Researched and Authored by Amanda Tetso:
Art therapy initially began in the 1940s as an aide to psychoanalysts studying the Freudian ideology that one’s dreams can reveal much about their pathology. However, the practice has quickly evolved into a crucial method of healing for patients of all variances in recent years. Although art therapy mostly influences mental and emotional well-being, it has been proven to benefit patient immune systems and pain management. Hospitals are responding to the need for creative outlets concerning patient care by integrating art therapy into conventional medicine. This creativity leads to improved patient care and overall wellness. Art therapists provide a broad range of arts, offering the options necessary to tailor the treatment to each individual on a case by case basis.
What We Do
- Listening to live or prerecorded relaxing music, playing instruments
- Drawing, painting, pottery, textiles ( weaving, knitting, crocheting, knotting, or felting), card making and collage, and guided imagery
Movement-Based Creative Expression
- Dance and movement including but not limited to-tai chi/meditation, theater-based therapy, and range of motion
- Emotional and non-emotional writing, such as poetry and journaling
How it Effects Patient Care
- Helps patients manage their pain (decreasing a dependency on medication), reduces anxiety levels, increases the range of motion, gives a voice for those having trouble communicating, and begets an overall sense of well-being that lasts after the therapy.
- Can help anyone with issues that are mentally oriented, ranging from anxiety and other disorders to those who are terminally ill.
- Improves interactions between healthcare staff and patients by requiring the staff to research their needs on a more personal level, humanizing the patient and establishing a real connection
- Although its success is frequently underestimated, the undeniable connections formed between patient and staff, coupled with the lasting health benefits that come from art therapy make it a viable option for those in poor health.
- Restores emotional balance, and decreases anxiety by calming neural activity in the brain. A study of acute myocardial infarction patients revealed that after only three sessions in a two day period, apical heart rates were lowered due to the effective stress reduction that music engagement provided (Guzzetta).
- Another study provided coronary artery disease patients relaxing music for just 20 minutes and resulted in reduced anxiety, heart rate, respiratory rate, myocardial oxygen demand, following therapy and for up to 1 hour after (White).
- In a study, women with heart disease were asked to draw their disease. There were three themes: the heart at the center, in the lived body, disease as a social illness. The use of color, spatial organization, and composition were explored. Having them draw how they visualized their condition was an insightful method to explore understandings of illness (Guillemin).
- Women with cancer were observed regarding their engagement with visual arts during treatment. They found that they were able to focus on positive life experiences, enhance their self-worth and identity, maintaining a social identity separate from cancer, and allow them to express their feelings with symbolism, especially during chemotherapy (Reynolds).
Movement-Based Creative Expression
- Research from two cancer centers in Connecticut studied the effects of dance and movement on quality of life, shoulder function, and body image. They found that at 13 weeks into the program, there were major improvements in each of these health concerns. Not only were they able to relax and move more efficiently, but by addressing both their physical and emotional needs in one program, the patients were able to develop an overall sense of well-being, increasing their quality of life (Sandel et al).
- Another study involving the use of theatre to enhance the cognitive function in older adults ages 60 to 86 years old discovered that after 4 weeks, patients involved in theatre training improved on cognitive and psychological well-being measures. Memorizing and performing their lines improved word and listening recall, problem-solving, and overall psychological well-being (Noice et al.).
- Tai chi meditation has been gaining popularity as a method of reducing falls in elderly patients. A study was done on adults 70 years and older, who were becoming frailer with their age, involved experimenting with tai chi meditation exercises and found that those who participated in the meditation had improved physical functioning and ambulation (Greenspan et al).
- In a 9-week study assigned pain center outpatients to write about either an emotional or a nonemotional topic. Their findings displayed improvements in mood, control over pain, and pain severity in the patients who wrote. This proposes that using expressive writing to provide an outlet for frustrations that come with pain and disease can help minimize the negative effects of their disease (Graham et al.).
- In one study, HIV infected patients were asked to write for 30 minutes a day, for four days. Patients HIV viral loads and CD4+ lymphocyte counts were measured at baseline and compared weeks after the experiment. The study found that HIV viral loads for patients who engaged in emotional writing had dropped significantly, while their CD4+ lymphocytes increased continuously up to 6 months after the experiment, standing to support the idea that art therapy has a lasting effect on patient health (Petrie et al.).
- Expressive writing is a means of becoming more self-aware and, in some cases, creating a new identity that exists outside of the sickness. This method of art therapy is mostly focused on the mental and emotional tension put on patients by their illnesses.
- Illness tends to make patients feel as though their entire identity has been lost to the sickness and pain, but art therapy gives them a way to exist outside of that, essentially giving them their lives back.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Dr. Daniel Potts created Cognitive Dynamics after the death of his father, Lester who struggled with Alzheimer’s in his last years. While living with the disease, he became a distinguished watercolor artist, despite never expressing an artistic interest prior to its onset. However, he was able to create a new identity for himself through art therapy. People could see his art and look at it for his talent, rather than seeing him for his disease (Huntsman).
- Bonnie Annis, breast cancer survivor and avid photographer and writer, found a way to cope with her cancer through art therapy. The mental and emotional toll that diagnosis takes on patients is nearly crippling in itself without a way to manage it. She started participating in art therapy classes a year after her diagnosis where she painted, made pottery, and did some beading. She found that by focusing on the tasks at hand while creating her art, she was able to shift her focus from her disease to a more fulfilling objective (Annis).
- Grant Manier, an autistic child with a compulsive habit of shredding up paper is now recognized for his collage artwork. He uses shreds of paper to make brilliantly realistic collages, now a successful artist despite a history of getting in trouble for his compulsion. Grant is just one example of many of how art therapy can minimize the symptoms of autism and provide those struggling with the disease a way to better communicate and develop emotionally (Lacour).
PTSD in War Veterans
- Adrian Hill, a World War I veteran, has used art therapy to help recover from the horrors witnessed on the battlefield. Hill later returned to the same hospital that treated him with art therapy to teach it to other returning injured soldiers. With PTSD victims, the sensory part of the brain that is used when reliving images is the same part engaged when creating art, providing them a way to tap into that network and help better manage the flashbacks (Irish).
While it is easy to understand the skepticism and misconceptions surrounding art therapy due to its focus on improving mental and emotional well-being, all of the results from countless studies as mentioned above assert that once the mind is at ease, the rest of the body will follow. This mind-body connection is why art therapy is so beneficial to healthcare; when combined with conventional treatment, the healing process is sped up substantially, reducing hospital stays and dependency on medication.