Art Therapy Speeds Recovery

There are many forms of therapy that are meant to heal and restore the psyche. Art and music therapies are among the many creative activities that can aid patients recovering from traumas.
Art is an emotional process, and moving is a healing process. "Art has been shown to help with physical, emotional, mental and social health," said Les Moore, a doctor of naturopathy in Ontario. Art therapy includes music, poetry, acting, dancing, photography, songwriting, painting, pottery, and sculpting.

In Kashmir, a war-torn region contested over by India and Pakistan, youths are expressing their anger in paint. In Corona, California, Angel Faces is a retreat for girls who have been disfigured in disasters such as fires that uses art therapy as a way to heal their emotional scars and help them cope with the social consequences. And in New Canaan, CT, the nonprofit organization Art for Healing (AFH) is using music and art therapy to help children and adults with special needs and developmental disabilities including autism, Down Syndrome, and neurological disorders.

"Art-making itself provides people with control. It gives them meaning and purpose and acceptance," says Karen Peacock. Peacock is an art therapist working for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, which received a $44,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in April to expand their Art Therapy program. "It's a means to understand and growing in life's changing challenges," Peacock explains.

Art therapy can be used for children or adults to help them process traumatic experiences. It reduces stress and therefore encourages and even speeds up recovery and healing. In Australia, the number of artists working along medical staff in hospitals and community centers are growing, according to The Australian this Saturday.

Flinders was one of the first Australian hospitals to seriously incorporate art therapy. "There has been a gradual shift in attitude from one of skepticism to acceptance, to embracing the concept, to it being firmly embedded in the hospital, delivering a valuable service," says Sally Francis, arts coordinator at Flinders. The art towards healing offered in the hospital is a diverse mix including live music, galleries, dance recitals, writing workshops, filmmaking sessions and screenings, and music lessons.

New studies are determining that art therapy in hospitals does make a difference in patient recovery, reducing the length of the patient's stay and the chance of their being re-admitted. It helps reduce tension and lift depression, explains music therapist Emma O'Brien. British microbiologist Rosalia Staricoff conducted a reviewed of over 400 research studies, and found that art therapy in hospitals helped reduce patients' stress, depression and anxiety; they had reduced blood pressure, pain, and less need for medication.

"Arts in health is not just a distraction," says Mike White, a research fellow in the Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University. "They can help patients understand and adapt to the complexities of their medical condition and at the same time help to build the social connections important for health."

"The eye has become a human eye only when its object has become a human, social object," poet Adrienne Rich quotes Karl Marx. She responds, "When art-as language, music, or in palpable, physically present silence-can induce that kind of seeing, holding, and responding, it can restore us to our senses." While social connections are important for our health, art is important for the health of our community. Art therapy can be a healing process for both patient and teacher, and working to help one another makes all of us stronger.

If you are thinking about becoming an art therapist...
There are not many accredited options online, unfortunately. However, Colorado State University Online offers an accredited Masters in Music Therapy with a requirement that you visit the campus once a year for additional training, and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College offers an online MA in Art Therapy listed by the Art Therapy Association. To become a professional art therapist in the US, you will need to take the appropriate Masters Degree requirements, pass the written exam and continue to maintain the credentials set by the Art Therapy Credentials Board that grants registration.

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