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WHAT IS ART THERAPY?

WHAT IS ART THERAPY?

by Larry Miller

HOW ART THERAPY WORKS

Art therapy, active in a professional setting, creates a sense of self, that which is often lost in the elderly, Alzheimer’s patients or those with mental illness. Sensory stimulation through art making fills in where there is a deficit of sense of self and sensory stimulation. This is proven through the use of any and all uses of art materials and skills, including painting, drawing, water color, collage or sculpture.

For example, collage creates a sense of putting things back together and connectedness. Creating a collage deals with the juxtaposition of identifiable images that resonate in the individuals’ experience and can bridge the communication gap between the anxiety or fear a person feels and the outside world. Making art externalizes and through discussion with an art therapist who can interpret what the art work says relative to the patient’s behavior and challenges, the patient can begin to identify that which impedes their thinking and balanced growth.

As evidenced by the Meet At MOMA Program, Alzheimer’s affects that part of the brain that makes memories. The parietal lobe is stimulated by art. When a patient looks at a painting, the painting encourages a dialogue with the viewer. Questions and interpretations of the visual response develop. Those that cannot remember their name or the names of their loved ones, can often, talk about what they see in a painting and be clear about their own interpretations of the painting. Often memories are stimulated as well, and things forgotten come into the dialogue.

When those in art therapy are given paints, pencils, clay, or collage materials, a here and now, active stimulation begins. Through work with the hands, imagination is stimulated and, it has recently been discovered that the imagination will be there when the rest of the brain is dysfunctional through a progressive disease such as Alzheimer’s.

There is an important need to get thoughts and feelings out in some way, especially in teens, adults and the elderly. It has been evidenced that very young children who have not yet learned how to express themselves verbally, will grab a crayon and begin drawing naturally. Older persons are challenged because they are at a loss to express themselves, but can find balance and enrichment in painting or drawing.

Art therapy demonstrates that creativity is a deep core need in all of us and that making a painting will help one remember, recall the past that had been forgotten.

There is another value to art therapy, as well. Institutionalized people, those in prisons, nursing homes and hospitals often feel they are just a number or a file. Art therapy gives them back their individuality. These people are given back a sense of control over their lives that they had to give up for going into an institutionalized environment.

And in a hospital setting, especially for people with a cancer diagnosis–it is often very difficult to talk about it. Art gives them an opportunity to express the way they feel, come into control and alignment with their feelings and give them, through the art therapist, a perspective on their life.

ART THERAPY ON A GLOBAL SCALE

In Saudi Arabia, a psychological and religious counseling program for militants has been developed incorporating art therapy for imprisoned Jihadists. This successful rehabilitation program came into operation today as the result of the Saudi’s commitment to lessening the production of home grown Jihadists.

The International Medical Corp provides clinical support for people on the front lines of disaster and uses art therapy to rehabilitate victims of war, famine, political upheaval, and natural disasters.

The National Geographic Society has supplied cameras to people in Uganda to take pictures of their lives and work through the pain and loss they have experienced through war. Ultimately, what we are discovering is that no one is safe from the anxieties, challenges and fearful factors of every day life. And, as we begin to realize that physical health and mental health often are integrated and dependent on each other, the role of the art therapist becomes more and more important in addressing our well being the development and maintenance of our total well being.

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