by Lily Leiber, MPS, ATR-BC, LCAT is a Licensed Art Therapist at Tournesol Wellness
The need to create is as basic an urge as love, aggression, language, and sex. Art making has transcended cultures, countries, age, and time with the earliest cave art now considered to be at least 41,000 years old. Children’s developing brains make sense of the world through art and as we age, art can create a sense of meaning and connection in an ever-changing world.
As a Licensed Art Therapist, I see people of all ages use art as a vehicle for healing. Here are just four ways art therapy can heal you:
Flow is the state of being fully immersed in what you are doing. For example, if you were drawing a mandala (circle with shapes and patterns) and you experienced flow, you would lose track of time. You would be fully engaged in the present moment, intensely focused on the feel of marker on paper as the colors came to life, so much so that you and the artwork would be one. Not only is flow an intensely positive experience, flow is linked to increased happiness and improved performance.
Naming the nameless. Ever heard the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” When you make art around a specific theme, you allow unconscious thoughts and feelings to rise up to the surface leading to insights that can effect positive change. I asked a woman, an incest survivor*, who was experiencing difficulty in her romantic relationship, to make artwork around her current relationship. In looking at her art, she remarked that she had accidentally drawn her boyfriend with no clothes. She realized that what she perceived as her boyfriend’s neediness was actually triggering her experience of the former perpetrator’s “neediness.” This awareness empowered her to make conscious choices. She and her boyfriend are still together and they are now very much in love. *Vignette provided with permission.
There’s a lot that we don’t have control over in life: job market, relationships, health concerns to name a few. The act of creating reaffirms our inner power and strength. Athletes perform better when they imagine themselves competing successfully. If you want to make changes, create a vision board highlighting what you would like to see happen. Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” To the extent we can visualize, we can optimize our chances for success in all our endeavors.
Self-soothing through the senses. Most of us find running our hands under warm water or taking in a sunset to be soothing experiences. Art making involves the senses of sight, touch, smell, and sound, all of which can be used to self-soothe. Whether it be sweeping paint across a canvas, stitching colorful fabric, or molding a soft piece of clay in our hands, art making offers an opportunity to awaken our senses and ground ourselves in the present moment.
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