The Art of Healing -
Art interventions, what are they?
Well, the idea is to use creative activities as a medium to produce positive effects and/or enhanced development, communication and expression in many areas including, improved mood, self-esteem, cognition, fine motor skills, verbal willingness, general well-being, communication, and self-expression.
The overall goal of Art intervention activities is to achieve accessible ways in which the client can achieve a meditative/mindful state so that he/she can find a peaceful, focused and calm enough state of mind to ‘regulate’. They can then continue to use these accessible methods to maintain a calm and focused state whenever needed in their future. The aim is to give clients coping tools and strategies going forward in their daily life, so that they can get the most out of everything it has to offer, get as much enjoyment out of life as possible and have reduced stress through the strategies the art interventions introduced to them now will provide. Going forward, these will be something they do as part of their everyday life to keep regulated (centered/focused/calm) or ‘mindful’. Therefore, these art intervention activities are not only helping clients now, but also preparing them for the future, to deal with the difficulties of everyday life, teaching strategies in ways to express and self-regulate helping them to cope with difficulties they may face in the future.
I have found through my own experience and through a case study I carried out with a pupil that Art Interventions are hugely beneficial, with notable improvements in behaviors and developmental skills across a broad range, from social and verbal interaction to fine motor development, positive self-esteem, and engagement with others and life in general.
Art interventions during critical development periods can have a significant positive effect on the overall learning for a child, which will affect them throughout their adult life. This is particularly relevant for children who suffer trauma and insecurity during critical learning periods or have psychological (by internal or external factors) or complex SEND.
Art intervention activities develop meditative thinking, traditionally achieved at a level of altered consciousness by focusing on a specific area, such as a candle flame, well, colouring or painting (or any creative activity or sensory activity) does the exact same thing.
In short, mindfulness can be achieved using various methods and mediums. Art intervention activities are one medium which can help children and adults develop accessible techniques in which they are able to achieve mindfulness. These techniques will enhance their lives and help to release problems, change negative behaviors, and develop positive mindsets.
Painting, as an art intervention activity, is one which relieves stress and anxiety. Painting and colouring are forms of mindful creativity. Being mindful is about fully focusing your attention on whatever you are doing at that present moment. Which is why art intervention activities are so beneficial in increasing mindfulness in children and adults alike, and why they are so effective in improving general well-being which in turn helps to change negative behaviors and mindsets into positive.
When immersed in a painting or other creative activity, you are not distracted which means you are being mindful, or in a meditative state. This is when the neurons communicate across a synapse to send neurotransmitters around the brain, moving from one cell to another in electro chemical transmission. The brain will be stimulated, focused, engaged, and busy communicating positive messages around the brain via the synapses, this form of intervention will help to, in essence ‘rewire the brain’ in a more positive way.
Why Art Interventions are a fantastic, accessible medium for expression and healing
Art has been used as a form of expression, self-expression, communication, and form of healing for thousands of years, however, art therapy only began to formalize during the middle of the 20th century. People suffering from mental illness often expressed themselves using the medium of art, which led many professionals to explore the use of art as a healing strategy/therapy technique. The term ‘Art Therapy’ was coined in 1942 by British artist Adrian Hill, after discovering the therapeutic benefits of drawing and painting while recovering from tuberculosis and then it was in 1964 when The British Association of Art Therapists was founded.
Art is a fantastic medium for expression for a variety of reasons. The physical process of creating the artwork, in itself, can be therapeutic and meditative for the client, creating a variety of positive effects on them. It can help clients feel more in control of their lives, communicate more effectively, improve their self-esteem, and give new insights into their own lives.
The client is less censored in their expression using this method, they are not able to control and manipulate what they reveal, as they are able to with verbal therapy. The artwork, therefore, is much more unconscious and honest with its content, which the client and specialist can then look deeper into. The Art Interventions Specialist can help the client to interpret and understand the feelings and emotion embedded within their artwork. This process gives the client a close look into their deepest self. It can help the client to learn to understand their uncensored expressions, subconscious thoughts, honest and deep emotions expressed within the artwork.
Developmentally, our thoughts occur in image form before we then transform them into words, therefore, for those who struggle to articulate how they feel, this method of expression as an approach to therapy/interventions, is not only a clever idea, but the logical approach. A pioneer in art therapy, Harriet Wadeson stated that “images are the language of the subconscious”, additionally, Wadeson stated “Jungians have encouraged their clients to produce pictures of their dreams and, in many cases; the interpretations of the pictures serve as the prime modality of the Jungian analysis. Obviously, words may be used to elaborate on the art expression, but the essential message is conveyed in image form. The reflection of images, tapping into primary process material and enhancing the creative process, both narrowly in an artistic sense, and broadly in the creation of solutions in living.”.
Using art as a method of expression increases relaxation, decreasing stress and anxiety and lowers defenses. It can improve a person’s general well-being, enabling them to deal with everyday struggles much more effectively. Moreover, Wadeson believes that the art making process creates a physical energy which ‘activates’ the client. I agree with this theory, and that due to this creative release the client is then more accessible and open to therapeutic discussion.
For those who struggle to verbalize thoughts and emotions, it is a hugely cathartic method of expression. For some clients, the method of art as an expression, is an incredible release of, (often years) of pent-up thoughts, feelings, emotions, and past experiences, which may have never been able to be verbally articulated.
Equally, for children whose language has not developed, who may need to focus on something creative to enable them to relax and feel comfortable enough to open-up. Art is a wonderful method of expression to allow children to release all sorts of feelings. Whether that be releasing feelings of anger or communicating past events that are worrying them, but they may not be confident enough to verbalize. They may be able to draw or collage these experiences and express their thoughts and emotions through their images without having to ‘say it out loud’.
Some children and adults find it incredibly therapeutic to simply engage in the process of physically making art, which then has a profound impact on their general well-being and enables them to just get through the day-to-day struggles and anxieties they face.
Everyone is different, and so one single approach will not work for every single person. However, I strongly believe that art as a method for expression, will help a tremendously substantial number of adults and children alike. I say this with huge conviction not just from research into the field but also from my own life experience. Much like Adrian Hall, I inadvertently discovered the therapeutic and healing benefits of art while recovering from an illness myself, and this was one of the main reasons I began to look further into it.