Using Art to Heal Pain, Anxiety

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Can therapy be art, a vehicle for self expression? In fact art has been an actual therapy since the 1940s, mostly with patients who had mental problems. Now, though, it’s used for people of any age, to help with a variety of conditions that includes anxiety, depression, emotional problems, mental illness, substance abuse, chronic pain, and trauma.

But art therapy’s proponents say that it can help with nearly any illness or condition. That’s because it improves your well-being. The act of being creative and self-expressive is an incomparable therapy that could improve a mental outlook, reduce stress, and provide a sojourn from reality. At its core, art therapy is much like meditation.

The therapists are masters-level professionals who hold a degree in art therapy or a related field. What do art therapists use for medical tools? Try drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, dye-casting and whatever other forms they feel like choosing. It is whatever the patient wants to do, really. They operate in hospitals, clinics, treatment centers, mental health agencies, shelters, community groups, schools, art studios and private practices. They should be skilled in the theories behind art therapy, and counseling.

Not long ago, a study found that cancer patients who spent an hour a day working on art projects experienced a decline in their symptoms of anxiety and pain. And if it works for people with high degrees of anxiety and pain, it’s easy to see how art therapy could work for anyone who lives with a chronically painful illness or persistent anxiety.

At Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 50 cancer patients took part in a four-month study. Researchers tracked their pain, nausea, anxiety, lack of appetite, drowsiness, fatigue, shortness of breath, depression, and overall well-being. Incredibly, art therapy improved eight of these nine symptoms, excluding nausea. The researchers say that patients with serious health problems are turning more and more to alternative therapies in order to reduce symptoms, cope with stress and improve quality of life. Art therapy is the next one.

They believe that art therapy is a distraction that permits a person who is dealing with health problems to focus on something positive that they can actually control. The art chosen by patients is whatever they want to work on. The sessions of art therapy in the study ranged from mild entertainment to investigating deep psychological issues. They were most surprised about it helping get rid of fatigue, with an unusual number of cancer patients saying they actually felt “energized” while painting, drawing, etc.

One of your best bets in finding an art therapist is to look locally in your phone directory or online.