For thousands of years, people have been using arts like singing, painting and dancing for healing purposes. Modern healthcare settings continue to use art to help treat specific conditions, contribute to overall well-being and even help prevent diseases.
You might use art to support your own well-being without even thinking about it. For example, you might doodle when you feel stressed or enjoy playing an instrument at the end of a long day. In fact, artistic expression and appreciation are not only enjoyable but also have the potential to benefit your well-being.
Two approaches commonly used in healthcare settings include:
- Arts in health, which can include artists trained to help patients have positive creative experiences in a healthcare setting. It also can refer to art in the physical spaces where healthcare is delivered — think hospitals, care facilities, etc. This might include art on the wall, musical performances in the lobby and healing gardens.
- Creative arts therapies, which include a licensed professional engaging a patient in arts to address a specific condition or health goal. Therapy can be delivered through visual art, dance, music, poetry or drama and there are corresponding licenses for each type of art specialization.
What are some common creative arts therapy activities?
Music, dance, writing, storytelling, collage-making and painting can all be used in creative arts therapy. Creative arts therapists draw upon their training and the needs and interests of patients to meet clinical goals.
The success of art therapy isn’t measured by the quality of the art produced in a session, but instead by the healing that can happen during the process of making art.
How can creative arts therapy promote healing?
Creative arts therapy is used in treatment for a variety of conditions spanning mental health, cancer, stroke and more. The idea behind creative arts therapy is that artistic expression can help people to feel better and motivated to recover and address clinical needs such as reducing anxiety and blood pressure.
The American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine says making or even just seeing art can impact the brain. Whether it’s part of a creative arts therapy exercise, or something you experience in your everyday life, art can help:
- Increase serotonin levels.
- Increase blood flow to the part of the brain associated with pleasure.
- Foster new ways of thinking.
- Imagine a more hopeful future.
How is creative arts therapy used for mental health?
In the 1940s, healthcare providers noticed that people with mental illness would express themselves through art. This observation inspired the use of creative arts therapy as a healing technique for conditions including anxiety, depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia and dementia.
Creative arts therapy is used to help treat mental health conditions because it can improve focus, assist with processing emotions, improve communication and increase self-esteem.
What are the benefits of creative arts therapy?
As therapy, research shows that art facilitated by a professional creative arts therapist has the potential to positively impact elements of your physical and mental health, including:
- Overall well-being.
- Quality of life.
- Interpersonal relationships.
- Freedom of expression, when talking about thoughts and feelings is difficult.
- Emotional resilience.
What are the benefits of creative arts therapy for children?
Although creative arts therapy is used with people of all ages, it can have some unique benefits for kids. The American Art Therapy Association shares that art therapy can help kids express themselves and share their feelings without using words, which can be especially helpful when working with younger or nonverbal children. Specifically, it can assist with communication in children with autism, soothe kids with cancer and help improve focus in kids with attention-deficit disorders.
Can art help even if it’s not prescribed therapy?
Yes! In addition to creative arts therapy, the arts also can be beneficial to your physical and mental health when you experience them — as an appreciator or creator. For example, creating visual art like drawings or paintings can provide enjoyment and distraction from things like pain and anxiety. Listening to music might help to improve blood pressure and sleep quality, and can help keep you calm and relaxed during a medical procedure.
In addition to having an impact on overall well-being and specific health outcomes, art can support the overall healthcare experience. Through three humanities-focused centers in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota, Mayo Clinic incorporates arts for enjoyment and creative arts therapy in patient care.
In Minnesota, Sarah Mensink is the program director for the Mayo Clinic Dolores Jean Lavins Center for Humanities in Medicine, which manages a variety of arts programs, including:
- Arts at the Bedside, a program where artists visit with and offer people the opportunity to create art during a hospital stay.
- Mayo Humanities TV Channel, which offers recorded concerts, lectures and other art programs on demand in hospital rooms.
- The “Music is Good Medicine Concert Series” and the “Rosemary and Meredith Wilson Harmony for Mayo Concert Series” that offer live music performances in Mayo Clinic facilities.
“Arts at the Bedside is a nice opportunity to enhance the patient experience. You’re treated as a whole person. Healing is more than a cure. It offers a creative outlet and an opportunity for fun,” says Mensink.
Patients aren’t the only people helped by art in a healthcare setting. It can benefit family members and healthcare providers too. Mensink says that when the patient experience is improved with art, the burden of healthcare providers is lessened.
“When patients are happy and occupied with an art project, staff members are glad to see the person doing well,” she says.
Whether it’s the design of a hospital’s physical space, an impromptu concert to enjoy or a dedicated therapy session that uses art to achieve a clinical goal, each has its place in promoting the well-being of individuals and communities. Art has the potential to go beyond treating symptoms and improve your whole self — including physical, mental and emotional elements.
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