Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Art Therapy for Mental Illnesses

       Art is one of the great passions in my life. Luckily for me, creating art has been shown in studies to help relieve symptoms from many different mental illnesses. There are actually art therapists all over the world. They specialize in therapy sessions in which their clients create art.

       The studies that have been done on art therapy tend to be geared towards either visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture, coloring and others) or into music therapy. While I find an enormous amount of relief from my symptoms during, and after, the times when I play my piano, I want to focus on visual arts in this post. The reason is simple, many visual arts can be done with little to no instruction, and they can be extremely inexpensive. Of course, deciding to take up something such as painting, with oil paints as the medium, on expansive canvases can be more costly and require instruction. However, no one has to set out to be the next Michelangelo to reduce symptoms. 

       There are many inexpensive and simple forms of art therapy that have been shown to lessen symptoms and help to bring about an overall sense of wellbeing. For instance, if my paintbrushes feel as if they are made of lead, my creative juices have run dry and I need a quick and easy escape into art, I often pick up my colored pencils and simply color. Psychologist Alice Domar, Ph.D., has done extensive research into coloring. She stated:

“It [coloring] engages both sides of your brain in that it’s both creative and tactical. It’s impossible to worry about dinner or the laundry or anything else when your mind is completely engaged. With knitting or other crafts, you can watch TV or multitask, but coloring really requires you to be in the moment. And that makes it meditative. Coloring brings you back to a simpler time, it’s pleasurable, it’s a chance to sit and be mindful…and at the end you get this beautiful result. You have a real sense of accomplishment.”

       There are a multitude of adult coloring books available today. Many of them consist of botanicals, animals, mandalas (symbols used in Buddhism that represent wholeness), paisleys, cats, enchanted forests, decorative fans, etc. Websites abound that offer free coloring pages, that simply need to be printed. Also, when “free printable adult coloring pages” is typed into search engines, such as Google, thousands upon thousands of pages appear by category. So, for the cost of a box of colored pencils, which can be purchased for as low as one dollar, and the cost of printing a sheet of paper, anyone can start this form of therapy. Also, there is no need to pay for formal lessons of any kind. That is a beautiful thing.

       Another great option, if someone wants to paint but has run out of creative juices, doesn't have the training or lacks a strong creative side, is paint by number kits. Trust me when I say that these kits have come a long way over the years. I enjoy them a great deal when I just want to paint and don't feel like overthinking anything. They are relatively inexpensive. However, I have found that the brush that most of these kits come with is horrible. So, there may be an additional few dollars needed to purchase a couple of decent brushes. As long as they are washed out and handled properly they last a long time, though, so the additional cost is minimal over the long haul. Here is one that I am in the middle of now.

       Of course, the possibilities are endless. I went through many different types of art, with many different mediums, before I found the ones that brought me the greatest relief. There were so many to choose from that I simply made a list of all the things that I wanted to try and started marking them off as I tried each one.

       Here is the list I used: Calligraphy, Ceramics, Collage, Computer Art, Drawing (chalk, charcoal, crayon, pastel, pen and ink, pencil), Graphic Art, Jewelry Art, Junk Art, Mosaic Art, Painting (acrylics, oils, tempera, watercolors), Photography, Sand Art, Sculpture (statue, relief sculpture, stone, wood-carving), Stained Glass Art, Video Art.

       After trying so many different art forms, I found that I love painting, drawing, photography and coloring. Those were the ones that I settled on. My family loves pottery, ceramics, and calligraphy. Everyone is a little different in the types and styles of art they enjoy creating. That is an important point, because different types of art, using different mediums, work for different people.

       I hope that others are able to find forms of visual art that help reduce their symptoms and bring them a better overall sense of wellbeing. Because as Picasso famously said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

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       As always I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click this (link) and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a great resource and is staffed by wonderful people. 
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