“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time” ~Thomas Merton
BENEFITS OF ART IN HEALING
Creating through any form of the arts, painting, drawing, music, movement, vocals, collage, etc., can take one to magical, unexplored territory. Its power to transform has no bounds. The arts can heal physiologically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. The automatic nervous system shifts the body to the relaxation response. The body’s hormones shift to a healing mode. Blood flow can modify to bring nutrients and immune cells to fight infection and disease.
Released neurotransmitters and endorphins can reduce pain and anxiety. Feelings of peace, joy, and hope can replace thoughts and attitudes of pessimism and negativity. The focus and concentration can take one “elsewhere” to a calm, meditative state. Giving oneself the gift of participating in creativity opens the mind and spirit and gives the body something to do. Priorities can shift to living in the present moment, and an increased valuing of life. Images of healing are more readily accessed. This transcendence can foster a deeper connection to one’s spiritual essence and beliefs. The remarkable thing is that all the benefits available through the arts can flow to a person whether he or she is making the art, or simply observing the art being made.
What Hospice clients taught me
“Poets and novelists are often moved to put into words the subtle qualities of the landscape, sometime purely for the beauty of it, and sometimes as a way of alluding to certain human feelings. Landscape design can translate such literary landscapes into three-dimensional form in the garden. Like the poet, the garden designer may allude to human feelings in his portrayals of nature.”
– David S. Slawson, Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens
My work with Hospice patients taught me that those who were physically unable to participate in the making of art were still able to benefit from watching or listening to art being made. I had a patient whose condition had deteriorated to him being bedridden. Before becoming ill, one of the ways he loved to express his creativity was Japanese flower arranging. He said it brought him such peace and pleasure. When I first met with him, I asked him what would improve his quality of life. He told me having someone come over to his home and work with him on Japanese flower arranging would be a joy. I was able to find someone skilled in this and willing to come visit him. By the time she was able to schedule a visit, which was only a few days later, the patient was unable to physically participate. However, he asked her if she could just do the art while he watched. She took her time and talked about everything she was doing and the history behind it. He was able to share stories of his love of this horticultural art. The patient peacefully died a few days later, and his wife told me that he relaxed so much after the visit, and had less pain and anxiety.
Creating images as a way to communicate has been practiced since the beginning of time. Art was a primitive language that used pictures, symbols and forms. Art takes us back to a simpler time before our inner critic was born. Images can help one identify issues faster. The arts lend themselves to a variety of settings including individual therapy, group therapy, workshops, classes, and medical treatment centers.