Art healing, also known as the healing arts, is a term that is applied to the use of art in emotional and physical healing. Art healing is often confused with Art Therapy, and although art healing and art therapy are very similar, art therapy tends to be a doctor/patent healing process, whereas art healing is an individual/non-therapist healing process. But both use art to help the healing process.
Those of us who have art in our souls and have used art as a therapeutic healing tool throughout our lives understand its value at the deepest level. Although a relatively new concept in western society, only in the last 60 years have health professionals, therapists, and others in the medical profession begun to acknowledge the therapeutic effects of art and music on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of people.
Art therapist and author Cathy Malchiodi states in her book The Art Therapy Sourcebook, that art therapy is “…based on the idea that the creative process of art making is healing and life enhancing, and that it is a potent form of communication. It utilizes the creative process… to promote growth, self-expression, emotional reparation, conflict resolution and transformation.”
According to Malchiodi, art healing is beneficial in several ways:
Visually deals with traumatic emotions can feel safer then dealing with them in words.
Lets us express things we cannot express in words.
Is helpful in releasing emotions.
Is a powerful therapeutic process that has meaning and comes directly from our own feelings and imagination.
Allows us to know ourselves better.
Is available to everyone.
Enhances our lives and reduces stress.
While artists in general tend to focus on the aesthetics of artwork, art therapy and art as a healing tool focus on feelings and thoughts. Art healing works in any medium; drawing, water colors, paints, collage, and others. In Art Therapy, a therapist usually instructs the patient in making a piece of artwork that expresses their feelings, and then encourages them to discuss what the artwork means. Art therapy methods have been shown to help cancer patients, people with arthritis and Alzheimer’s, the mentally ill, and patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The act of creating art enhances self-esteem, gives a sense of control, and relieves stress and tension by taking the mind off of problems. Mostly importantly, it is an outlet for emotions.
Art healing is, in essence, self-help art therapy. Anyone can do art healing, and most people do art healing in their own homes, using whatever methods they prefer and creating any type of artwork. Unlike Art Therapy, where the goal is to create art, and then analyze or talk about it with a therapist, art healing is a personal journey and needs no therapist and no analysis. In creating artwork, the healing process has already begun.
Each of our powerful senses of smell, sound, taste and vision can transport us back to a simpler, happier time. These can be very effective tools when used in pain management. Most people, skilled or not in art, have experienced how art can transform their state of mind and how they feel in a given moment. A painting might make you feel sad, one piece of music cheers you up and another makes you angry. A poem or a photograph may make you think about something from a different point of view. Or reading a good book might make you forget how much your back is hurting.
It seems quite clear that art can influence people in many ways, evoking feelings, distracting your attention and giving you new insights. These are all healing tools that might be used in conjunction with other medical modalities to either alleviate or help control chronic pain and depression.
Imagery is one of medicine’s oldest and most powerful tools. In healing rituals and ceremonies, imagery of dreams and visions have been used for centuries. Modern medicine, with all the emphasis on new technologies and curing of disease, seems to have forgotten the healing tools of the past. However, in the last couple of decades, there has been an increasing interest in a more holistic type of medicine including complementary forms of healing such as guided imagery, art healing and hypnotherapy.
Art can form a connection between the physiological changes in the body and the conscious level of information processing, and may, if interpreted correctly, give much information regarding the somatic state of the patient. In addition, art making can provide an escape and relief from physical suffering, such as pain, as well as emotions as fear, loneliness and depression.
Not much research has so far been done regarding what physical effect creative processes produce in the body, but the results so far are interesting. Deepak Chopra found that creative experiences increased the blood flow to the brain, and that enjoyable creative activity gives rise to α-wave pattern on EEG which is typical of a relaxed but aware state of mind called restful alertness (also found in meditation). Thus, it seems creative activities can enhance brain functioning, and also serotonin, a chemical known to decrease feeling of depression, is found to be increased during creative activity. In hospitals where art therapy programs have been introduced, there have been reportedly many benefits both on a physical level, improving heart rate, blood pressure and respiration, and on a psychological level, by increasing the abilities to communicate feelings regarding symptoms and by reducing the stress.
Music as therapy Research has shown that music has a profound effect on your body and psyche. In fact, there’s a growing field of health care known as Music Therapy, which uses music to heal. Those who practice music therapy are finding a benefit in using music to help cancer patients, children with ADD, and others, and even hospitals are beginning to use music and music therapy to help with pain management, to help ward off depression, to promote movement, to calm patients, to ease muscle tension, and for many other benefits that music and music therapy can bring. This is not surprising, as music affects the body and mind in many powerful ways. The following are some of effects of music, which help to explain the effectiveness of music therapy:
Brain Waves: Research has shown that music with a strong beat can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, with faster beats bringing sharper concentration and more alert thinking, and a slower tempo promoting a calm, meditative state. Also, research has found that the change in brainwave activity levels that music can bring can also enable the brain to shift speeds more easily on its own as needed, which means that music can bring lasting benefits to your state of mind, even after you’ve stopped listening.
Breathing and Heart Rate: With alterations in brainwaves comes changes in other bodily functions. Those governed by the autonomic nervous system, such as breathing and heart rate can also be altered by the changes music can bring. This can mean slower breathing, slower heart rate, and an activation of the relaxation response, among other things. This is why music and music therapy can help counteract or prevent the damaging effects of chronic stress, greatly promoting not only relaxation, but health.
State of Mind: Music can also be used to bring a more positive state of mind, helping to keep depression and anxiety at bay. This can help prevent the stress response from wreaking havoc on the body, and can help keep creativity and optimism levels higher, bringing many other benefits.
Music has also been found to bring many other benefits, such as lowering blood pressure (which can also reduce the risk of stroke and other health problems over time), boost immunity, ease muscle tension, and more. With so many benefits and such profound physical effects, it’s no surprise that so many are seeing music as an important tool to help the body in staying (or becoming) healthy.