Art Making & Health: Healing the Body
The connection between art and healing is as old as time and most ancient cultures explored this vital link in both tangible and mystical ways. Today, we know the ancients were onto something and that this connection, especially the process of art making, is based on verifiable evidence—whether this is experienced in rehabilitation and recovery, or learning to cope with illness, or even finding meaning when enduring serious or life-threatening illness.
Medicine has also learned that the ability to express oneself through art, music, movement or writing enhances perceptions of well-being. In fact, it can even help people transcend and transform their sense of self in the face of disease or physical discomfort.
During art making, people often shift away from the presence of illness in their lives. They momentarily forget that they are sick or disabled and awaken to experiences other than illness. We might think of art making as an experience that provides a type of transcendence where people feel they can rise above their afflictions. It may also provide an experience of normality, if only for the time one remains engaged in the activity.
A person who is ill often loses a sense of control. Art therapy can help people with physical illness regain some measure of control. This happens via the freedom to select materials, style and subject matter; to play freely with colours, lines, forms and textures; and to choose to create what they want to create.
Creativity, Health and Research
So how does art therapy and art making improve well-being and health? Here are just a few thoughts…
- Brain scans show increased blood flow to the brain during periods of creative thought.
- Any creative activity that is enjoyable gives rise to alpha wave patterns typical of restful alertness—the relaxed but aware state found in meditation.
- Serotonin, the chemical that alleviates feelings of depression, is also increased during creative activity.
- Therapeutic art programs in hospitals have been found to improve well-being, including reduction of stress, increased capacity to communicate feelings about symptoms, and improvement of blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and the immune system.
- Creative experiences are also known to enhance brain functioning and structure, even into old age (by increasing the number of brain connections).
Art Making: It’s About Opening Up
Illness is a frightening, sometimes contradictory, experience and is often viewed in our Western culture as inherently negative. Images allow us to see disease and physical disability in somewhat different light. Art helps us understand the emotional and spiritual aspects that come with confronting the loss of one’s health.
Art therapy helps people to open up; to make visible their thoughts, feelings and perceptions. This enables them to understand the source of emotional distress or trauma and to alleviate and resolve conflicts. This often leads to a deeper healing of soul and body—in a far more substantial way than merely adopting positive thinking or doing relaxation exercises.
Robert GrayDirector and Senior Lecturer at CECAT
Registered Art Therapist and Psychologist
MA A. Th., AThR; B. Soc. Sc. (Psych.) (Hons.), MAPS.; BA. Theol. (Hons), MA Theol.
A highly regarded art therapy lecturer from Germany, Robert Gray has become a much sought-after art therapy lecturer and practising art therapist in Australia. His unique approach spanning psychodynamic, humanistic, spiritual and cognitive behavioural frameworks has distinguished him as a thought leader who is frequently invited to present at conferences in Australia and abroad.
Trained overseas and multilingual, German-born Robert shares the benefits of his international affiliations and access to cutting-edge research published in various languages with his students and readers. Robert is a professional member of the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association (ANZATA) and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).