Healing Through Creativity
by Jamie Prisco-Rudolph, M.A.
Art therapy can be described in many different ways, but the most simplistic way to define it is by using artistic mediums as an outlet for the therapeutic process. The mediums could be anything that inspires artistic expression such as drawing, painting, sculpting, making collages, and much, much more. One of the most important aspects of art therapy (and something that I remind the students of all the time) is that the finished project is not what matters most, but rather the process and expression of feelings and emotions while creating the art is key. This principle makes art therapy accessible to everyone! You don’t have to be a world-class artist to gain the benefits of art therapy.
The accessibility of art therapy makes it a great tool to use for a variety of different mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, grief and loss, and trauma as well as individuals that find themselves simply overwhelmed by the hectic pace of life. The artistic process allows an individual to slow down and work through difficult feelings and emotions and let those feelings out onto the project they are working on. No artistic skill is needed as long as they have a willingness to explore how their feelings and emotions shift as they complete the project.
There are several mental health benefits to art therapy. The first benefit is a link between art and self-discovery. The process of artistic expression can lead to self-discovery by working through difficult emotions that may get pushed to the side in hectic times. Being creative can also boost self-esteem and help the individual feel accomplished when they have completed the project. Art therapy is also a fantastic and healthy outlet for releasing complex emotions and difficult feelings. This can be particularly rewarding for individuals who find it difficult to process through their emotions verbally and are in search of an alternative outlet. Creating art can also be an excellent source of stress relief and can help the mind and body relax after a difficult day.
There is also scientific research to reinforce the mental health benefits of artistic expression. In a study published in Frontier of Human Neuroscience, Dahlia W. Zaidel, a professor at UCLA from the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, found a link between creative and artistic expression and the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that exists in the “reward pathway” of the brain and serves many functions related to rewards, motivation, memory, and attention. Higher levels of dopamine in the brain increase feelings of happiness, focus, and motivation. These increased feelings of happiness and motivation are essential for battling negative feelings related to stress and anxiety.
So, the next time you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the hectic pace of life, pick up a paintbrush and a canvas or a pencil and some paper and let your inner artist shine! You might be surprised with what you come up with (and how much better you will feel)!
Jamie Prisco-Rudolph, M.A., is a staff therapist and LPC-Candidate at Edmond Family Counseling.