of them were very experienced in any art medium though all were blessed with some degree of drawing ability. In affect, rather than teaching any lasting skills I found myself conducting an art therapy group encounter. Now I'm not an art therapist, and any psychological training I've had was limited to Psych-101 and educational psychology in college. But I've always felt that experience trumped training and, having taught art from a junior college level all the way down to first grade, for more than a quarter-century, I had plenty of that.
It's a short step from the familiar art of drawing to drawing with high-grade colored pencils. It's a little like drawing with paint only dry--less mess, less cleanup.
I found quite a lot of similarities in teaching lower-level elementary art classes and geriatrics for whom the creative experience was far more important than the art they created. Moreover both groups had roughly the same attention span (about a half-hour) and cognitive retention rate (barely one or two weeks). Although I think the ladies benefited in quite a number of ways, it was not all one-sided. I had fun teasing them into working, into following instructions, and motivating their creative potential. Helping others feel good just feels good.

The benefits of art therapy are not always this
dramatic, but the fact that they can be makes
it a worthwhile mental health tool.
Art therapy is a psychology premised on the idea that the art-making process has healing values and is a wordless communication media of inner thoughts and emotions. Its purpose is to encourage personal growth, boosts self-awareness, and to offer help in solving or relieving mental crises. Best of all, art therapy doesn’t require direct verbal communication. Instead, the client(s) communicate through the creative process utilizing images, colors, music, dance, even photography and videos. Through this, the client naturally pours out their inner being to the other, even sharing intimate matters.

Except for high-tech items, the tools of art therapy are not costly when compared to their benefits.
Art therapy has come a long way in the field of mental health over the past few decades. Today such efforts are aimed at the treatment and quality of life for individuals with serious mental illnesses, as well as people who have suffered the trauma of hunger, violence, cultural stigmatization, and other types of social distress. The Expressive Arts Therapy field (EXA)specifically, has given increased attention to creative and liberating approaches to health, wellness, and trauma intervention. Expressive arts therapy attempts to integrate a broad range of art media in promoting mental health and self-confidence. EXA therapy employs a wealth of creative options drawing upon—music, visual arts, dance, photography, creative writing, singing, storytelling, drama, poetry, and ethnic rituals. The creative processes, invite the mentally ill, as well as those seeking to maintain psychological stability, to explore emotional, social, and relational issues while identifying patterns of personal success and new motivational insights.
In art therapy, skills take a backseat to self-expression.
Whenever there is military conflict, there are refugees. One particular health challenge that art therapists and mental health counselors worldwide are currently battling is the emotional and psychological trauma of those from the Middle-East having lost their homes, and often, even their homelands. Conditions such as chronic violence, bullying, human trafficking, abject poverty, war, and post-traumatic stress disorder, all demand an authentic, empathetic, and therapeutic presence in dealing with the victimized survivors. Expressive, and other arts-based approaches, have been effective in the treatment and intervention of trauma recovery. Imaginative and creative process have proven to be a doorway into the inner workings of self-reflective, self-empowerment. Art therapy unites the body, mind, and spiritual being so as to allow participants to express their feelings creatively when words are inaccessible and inadequate. Therapeutic art is therefore a powerful, tool for healing. The goal of the art therapist in this context is to increase hope and motivation, and create enough social safety that the participants can begin to foster an awareness of both the inner self and their personal strengths.
When the number of those in need is great, art therapy lends
itself to group sessions and cooperative art activities.
For more than a decade, art therapy programs and research has been concentrated in the area of African-American mental health. African-Americans are often at a socioeconomic disadvantage in terms of accessing mental health care and culturally sensitive counseling. Much work has been conducted in collaboration with community organizations and schools, with the aim of promoting positive youth development by increasing cultural values and presenting a caring, expressive arts approach for traumatized children and adolescents of African descent. Such culturally based art therapy efforts have incorporated the use of drama, storytelling, dance, spoken word, and drumming to redress the disparities of historical trauma and the systemic loss of self-identity.

Art therapists have found that inexpensive paper-mache or plaster masks to be a very effective tool in treating PTSD.
We often think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as limited to battle-scarred returning servicemen, and indeed, they are a major constituency for art therapists. But PTSD often inflicts as much or more suffering on the civilian survivors of wars as on those fighting them. Masks (above) or other handicraft activities, are ideal for adults with little or no art ability and little interest in developing any. Likewise there is also a branch of art therapy having to deal with the opposite situation, those with severe physical handicaps (below) with an intense interest in overcoming whatever disabilities they must endure in order to gain the art skills to experienced the joys of the creative endeavor.

Art therapy allows the joy of doing what can't be done. 

A collage on aging--the kind of
art therapy I need.


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