Art therapy is used to help people manage physical and emotional problems by using creative activities to express emotions. It provides a way for people to come to terms with emotional conflicts, increase self-awareness, and express unspoken and often unconscious concerns about their illness and their lives. “Expressive arts therapy” or “creative arts therapy” may also include the use of dance and movement, drama, poetry, and photo therapy, as well as more traditional art methods.
Art therapy is based on the idea that the creative act can be healing. It helps people express hidden emotions; reduces stress, fear, and anxiety; and provides a sense of freedom. Many art therapists also believe the act of creation influences brain wave patterns and the chemicals released by the brain.
Art therapy has been used with bone marrow transplant patients, people with eating disorders, emotionally impaired young people, disabled people, the chronically ill, chemically addicted individuals, sexually abused adolescents, caregivers of cancer patients, and others. Art therapy may also be used to engage and distract patients whose illnesses or treatments cause pain.
Artwork may also be used as a diagnostic tool, particularly with children, who often have trouble talking about painful events or emotions. Art therapists say that often children can express difficult emotions or relay information about traumatic times in their lives more easily through drawings than through conventional therapy.
Numerous case studies have reported that art therapy benefits patients with both emotional and physical illnesses. Case studies have involved many areas, including burn recovery in adolescents and young children, eating disorders, emotional impairment in young children, reading performance, childhood grief, and sexual abuse in adolescents. Studies of adults using art therapy have included adults or families in bereavement, patients and family members dealing with addictions, and patients who have undergone bone marrow transplants, among others. Some of the potential uses of art therapy to be researched include reducing anxiety levels, improving recovery times, decreasing hospital stays, improving communication and social function, and pain control.
Jillian Luz is an Art Therapist employed at the South Pasadena Child and Family Center.